97 year olds return to youth
Okinawa's 'Longevity Islands' to Hold Celebrations for Those Turning 97
Japan's subtropical prefecture of Okinawa is gearing up for its Kajimaya Day celebrations on October 2nd to honour those turning the young age of 97 this year. Okinawa is a designated 'blue zone' for life expectancy and Okinawans believe that as people become older, they become younger in spirit and that the age of 97 is a symbolic return to youthfulness. Celebrations vary slightly from locations across the archipelago, but often involve lively street performances and colourful parades, including the elderly being paraded on a vehicle to be congratulated!
The significance of the age 97 derives from the original date of the celebrations – which used to take place on 7th September (the 9th month of the Lunisolar Calendar) – although nowadays the celebrations may take place on a different day.
Japan's southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, comprises 160 subtropical islands boasting a year-round warm climate comparable to Hawaii, Miami and Cancun. Just 3 hours by air from Tokyo and blessed with incredible natural beauty, from lush forests to crystal blue waters with abundant coral and golden sands, Okinawa is perfect for beach lovers and sports
enthusiasts alike whilst still appealing to culture seekers thanks to its unique history and heritage. Using the bountiful fresh produce its natural environment produces, Okinawa's culinary culture is also unique and is believed to be a key factor in Okinawa's status as one of five longevity hotspots in the world.
Learn the local secrets of the 'blue zone'
Located in the north of Okinawa's main island, the rural village of Ogimi can be found. Known locally as the 'village of longevity' and proclaimed the 'longest-living village in Japan', the community offers homestay experiences welcoming travellers into their homes. During the stay, the friendly locals share their wisdom on the different factors believed to contribute to their longevity, including eating habits and how to manage an active yet less stressful lifestyle. The programme includes farming experiences and cooking classes, as well as home-cooked meals and in-depth advice from wise villagers. Starting from ¥10,120 per person (approx. £63) and inclusive of all activities, room, breakfast and dinner, there are one and two-night options available, as well as upgrades to the full board with dinner. Alternatively, for those that do not have time for an overnight stay, there are also day trips. Further details are available here: ogimi-tourism.com.
Traditional Okinawan flavours and a new fusion concept in Ginoza
The village of Ginoza, on the east coast of Okinawa's main island facing the Pacific Ocean, is the go-to destination for travellers than wellness means food. Farming has long been an essential industry in the area but even more so in recent years as the village was declared the 'Organic Village of Ginoza' due to its ongoing commitment to eco and chemical-free agriculture. The Ginoza Roadside Station is a dining and shopping facility also boasting a farmers' market selling locally grown crops, perfect to taste unique local flavours such as goya champuru (bitter melon) and umibudo (sea grapes) and souvenir shopping for the foodies back home.
Meanwhile, travellers looking for the ultimate gourmet experience should head to The Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts Ginoza, as the 19-roomed boutique resort is one of the pioneers of a new fusion food concept emerging in Okinawa between upmarket resort restaurants and local producers: nuchigusui champuru (nuchigusui, translating as 'food is medicine; and champuru, which means fusing the best from the prefecture with things imported from abroad). Run under the concept of 'a restaurant for staying' and with a growing reputation for the wide range of fusion food it offers, this new food concept sees the chefs at the resort work with local farmers to introduce and grow vegetables used in European cuisine to create fine dining experiences combining both traditional Okinawan and European flavours, especially French.
Feel the energy of Mother Nature
For a mindful wellness experience in nature, visitors can take part in Okinawa Nature Office's 'Yambaru Forest Bathing Therapy'. A UNESCO-listed area since 2021 for its 'outstanding universal value, the experience starts from ¥6,500 per person (approx. £40) and involves a slow and restorative forest-guided walk near Mt. Yonaha - the highest peak on Okinawa's main island - whilst taking in the relaxing sounds of nature and if in luck, spot endemic creatures that live only in this protected area such as the Okinawa Woodpecker (Noguchigera), the Ryukyu Robin (Hontoakahige) and the Ryukyu Ebony Jewel Wing (Ryukyuhagurotonbo).