The quaint village of Ogimi in Okinawa, Japan was home to Ushi Okushima, a centenarian who lived 109 healthy years. Okushima-san was born on August 7, 1901 and lived through tumultuous times. For many Okinawans, World War II took away family members and created disruptions in their daily lives. Okushima-san lost her husband through the war and became responsible for raising her children on her own. Despite the challenges she faced, she always had a bright mood, a great sense of humor, and a loving attitude. She had healthy vision, hearing, and mobility (she never used a cane). She kept herself fit and happy with a routine that she led her life with since she was a young girl.

Okinawa is 1 of the 5 identified blue zones which are places where people live longer than most; the world health organization has even claimed that Okinawa has the world’s longest living people. Here, there are 35 centenarians for every 100,000 people. Despite these facts, modernization and fast food have changed Okinawan culture, and many young people don’t live the way that Okushima-san did. Because of these changes, obesity and rates of cancer have increased in the Okinawan population. Maybe insights into Okushima-san’s daily routine will provide inspiration for young people on how to live a longer and healthier life.

Fulfilling Mornings

Okushima-san woke up every morning at dawn, usually around 6 am. Her day started with prayers to ancestors. She would then proceed to make a light breakfast of tofu miso soup and green tea. After breakfast, she went on her regular morning walk along a beach. Although she worked long hours in the fields until she was 100, she cut down her hours because she was getting older and took up a job bagging fruit at the market.  Nonetheless, she still spent about 3 hours after her morning walk taking care of her garden. If she wasn’t taking care of her garden and field, she’d maintain her body by doing exercises at home. Sometimes, she would meet her friends for green tea in the morning. People think that fitness and a healthy diet are complicated things, but Okushima-san’s life showed how easily attainable those things are.

Family and Friends are Her Purpose

Her family was her most prized possession. She had 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. In fact, she spent a majority of her time with them while still maintaining a job and taking care of her needs. She ate lunch with them everyday. Lunch usually included ingredients like bitter melon, tofu, kelp, whole grains, and tea. The portion sizes were small; Okinawans say hara hachi bu which means to eat until you are 80% full. After lunch, she’d take an afternoon nap which was followed by meeting her “moai”. Moai means meeting for a common purpose. Okushima-san’s moai was her group of close friends who met everyday to address each other’s social, financial, and personal needs. They also met to drink sake, gossip, and to make each other laugh. These social gatherings have a therapeutic purpose and ensured that Okishima-san and her friends were always happy and without a worry.

Quaint Evenings

After spending a fulfilling day with the earth, her family, and her moai, she ate a dinner that was mostly vegetables and always drank a cup of mugwort sake before going to bed. Then, she ended the day with closing her eyes and settling into what would be a good night’s sleep.

The weather and environment in Ogimi are incredible. There are few factories, so the air is fresh. It’s always warm enough for many outdoor activities. While these are strong motivating factors for a healthy life, Okushima-san was also motivated by her body’s needs. She desired a connection with her loved ones and ate to sustain and not to indulge.

Many individuals from older generations still live like Okushima-san, but young people are drifting away from the ways of the old and are reaching for a life of convenience. Okushima-san worked hard to provide for her family and maintain her relationships; the struggles she faced shaped her personality and gave her the tough shell she had. To put it simply, she was content with what she had despite the inconveniences. She let go of the past and focused on the present. While convenience is what modern society strives for, there is so much we can learn from the efforts of our ancestors.

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