Okinawa Longevity Cuisine

Trendy Food for a Long Life

By Alena Eckelmann    - 4 min read

It has been said that food is the soul of a country. This couldn’t be truer for Okinawa. A mix of favorable natural conditions and diverse foreign influences produced unique eating habits and a cooking style that is now known as “Okinawan cuisine”.

The southernmost of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Okinawa is a chain of over 150 islands stretching out from the southern tip of Kyushu Island to close to Taiwan over a distance of 1,000 km in the South China Sea. A sub-tropical climate in most parts, ensuring temperatures of over 20 degrees throughout the year and high levels of rainfall, Okinawa boosts a rich ecosystem with a diverse flora and fauna.

From the 15th to the 19th century the islands became unified as the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had its own religion and language. The islanders traded with their neighbors in China, Southeast Asia and Japan, which made the Okinawan islands a melting pot of many traditions and culinary traits.

Invasions, war and occupation have ravaged the Okinawan Islands, and they have erased some of its culture and heritage, yet traditional Okinawan cuisine has not only survived but it is thriving.

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in Okinawan cooking on part of health-conscious Japanese and foreigners, including some celebrity chefs, and the international food community has just caught the rift.

The reason for this interest is the fact that the Okinawan way of cooking and eating is proven to be one of the main factors for the longevity of Okinawan people.

Where else in the world can you find more than 400 centenarians? To reach an age of 100 and even go beyond and be healthy in body, mind and spirit, is a rare gift well worth cooking for.

The abundance of sunshine and a high temperature all year-round ensure the growth of a good range of fruits and vegetables, many of which are different to those grown in other parts of Japan.

Traditional Okinawan cuisine maximizes the nutritious values of the locally sources ingredients. Rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories, research found that Okinawan fruits and vegetables have many anti-aging and anti-oxidant agents.

  • Goya (bitter melon) contains large amounts of vitamin C. It is used in Okinawa’s trade-mark dish goya champuru, a stir-fry that contains goya, tofu, egg and bacon. Goya can also be made into tempura. Goya juice is the Okinawan people's remedy against summer heat.
  • Murasaki imo (purple sweet potato) is grown mainly in Okinawa. The purple color comes from pigments that is anti-oxidant. Murasaki imo also contains high levels of vitamin A, B 6, C as well as potassium, iron and manganese.
  • Handama (Okinawa spinach) has also anti-oxidant like the purple sweet potato due to the same pigments that makes the underside of the leaves purple. It contains high levels of potassium, calcium and iron, and vitamin A.
  • Asa (Okinawa sea lettuce) is a powerful ingredient that contains many vitamins, including vitamin A, B 1, B 2, B 12, C and K, and many minerals, especially calcium and magnesium.

Reason enough to make your way to Okinawa and check out the islands super-healthy ingredients at a local market in Naha City, followed by an Okinawa longevity cuisine cooking class at Yonner Food, located not far from the market.

There are also several restaurants that offer Okinawa longevity cuisine, for example Emi no Mise restaurant in Ogimi Village and Café Koko in Shoshi Village, both located in the far north of Okinawa’s main island.

A perfect introduction to Okinawa for the foodies among you, and all those who look for a healthy way of eating.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

Join the discussion

Sherilyn Siy a month ago
Okinawans have a way of preparing goya that removes the bitterness. I've never been able to master it though!
Sleiman Azizi a month ago
Longevity advice? Tell me people aren't going to be rushing to read this!
Kim B a month ago
So much colorful food - purple sweet potatoes are my favorite!
Kim B a month ago
We've actually used them to make soup, too! Definitely makes for some interesting presentation!
Bonson Lam a month ago
Thank you for introducing these unique Okinawan produce. Goya can be an acquired taste, especially for children, but its crunch and slightly bitter taste makes for a healthy contrast. I had many people asking me about the secrets of a long life in Okinawa and wanting to visit.