Are Okinawans descended from the Japanese

Old people in Japan amaze statisticians and scientists

Welcome to the first part of our Okinawa series. In three consecutive articles we present the archipelago and their special features, report on aging in Japan, on Okinawa as Japan's tropical paradise and at the end we send you a recipe from Okinawa: Goya-Chanpuru!

Okinawa is a little different from the rest of Japan. It is an island that is almost as distant from mainland Japan as Taiwan. The people here lived in their own kingdom for a long time and have always been careful to make it clear to foreign visitors that they are not in Japan, but on Okinawa. After the Second World War, the island became the USA's largest base in this region and is still home to most of the troops stationed there today. Accordingly, the western influence has also changed life in Okinawa.

But there is one thing that has always amazed research on aging.Nowhere else in the world do so many people live as old as Okinawa. The researchers keep trying to determine why this is so. Relationships with diet and lifestyle are obvious, but no one has yet discovered a real formula for the three-digit age. It is astonishing that even 90-year-olds are by no means among the oldest people here. Three-digit age are statistically much more common here than elsewhere. And not only are people getting older, they are also staying much more active than their peers in the rest of the world. Here you work in your own field until old age, drive a motorcycle or do some kind of physical work. So it is not surprising that in Okinawa there is no word for "retirement" knows.

How does the Japanese way of life affect aging?

Aging in Japan is different from the rest of the world. Despite the often stressful everyday life, people here often get particularly old. There are many possible reasons. - Image: naka, Fotolia.com

The front runner among the places with the centenarians is the village of Ogimi. Even by the standards of Okinawa, a particularly large number of people who have already lived through their hundredth birthday live here. Of the total of 1.3 million people on Okinawa, over 900 make the leap into three digits. And in Ogimi, around a dozen inhabitants (out of a total of 3200) are over a hundred years old. Around 100 other residents are over 90 years old, but this does not attract special attention here.

The Japanese way of life differs fundamentally from the western one, but while in most of the other Japanese parts of the country one is stressed by everyday life and a diet that is not always healthy, a good and rich diet is particularly important in Okinawa. It is not only a question of the calorie intake, but also that Nutrient intake, Fiber etc. No wonder that the traditional food here is characterized by fruit and vegetables. Fish, meat and eggs are also on the menu, but they are seldom enjoyed. Carbohydrates and low fat, on the other hand, are very popular with those who are particularly old. However, moderation is also an important requirement. The motto "hara hachi bu“Contributes to the fact that obesity is the exception in Okinawa. It means that you stop eating as soon as your stomach is 80% full. Most of all, you cook yourself and you take the time to do it - something that most of the big city dwellers in Japan lack. That also applies to the upcoming generations on Okinawawho do not live in remote villages. Fast food, microwaves and time pressure when eating are just as normal there as in Western countries. This is probably why the number of centenarians is slowly declining overall.

Old people in Japan and Okinawa stay active for a long time

A recipe for reaching the three-digit age is high physical and mental activity into old age. In Okinawa, it is customary to work in the fields even when you are over 80 years old. - Image: sakai2132000, Fotolia.com

But that work and physical stress do not always have to be a disadvantage the old people of Okinawa, because they almost always remain physically and mentally very active until the end. Age research sees this as an important aspect, because both body and mind have to be kept on their toes if they are to function. The fine line between demanding and excessive demands is however easy to exceed. What is detrimental stress in everyday life for some can bring advantages in the traditional Japanese way of life. This philosophy is followed whenever possible not only in Okinawa, but also in other parts of the country, where people can certainly reach a respectable age. Still it seems the elevated position of centenarians on the island is a phenomenon to be that cannot be explained so easily with the right menu. It is certainly a combination of attitude, genes, environmental influences, stress, diet and workload that makes the difference. Finding the perfect balance is what one apparently manages more often in Okinawa than in places where lack of time and neglect of nutrition make this balancing act more difficult.

The next article in the Okinawa series looks at life in Okinawa and the island group's culture, which is fundamentally different from that of the rest of Japan.