Okinawa is known as an island of longevity. In Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones:Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, he introduced Okinawa as one of the longest-lived regions in the world along with Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, and the Seventh-day Adventists community in Loma Linda, California. Okinawa is also featured in the book titled Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, written by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. It is also well known for the Okinawa Diet, and it’s been featured in many TV programs, including Jamie Oliver’s cooking program.
Yes, Okinawa seems to have become a synonym for long life in the West.
While it isn’t entirely false, many Japanese people feel a little puzzled by the fact that only Okinawa is spotlighted in this way. In Japan, Okinawans are not necessarily regarded as people of longevity since it was back in the 1980s when Okinawa was ranked high in the national prefectural ranking. Recently prefectures like Nagano or Shiga have ranked within the top 3 and gained the reputation of being long-living prefectures.
The reason why Okinawa isn’t ranked high these days is that the population in the southern part of the island doesn’t have as healthy of a lifestyle as they do in the northern part. The southern part has many US military bases and has a strong influence from the American fast-food culture. Now, Okinawa has the highest obesity rate in the country.
Therefore, Okinawa, as a prefecture, isn’t regarded as long-living anymore.
Yet, Ogimi village in the northern part, which was featured in Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, is still considered to be one of the longest-lived villages in Japan. If you are talking about the northern part, it isn’t wrong to say it is a land of longevity.
Having said that, there are long-lived villages everywhere in Japan, and spotlighting just Ogimi Village doesn’t depict the true picture of Japan.
The same thing can be said about the word Ikigai. Many people in the West think it is an Okinawan word, but it is a Japanese word and used throughout Japan. It isn’t wrong to say it is an Okinawan concept, but it is like saying the American Dream is a Californian concept.
So, where are other long-lived villages in Japan, and who are the healthiest people in Japan?
To find it out, we need to look into the research done by Dr. Shoji Kondo, who has spent 36 years traveling around Japan, visiting 990 villages and towns in search of long-lived villages.
The Ikigai Diet: The Secret Japanese Diet to Health and Longevity