The island of Okinawa is known throughout the world for its healthy citizens and long life expectancy. The reasoning behind this is said to be related to the mild climate, beautiful ocean, rich earth, and gentle people, as well as the ingredients that are grown on the island and the way in which they are cooked.
In Okinawa, there is the phrase “nuchi gusui,” which literally means “the medicine of life” and is used for events which heal both the mind and body, such as a mother’s love or delicious food, human kindness, and amazing scenery. The people of Okinawa are especially aware of food and cuisine, which are thought of as “kusui-mun” or things that can become medicine. There is a strong belief that a balanced diet leads to a healthy body, with a healthy diet sharing the same principles as traditional medicines. This is why there is the phrase “kusui naibitan,” which literally means “to become medicine” and is said after meals as a way of giving thanks.
The traditional diet of Okinawa has long consisted of potatoes as the staple food item, plenty of green vegetables, soybeans, tofu, fish, seaweed and just enough pork to create an extremely balanced diet. The pork is parboiled and the scum is removed along with any fat that floats to the top. This removes about half of the fat content, taking away the bad cholesterol and increasing the absorption of collagen, which is good for keeping the skin beautiful. Okinawan cuisine is one of life’s medicines that supports a longevity.
The word “Ajikuutaa” is used to express the deliciousness of Okinawan cuisine. Directly translated, it means “strong flavor,” but this does not necessarily mean that the dish contains a lot of salt or other seasonings. Many old-fashioned Okinawan dishes, like stews and stir-fries, use only small amounts of salt and seasoning along with dashi, a type of soup stock. In other words, “Ajikuutaa” refers to tasty dishes that make the most of the original flavors produced by the main ingredients, seasoned with some strong dashi. Most of the dashi used in Okinawa comes from bonito, or skipjack tuna, and surprisingly, Okinawa also consumes more bonito than any other prefecture in Japan. This is why Okinawan cuisine shares a close connection with dashi. 。
Using dashi is a part of Okinawa’s food culture, and pork dashi can also be used in place of bonito dashi. Pork dashi is made by removing any fat from the broth that is leftover when pork meat is parboiled, and is primarily used for cooking rice or making the soup stock for Okinawa soba. “Ajikuutaa” can also refer to “rich taste,” and dashi made using both bonito and pork creates even deeper flavors. Dried shiitake mushrooms are also one of the most popular ingredients for making delicious dashi. On the other hand, unlike other areas of Japan, there is no custom of eating vegetables pickled in salt. It is believed that the secret to a long and healthy life is to reduce salt intake.
“Nuchi gusui” as introduced above has also come to mean the incorporation of various ingredients into a meals that are tailored to a person’s physical condition and symptoms. Nowadays, the effects of food are increasingly proven by science and many processed goods are also being sold. Here are some of the main health foods of Okinawa that have an extremely high nutritional value, making them useful for staying healthy.
Goya is very bitter type of gourd vegetable that is rich in vitamin C, which means it is effective for relieving summer heat fatigue and exhaustion. As it is also rich in beta-Carotene, iron, and potassium, it is effective in preventing life-style related illnesses, eliminating swelling and constipation, and is effective for skin care and preventing aging. “Goya Chanpuru” is a famous type of stir-fry dish.
Mozuku is a type of seaweed containing lots of fucoidan, the component that gives it a slimy texture. As it slows down the rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol, fucoidan is effective in preventing lifestyle diseases such as hardening of the arteries, cerebral strokes, heart attacks, and obesity. It can be eaten fried as tempura or sweetened in vinegar.
Shekwasha is a citrus fruit that is rich in citric acid and also contains a high amount of the nutrient nobiletin. It also contains 400 times as many polyphenols as other citrus fruits and has antioxidant powers that can help prevent aging. As well as being the secret ingredient for a variety of dishes, it is also used as a raw material in skin care cosmetics.
Uji, or sugarcane, is the most abundant crop in Okinawa Prefecture. Brown sugar is made by boiling the juice squeezed from the sugarcane, and is high in calcium and all sorts of minerals. Also, the material left over from straining the juice of the sugarcane is known as “bagasse” and, as it contains many dietary fibers, its powdered form has recently gained popularity as an effective product for encouraging healthy bowel movements.
It is said that people who live in Okinawa do not experience as much stress as those who are living in other areas of Japan, and this is another factor contributing to their long and healthy lifespans. Okinawan people have big-hearted and generous personalities, which is expressed through the word “Tege.” This means “in moderation” and is used when showing thoughtfulness towards others or spiritual open-mindedness. Another similar word is “nankuru nai sa,” which is used to mean that if you are acting as you should, everything will work out ok and you will eventually be repaid. These words express not only the generous nature of the Okinawan people, but also their strength, happiness, and their leniency towards forgiving others.
In Japan there is an accurate and strict adherence to time, but Okinawan people have a more relaxed sense of time, which is known as “uchina-taimu,” or Okinawan time. This is possibly a sign of their warm and forgiving temperament towards delays. It is believed that, along with the mild climate that allows flavorsome food items to be cultivated, the long and healthy lifespans in Okinawa are aided by their gentle and bright nature that prospers through relaxation.