Uwern Jong escapes to the fairytale island of Taketomi in Okinawa, Japan and understands why it is that there are more people who live to over a hundred there than anywhere else in the world.
At the furthest reaches of the islands of Okinawa, I ‘discovered’ an absolutely magical place – where the sea is crystal clear, the public transport is powered by water buffalo and the grains of sand on the beach are star-shaped. It’s clearly one of Japan’s best-kept secrets, one that’s not often discussed in international tourism circles that often. When I visited, I was the only foreigner on the island, despite it being full of Japanese and Taiwanese (the island is geographically closer to Taiwan than it is to the Japanese mainland) holiday-makers.
This is a quirky little paradise, in a way that can only be Japanese, so perfectly ordered but magnificently surreal that it’s like something out of a Studio Ghibli animation. The storybook moments continue – islanders singing folk tales whilst plucking banjo-like instruments; a centenarian old lady selling shaved ice, flavoured in the equally sweet and sour, local citrus fruit called shikuwasa; meals of bitter, goya-melon noodles served in large oyster shells; white sand streets, and terracotta statues of shisas (half lion, half dog) adorning rooftops, put in place to scare away the evil spirits.
On Taketomi, residents live to a ripe old age, with the highest number of people over a hundred years old in the world. Perhaps it’s to do with clean living and a simple, stress-free life – but if you think that you already live in a slice of heaven, then I guess there’s no real hurry to get to another.