Introducing Ms. Kitanakagusuku: Being Healthy is the Thing

CONTRIBUTED BY ANNA TIENTER

As a half-Japanese person here in Okinawa, I am blessed to have my family nearby at all times. In fact most of them are very close to Foster in the village of Kitanakagusuku. This is where the Nakamura House and the Nakagusuku castle ruins are both located.

Kitanakagusuku: don’t be intimidated by the number of letters. Just pronounce it as it is written: Kita naka gu su ku. Easy, ne? One of the beauties of the Japanese language is that hiragana is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. We don’t have any of the “i before e” or “silent t” business. This is also what makes it difficult for some Japanese to spell English words. My own kids, who attend Japanese school, are awful spellers, even though they are fluent English speakers.

Back to the topic though, as you have heard, the culture here in Japan and Okinawa have a quality of life that promotes longevity. Japanese women have held the longest life expectancy for the past 25 years! 

To celebrate this fact, the Japanese have festivals celebrating milestones in life. And as the population continues to stay healthy into their later years, places are coming up with ways to celebrate active lifestyles in folks of all ages.

Let me introduce my aunts, my mother’s older sisters. The woman in the middle is my aunt, also known as Ms Kitanakagusuku.

Ms K
Ms K

The village came up with this to honor the women of Kitanakagusuku, who now have the longest average life span on Okinawa. What a beautiful thing to celebrate: an active, spirited life.

My aunt keeps herself very engaged in life. She is involved in learning new things still today such as swimming, and playing the koto. She still works on learning English so she can talk to my random American friends who join me on a visit to her home. Ten years ago, when my mom was alive, they went every night to Okinawa City Comprehensive park and while my mom trained for the marathon, my aunt would walk.

She eats a normal Japanese diet with vegetables and a little meat and eats hara hachibu. Have you heard of this? It is all about moderation. You eat til your stomach (hara) is 80% (hachibu) full, not 100. I teach my kids this way of eating, which my family thinks is pretty funny. These American kids walking around, talking about hara hachibu, a very Okinawan way of eating.

And to keep her skin beautiful, you can guess what she does. Avoids the sun! Yes, sunblock 100+ UV block, long sleeves and driving gloves, never leaves the house without a hat and avoids any midday outdoor activity.

Ms. Kitanakagusuku, or Ms. K as my cousin and I call her for short, is a wonderful role model for anyone striving for beauty at your age right now. Stay active, continue to learn, eat in moderation and hold it for 80+ years. Easy, right?!

You are in the perfect place to start this lifestyle, today. Okinawa, Japan <3


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4 Comments
  • March 9, 2012

    Wow I haven’t been here for age so catching up, what a wonderful story! I try and remember the hara hachibu way too!

    Reply
  • March 6, 2012

    Living Healthy must ‘run’ in the family… ;)

    Great article Anna…

    Say Hello to Ms Kitanakagusuku for me…

    Louie
    Reply
  • March 5, 2012

    Hello Anna,

    I´m a journalist from Sweden planning to visit Okinawa in the middle of april together with a photopgraper named Malin Hoelstad. We are going to write a story on the long living people on Okinawa and what there is in the traditional food and culture that can explain this exceptional longevity. Perhaps we in the western societies have sometihing to learn!

    Of course we also are interested in meeting long living citzens during our visit and then I came across your article on your relatives and the celebration of the women of Kitanakagusuku:

    This was exacltly what I was looking for and me and Malin would be thrilled if we could visit you and your aunts and perhaps some of there friends in the village.
    So, my question is simply if that would be possible? We are schedueled to be on Okinawa from 17th april to 20th april, but that could still be changed if the timing is bad.

    I really look forward to your answer!

    Best regards
    Henrik Ennart

    Reply
    • March 6, 2012

      Hi, Henrik Ennart san.

      I just stopped by and saw your comment.

      If you are looking for some helps for your reserch trip in Okinawa, you can contact Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB: http://www.ocvb.or.jp/en/). They are an official tourism organization of Okinawa and are able to provide you many sorts of information.

      Here is their contact information: http://www.ocvb.or.jp/en/contact.html
      Well, JFYI. Wish you have a wonderful trip in Okinawa.

      Morfiumi Higa

      Reply