Scientists have not yet uncovered all the secrets to super-longevity, but one thing is certain: Okinawa, Japan, is a very, very good place to grow old. A recent count lists more than 900 people on the islands of Okinawa over the age of 100. We encountered elders who have clear roles of responsibility and a feeling of purpose well into their triple-digit years.
Singing karaoke in costume (top) and bowling together are part of the social fabric of Okinawa. —Jim Goldberg/Magnum
For some, this purpose means gathering frequently with friends in what’s called a “moai,” a tight social network that brings the sense that someone is always looking out for you. Even if it’s simply partaking in a game of bowling or dressing in costume to sing karaoke (at top), these Okinawans get together to participate in youthful activities.
Karaoke can be an expressive art as practiced in Okinawa. —Jim Goldberg/Magnum
Singing is just another of the many activities that add to a sense of community here. “Lifestyle” is a generic word often cited to explain why so many Okinawans endure for so long. A Japanese term may express it better. “Ikigai” is a concept that roughly translates as “a reason to get up in the morning.”
(Left to right) Shigeru Uchima, Sadaji Tamashiro, Kazumasa Oshiro and Yasuji Miyagi, at the Nakijin Village Community Center —Jim Goldberg/Magnum
If one ever had doubt about the value of friendships when it comes to aging, these four 92-year-olds will dispel it. From the Nakijin Village Community Center, they are mere youngsters by Okinawan standards. They exemplify how maintaining social bonds and eating frequent meals (the Okinawan diet, high in nutrition and low in calories, is increasingly popular around the world) are key to their long lives.
One of the few remaining artists practicing Kijōka bashōfu —Jim Goldberg/Magnum
Dedication to craft also is important. At the Bashofu Center in Ogimi, Toshiko Taira, 98, practices the age-old art of Kijōka bashōfu, or weaving of cloth from banana tree fibers.