Why Do Okinawans Live Longer?

Plan your visit to the lush island of Okinawa and discover why the locals are some of the longest living in the entire world.
Why Do Okinawans Live Longer?

Situated in the Pacific Ocean about 400 miles from the Japanese mainland, Okinawa is the fifth-largest island in the country. Renowned for its warm subtropical climate, quiet way of life, and beautiful natural landscape, you might not be surprised to learn that Okinawa is recognized as a “Blue Zone” of longevity. 

What does that mean exactly? It means those who are lucky enough to call this serene place home are known to live wonderfully long and satisfying lives. With approximately 68 per 100,000 Okinawans living to become centenarians – or celebrating their 100th birthday – researchers have long been fascinated by how this place keeps people so healthy. 

While the Okinawan diet is heavily based around locally grown ingredients, there’s also a deep focus on developing a healthy mindset and maintaining an active lifestyle. Alongside stunning landmarks, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Yambaru National Park, start planning your visit to Okinawa and return home with a host of life-affirming qualities.

Okinawans have a ‘moai’ support network

Everyone appreciates a friend’s shoulder to lean on, but this idea is particularly ingrained into Okinawan society. Known as moai, Okinawans develop strong social support groups that last from childhood to their latter years. These familiar groups of friends and peers gather regularly to discuss their needs and come together when a member of the moai needs an extra helping hand.

As the term has endured for hundreds of years, it was first used to describe how a village could collectively use its finances to improve the community for everyone. Now, the term has become part of the social fabric, with the island’s inhabitants celebrated for their strong sense of community and willingness to help others.

The ideals that underpin moai ensure Okinawa’s older residents have a trustworthy safety net to prop them up if times get tough. This atmosphere contributes to a feeling of harmony and easiness across the island. Meanwhile, this deep-rooted social connectedness ensures that almost everyone has a close friend they can chat with.

‘Ikigai’ ensures everyone has a purpose

‘Ikigai’ ensures everyone has a purpose

The philosophy of ‘ikigai’ dates back to the ancient Heian period but has rapidly grown in popularity outside of Japan over the last decade. While the concept is somewhat difficult to pin down, it involves the practice of self-acceptance and learning to live in the moment. As explained by Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones: “In Okinawa, there isn’t even a word for retirement. Instead, there’s ‘ikigai,’ which essentially means ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning.’”

As one of the main reasons researchers believe Okinawans live for such a long time, having a reason to get out of bed – even if it’s only something small – is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. In fact, a 2008 study of 43,000 Japanese discovered that participants who practiced ikigai experienced a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease and a reduced mortality rate.

By appreciating simple day-to-day pleasures and maintaining a sense of responsibility to keep the mind and body active, Okinawans draw great satisfaction from having a purpose in life. 

Gardening is a way of life in Okinawa

As Okinawa is home to warm year-round temperatures and an endless array of native plant life, it makes perfect sense that many locals maintain personal gardens late into their golden years. However, this laid-back activity serves a far greater purpose than just beautifying homes across the island. Gardening is a stellar source of low-impact exercise, ensuring Okinawan people move through a wide range of actions to retain mobility and flexibility as they age.

Alongside the physical benefits of gardening, this leisurely undertaking fits neatly into the concept of ikigai. Instead of being driven by their career or some other kind of stressful task, getting up in the morning to tend to your garden sounds like the kind of relaxing existence that might see you reach that lofty centenarian status.

As you wander across Okinawa, you won’t have to explore far to come across some impressive gardens. Also buried in the greenery is a wide variety of vegetables, ensuring locals enjoy their daily meals jam-packed with fresh ingredients.

The traditional Okinawan diet is farm-to-table
The traditional Okinawan diet is farm-to-table

The traditional Okinawan diet is farm-to-table

Considering the longevity of Okinawan people, it’s hardly surprising that locals eat a more nourishing diet than most. Although not entirely plant-based, a traditional Okinawan diet consists of around 90% whole-plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and grains. In addition, Okinawan people tend to only consume a small amount of fish, meat, dairy, and eggs throughout the year.

One of the most defining features of the Okinawan diet is its smaller servings of rice compared to other parts of Japan. Instead, Okinawans pack their dishes with high nutritional value and low calories by basing many meals around tasty purple sweet potatoes. In fact, a typical Okinawan consumes 70% less sugar than the average Japanese person.

With Okinawan food considered supremely high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities, many of the ingredients used throughout these delicious meals are grown in backyard gardens. Across the bitter flavor of goya and the wonderfully zesty fruit known as shikuwasa, visitors will also find seaweed varieties such as kombu and mozuku in several unmissable dishes.

Locals find nutritional balance with ‘hara hachi bu’

Locals find nutritional balance with ‘hara hachi bu’

Although the unique Okinawan diet certainly contributes to the longevity of the island’s citizens, the practice of ‘hara hachi bu’ is another factor that can’t be ignored. This Confucian-inspired expression is a sharp reminder for people to stop eating when they feel 80% full, leading to a more mindful approach that keeps people from overeating. 

While hara hachi bu might seem like a basic concept, it’s actually backed up by research that has found it takes around 20 minutes for our brains to catch up to our stomach. By slowing down how fast they eat, Okinawan people ensure they only eat as much as they need to feel satisfied.

With the average adult on the island consuming less than 2,000 calories of nutrient-rich food per day, the active lifestyle of Okinawans means this reasonable intake goes toward exercise and social time in the sun.

Explore the island with ease

Most travelers will arrive on Okinawa Island at Naha Airport via flights from major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Once you’ve landed on the tarmac, renting a car ensures you can see the entire island at your own pace. However, there’s no shortage of public transport options that help travelers experience every corner of the island.


Known as Yui Rail, Okinawa is home to one of the most convenient urban monorail systems you’re ever likely to use. With 19 convenient stations linking Nara Airport to the city of Urasoe, there’s a host of fascinating tourist spots to explore along the way. From the bustling restaurants and bars along Kokusaidori Street to the 14th-century Shurijo Castle, use the convenient one-day and two-day tickets to get around.


Okinawa Island has a comprehensive bus network to help locals and travelers alike get from A to B. If you’re heading straight for a hotel or resort, the Airport Limousine Bus ensures you can find your accommodation without any hassle. Express Shuttle Bus services also travel from Naha Airport to various tourist destinations along the coast, including Emerald Beach, Unten Port, and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.


If you want to reach the northern stretches of Okinawa Island in the fastest possible time, catching a high-speed ferry from Naha to Motobu is a great idea. Operating from April to November, there are endless incredible views of Okinawa’s coastline throughout the 75-minute journey.

Plan your Okinawa Island escape with Japan Airlines

The fact that Okinawan people live for so long suddenly makes perfect sense once you experience the island’s peaceful way of life for yourself. Across remote beaches, mangrove forests, and delicious organic restaurants, there’s hardly a better place to recharge your batteries.

Japan Airlines ensures travelers enjoy the best possible visit to Okinawa and beyond, with the Japan Explorer Pass helping people see more of the country for less. With over 30 cities in JAL’s domestic network, make the most of this special fare during your next visit to Japan.

Getting There