Ogimi is a village arising from the northwest coast of the island of Okinawa. A village of low houses, small streets, and a lot of green. And one special characteristic: of its 3103 total inhabitants, 14 are over one hundred years old (but if we also count those over 90 the number rises to 158 people). For this reason, on the island which has always been known for its centenarians (other than karate and the famous battle of 1945), Ogimi is known as the “little village of longevity”. There is the supermarket where they sell algae and vegetables associated with longevity, restaurants offer “longevity meals”, and it is not uncommon, especially during the end-of-summer festivals – like Ungami, a celebration of the god of the sea – to encounter spry older folks walking briskly down the street in traditional clothing.
“The island of Okinawa” Makoto Suzuki, director of the Okinawa Research Center for Longevity Science, explains, “has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, and most of them are women. Ogimi is at the heart, and it has one characteristic: the elderly are healthy almost until the last days of their lives”. When professor Suzuki arrived on the island from Tokyo, in 1970, there were no official doctors or hospitals; moreover, the inhabitants of Okinawa had no idea what diabetes or cardiovascular disturbances even were, and people were four times less likely to develop cancer or a degenerative illness than the average. The secret? It does not seem to have anything to with genes, but an ideal mix of daily physical activity, human relations, and a low-calorie diet (for the most part a vegetarian and fish-based one, with short cooking times and little salt). That and a society which does not consider the elderly a burden but an ayakaru, a “good luck charm”.