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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Okinawa and Living Long

A while ago the Discovery Health Channel ran a program on the process of aging and factors that prolong life. Prominent in the program were Okinawans, the inhabitants of the tropical island in the Ryukyus chain near China and Taiwan that, however, belongs to the Japanese, though up to less than 200 years ago it didn't.

Okinawa has meant something to me for many years. In 1954, thanks to the US. Air Force, I was stationed there for a far too brief span of seven months. In that time nothing of a crucial nature happened, yet the place made an impression on me so deep that it has lasted to this very day, and in fact I nearly re-enlisted just so I could go back there. Surely going to the Kadena Airmen's Club every night and getting soused on Whiskey Sours while ogling the cute little Okinawan waitresses couldn't have been the cause of that, could it?

Possibly! Because those months on Okinawa were by far the most carefree period of my entire life. I truly didn't have a worry in the world.

A relaxed air must be endemic to that island. It was one of the reasons that the Health Channel program gave for the fact that Okinawans tend to live longer than the Japanese on the main islands (I tend to think of the two places separately), and they have quite a large number of centenarians, which is a surprise considering what they went through during the last days of World War 2.

These are the ones who survived the truly terrible experience of being squeezed tighter and tighter between the advancing American and the retreating Japanese forces in a maelstrom of napalm and bullets. As a result their contemporaries and family members died by the tens of thousands during the three months of ferocious fighting that followed the American landing on April 1, 1945, which that year was not only April Fool's Day but also Easter Sunday -- the last great battle of the Pacific Campaign.

In addition to that kind of sheer luck and their relaxed lifestyle, other factors that may account for the greater longevity of today's Okinawans include getting plenty of exercise and eating small amounts of nutritious food.

The program showed some Okinawan ladies fixing a stew that included fish cakes, tofu ...and pigsfeet.

Over here pigsfeet are regarded as being practically pure, jellied cholesterol, but there it was. I have absolutely no use for tofu or bean curd, but I love pigsfeet, though I have only had them on the average of once every 10 years. The idea of that stew greatly intrigues me, and I will have to look up the recipe on the Internet.

I have always been interested in what a person who becomes a centenarian makes of it.

On another TV program of long ago, I saw a brash young TV newscaster ask a woman how she managed to reach age 100.

I had heard other centenarians, grateful at being asked and having their accomplishment recognized, give all sorts of answers, most having to do with peace of mind and diet.

I loved this woman's answer, because, compared to the others, it was such a towering, beautiful example of bluntness, simplicity, and truth.

"I don't know," she said.


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