When I was eight years old my parents would take me to a fishing village for summer vacation. We would jump on the ferry from the city and land far away in a remote rock in the middle of the sea; it could have been some pirate’s lair. Everyone was dressed in comfortable but faded shorts and sandals, and we would sit on the beach and use my flimsy fan to air the charcoal grill, a simple pile of rocks where the exquisite smell of fish and squid would be carried in all directions by the sea breeze at sunset.
Like my childhood holiday, Aharen Village is the kind of place that is has been left behind by time. While none of the buildings have much in terms of architectural or historical interest, I loved it all the same for its earthy simplicity, one that is stripped of all pretension.
As I get older, the age old search for eternal youth and longevity would come back to haunt me. In the ancient times the Classical Greeks searched far and wide for elixir of youth, the search for immortality. Through myths and legends mere mortals searched for it through stories of heroic men and women and even more gallant gods and goddesses. In one story Halcyon, a wind goddess rescues the mortal Ceyx who was drowning. She transforms herself into a bird and flies into the storm to save her lover from death. This transforms Ceyx and they are reunited as the oceans are calmed.
These days my search for longevity has taken me to the relaxed Mediterranean like villages in southern Italy and Japan, in places like Sardinia and Okinawa, where Centenarians are common place, with a healthy glow on their face and a relaxed yet engaged outlook on life.
I step in to the Okinawa Soba shop, a nondescript beach shack on the edge of the sea after a morning of boating and swimming, much like the fishermen here who rise early and whose outdoor lifestyles follow the rhythms of the sun and moon. The old lady here has been making Okinawan Soba noodles with love for forty years. We soon chat and she tells me that her father, with one leg and one arm, opened the shop fifty years ago and has been working here in this village ever since.
In this part of the world, Okinawa Soba, made with a rich pork belly marinated with soy sauce, has been accredited as part of the longevity diet. The collagen in the pork helps the skin to remain supple and healthy, even in old age. What’s more, it is delicious, with a rich slightly sweet flavor and a sinuous texture. There isn’t a lot of pork in the soba bowl, just enough for seasoning. It is part of the philosophy of 腹八分目 (“hara hachi bun me”, or “Hari Haci Bu” in Okinawa), which is to be satisfied when you are 80% filled, to enjoy food without over eating. Other dishes featured here include Mozuku (Angel Hair Seaweed), as well as Goya Champulu (Bitter melon), something that is rich in folates and helpful in maintaining wellness.
Of course, if the fountain of youth takes a back seat on your vacation, try the Blue Seal ice cream and shaved ice that will make your heart sing. Local flavors like Sugarcane, Shikwasa, and Purple Sweet Potato, as well as American crowdpleasers like San Francisco Choc-Mint and Rum and Raisin, are here to bring out the inner child in you. You might even unleash yourself at the old Karaoke machine by the counter.
It didn’t take me long for the old lady to adopt me into her family, as she kept offering steamed fish and Andagi (Okinawan donuts) for me to eat, saying “eat, eat”, and “service” (free). I found it hard to say no, and it reminded me of my grandmother from childhoods past. But then I remember, “Hari Haci Bu”, and restrained myself, needing to hurry back to make the village bus. In Japan, it is fashionable to name your daughter Yui these days. It means bond or connection. The promise of Yui was fulfilled today. This place will occupy a special place in my heart.