Sgtravellers

Header

Main Content

Content Text

March 26, 2017, Japan

Recipe for a long and healthy life

In Okinawa, people live to a ripe old age, which can be attributed to a balanced diet of superfoods

Meredith Woo

SINGING and dancing grandmothers— with an average age of 84—make up the members of Japan’s sellout pop idol oldies band, KBG84.

In Okinawa, where they are from, it is common to see many independent and sprightly elderly folk.

Using women as a gauge, people from this Japanese prefecture have an average life expectancy of 87.02 years, a figure that surpasses the country’s national average of 86.83 and Singapore’s 84.90, according to statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Their secret to longevity? A pleasant climate coupled with a healthy diet and positive outlook, according to bestseller The Okinawa Program, a book based on a scientifically documented study of the islands’ centenarians.

Every day, the sun smiles upon this subtropical chain of 160 islands, while the surrounding East China Sea and occasional typhoon nourish the land with mineral-rich sea water. Even during winter months, the temperature remains a comfortable 17 to 20 deg C — ensuring Okinawans enjoy an abundance of crops and fish all year round.

The islanders are also easygoing and optimistic by nature, which reduces stress. They love engaging in performing arts, and live by the mantra of “nankuru naisaa”, or “everything will be all right”.

Multi-faceted history

Okinawa was not always part of Japan.

Before 1879, the group of islands used to be an independent kingdom ruled by the Ryukyu dynasty for 450 years. At one point, it saw many Chinese moving to the islands to serve the government or engage in business.

It also traded actively with Asian countries such as China, Korea and other South-east Asian nations.

After World War II in 1945, Okinawa was occupied by the United States for about 27 years.

Remnants of Okinawa’s rich history and the influence of China and the US can be seen in its culture, buildings and shopping enclaves.

First-time visitors to the prefecture should visit Shuri Castle, which features architectural influences from both China and Japan. This Unesco World Heritage Site, draped in striking red, was the Ryukyu king’s palace.

Taco Rice, a popular dish, is a result of the longstanding US military presence on the island. It comprises ground beef on a bed of rice (instead of a taco shell), topped with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato and salsa.

Spend a day at Mihama American Village in Chatan town. The major shopping area has international retail stores, restaurants and eateries.

It also boasts a huge Ferris wheel, movie theatre and bustling nightlife.

Savour these superfoods

Keeping the king healthy was a preoccupation of his loyal Ryukyu subjects.

Cooks travelled to China to learn more about the herbal medicine cuisine of the royal court.

This style of cooking, or yakuzen, aims to rebalance the body’s qi, blood and body fluids.

Blessed with ample sunshine and enriched soil, much of Okinawa’s produce is rich in nutrients, and known as superfoods.

MsYukie Miyaguni, head of the Yakuzen Ryuka Cooking School in Okinawa, says: “The medicinal knowledge and the cooking methods learnt from the Chinese court, combined with the superfoods of Okinawa, contribute to the longevity of its people.” 

As Singapore is hot year-round, people here are more prone to water retention, she notes.

“When our body is very ‘heaty’, bitter herbs and vegetables help us detox,” she adds.

However, to protect the body and stomach against this “cooling” effect, “warm” foods such as miso and brown sugar help to create harmony for the body.

Seasoning is also kept to a minimum.

Condiments are typically salt and miso, with bonito flakes and kombu (kelp) used for broth.

Some superfoods, which are a staple here:

- Goya (bitter gourd)

Ms Miyaguni has a favourite Okinawan superfood — the goya, or bitter gourd.

High in vitamin C, its bitter flavour comes from morodicine, which is said to strengthen the stomach, increase appetite and contribute to lowered blood sugar levels.

The knobbly plant is best known for its use in Goya Champuru, a stir-fry of bitter gourd with tofu and eggs, which helps to alleviate its bitterness. Sliced pork can also be added.

Goya reduces heat within the body and is beneficial for relieving eye fatigue. It also has a calming effect, she adds.

- Beni-imo (purple potato) 

This Okinawan staple is a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.

Its vibrant colour comes from anthocyanins, which may offer anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing benefits, in addition to acting as antioxidants.

The root is also very versatile. Naturally sweet, it features in various desserts such as ice cream, tart toppings, chocolate and even flavoured lattes.

- Kokuto (brown sugar)

Okinawa’s famed brown sugar is rich in calcium, potassium, iron, vitamins B1 and B2, and essential amino acids.

In particular, potassium supports the excretion of excess sodium in the body and balances blood pressure.

Kokuto, which has a mellow yet complex sweetness, is made by slowly cooking down pure sugarcane juice.

It is also one of the ingredients in the ubiquitous Okinawan souvenir, chinsuko, a traditional confection that was once served only to royalty.

- Aguu pork

Pork is an integral part of Okinawan cuisine, where every part of the pig is eaten.

Pork from the native Aguu pig is rich in vitamin B1, collagen and protein. It is also leaner, lower in cholesterol and rich in glutamic acid, which gives the meat a full-bodied flavour.

- Mozuku seaweed

Mozuku seaweed is naturally found in many parts of Japan, but the type cultivated only in Okinawa’s waters is thicker than the variety found in other parts of the country.

Its surface is rich in fucoidan, said to strengthen the immune system, balance intestinal health and is anti-bacterial. It also contains dietary fibre, calcium and magnesium.

- Turmeric

The turmeric in Okinawa changes with the seasons. In autumn, the rhizome is a bright orange colour and rich in curcuminoid that aids liver function.

Before drinking alcohol, Okinawans consume some turmeric, which they say can prevent a hangover.

- Salt

The salt harvested from Okinawa sea water is rich in potassium and magnesium yet lower in sodium, as compared to table salt and rock salt.

Okinawa is considered to be one of the regions in Japan with the lowest sodium intake, and this could be why its inhabitants live so long.

Fun-filled activities

The best time to head to Okinawa for summer activities is from May to September; cherry blossom season starts at the end of January and lasts for about a week or two.

Marvel at the trio of whale sharks at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, or go island hopping to some of the world’s most picturesque diving spots against a backdrop of coral reefs in the pristine waters.

In early October, partake in the Naha Great Tug-of-War. The sports event involves thousands of participants who grab a 200m-long rope that weighs 43 tonnes. This 17thcentury custom is performed to bring prosperity and good health to the people.

Walk on stars at Hoshizuna no Hama — literally Star Sand Beach in Japanese — on Iriomote island. The tiny stars underfoot are actually the exoskeletons of minuscule creatures that live at the bottom of the sea.

Fly direct to Okinawa

Okinawa is nearer to Taipei, Taiwan, than it is to Japan’s capital, Tokyo. To get there from Singapore, you can transit at either Taipei or Hong Kong to get to Okinawa’s Naha Airport.

There are currently no direct flights to this Japanese island, but Okinawa Prefectural Government has again partnered nine travel agencies here to offer direct charter flights to Okinawa via SilkAir in May and June, getting you there in a comfortable five hours by plane.

Choose from guided tour packages or opt to go free-and-easy.

Departure dates: May 27 and 31 June 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20

Side Bar

DEALS

Airelatedtravel

Airelatedtravel
冲绳岛


Japan

Nam Ho Travel

Nam Ho Travel
最佳旅游配套


China, Hong Kong, Japan

New Shan Travel

New Shan Travel
Best of TWIN CITIES


Australia, Japan, Korea South

Most Read This Month
曾兄弟旅行社:与星同行旅游配套

圣托里尼(Santorini)是希腊东南200公里爱琴海上火山群岛中的最大岛,别名锡拉岛。这里是新石器时代晚期(距今约4000多年)阿克罗蒂里的米诺斯文明发源地,南部的考古遗址留有壁画和陶器,揭开辉煌的古文明历史。此外,她因位于群岛的最南端而拥有无敌海景,是观赏绝美日落的最佳地点;蔚蓝海洋、金色沙滩、白色房屋与蓝顶十字教堂,构成典型的爱琴海风情,是被公认为最浪漫的度假小岛。

Cruise control

Leong Phei Phei shares learning points from her maiden voyage

Nine ideas for nine long weekends in 2018

With possibly nine long weekends next year, it is time to start planning quick getaways

Latest travel story
One for the books

Stumbling upon a bookstore during a holiday has stopped many tourists in their tracks

Pretty as a picture

Don’t miss the beauty of Zhangjiajie’s ethereal landscapes, says Meredith Woo

My love affair on rails

Uma Venkatraman is still enamoured of Swiss trains even after a decade