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Facts about Okinawa: The land of the immortals

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In the legends of ancient China, Okinawa was often described as “the land of the immortals” and it perfectly makes sense. It is a haven for old people and people generally have a high life expectancy. Besides many other factors, the reason is believed to be genetic. Okinawa is the largest island of the total 160 coral islets and has a population of about 14 lakhs. Here are 9 quick facts about Okinawa that will fill you with amazement.

Sea of Okinawa (Photo by Ryo Yoshitake/Unsplash)

1. It is considered to be the healthiest place on Earth.

Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world at almost 84 years. But Japan’s Okinawa Island exceeds the national rate despite the recent fall in the life expectancy. In Okinawa, an average Japanese man lives till 84 years while an average woman lives for 90 years. Because of such high life expectancy, it is often considered to be the healthiest place in the world.

2. Okinawans consume fewer calories than others.

Okinawa’s life expectancy rate is falling since 2000 and changes in diet is being blamed for the trend. The Okinawans for centuries have been consuming lesser calories compared to the mainland Japanese. They follow the principle of ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, which meant they should never eat full belly. In a National Nutrition Survey carried out in the year 1972, it was found that adults in Okinawa consumed only 83% of what adults in mainland Japan consumed. The children consumed only 62% of what Japanese children did. But lately, they are taking more calories.

3. Okinawa has the highest number of centenarians.

Okinawa has the highest number of centenarians for per head of population comparing to anywhere else in the world. As of today, the island has more than 400 centenarians. Although there can be a vast number of factors to answer why so many of the Okinawans exceed 100 years of age, the special diet that the people of the island follow seems to be the major factor and many people over the year from different parts of the world have tried to replicate the diet for the desire of living longer.

4. The special diet of Okinawa.

The diet that the people of Okinawa follow is believed to be nutritionally dense but low in calories. They consume a smaller amount of rice comparing to mainland Japan along with a small amount of green and yellow vegetables, fish and pork. Okinawans also consume a lot of Satsuma sweet potato which seems to be the centre of the diet. It provides them with energy but is at the same time low on calories and have no effect on blood sugar.

5. Pork is the lifeline of the people.

Pork is an essential part of the Okinawa diet and in fact, the per capita consumption of pork in the island is higher than the rest of the country. Okinawans eat every part of pigs including ears, tongue etc. Pork consumption of the islanders is often associated with their extraordinary longevity. Pigs were first introduced to the Okinawans by the Chinese during the 15th century and since then it remained an indispensable part of the diet of them.

6. Old age doesn’t slow down people.

It is very common in Okinawa to see men and women even in their 80s and 90s working in the fields and carrying out the daily chores. Okinawans are incredibly fit without going to gyms. They are but very much involved in hobbies and social networking which have a positive impact on them. Also, the physical labour done by the elderlies makes them feel like the active members of society.

7. Okinawa wasn’t always part of Japan.

Okinawa was not always a part of Japan. It became a part of the country only during the Edo Period. It was previously known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. After becoming part of Japan, the Okinawanans faced much discrimination. Their native language was largely looked down upon and the weapons that the islanders possessed were taken away from him. It was during this time that the martial art Karate became famous, or rather important. Though it is still disputed and many claim that it had its origin in ancient India, Okinawa is generally considered to be the birthplace of Karate. Also, traditional tattooing of women’s hands was also banned once the kingdom merged with Japan.

8. Older people have a very active sex life.

Interestingly, Okinawans have a very active sex life and people engage in sex even in their 90s without the use of any assistance like Viagra. They also suffer from very low complications as they grow old unlike other parts of the country, or as a matter of fact, of the world. They get old in a much better way. They also have a very low risk of cancer, Alzheimer, stroke etc. It is proven that Okinawans have 80 per cent less risk of getting breast and prostate cancer, and in case of ovarian and colon cancers, they are 50 per cent less likely to get diagnosed with these comparing to the rest of the world.

9. 25% of Okinawa is still under USA’s occupation.

Though the USA had returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972, after occupying it during WWII, it still but holds about 25% of the total land of the island and US troops still are present there. There is actually a village called American Village that has completely different architectures complete with a Ferris Wheel. It is considered to be one of the most lively aspects of the island.

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