The Japanese island of Okinawa has one of the longest-living populations on the planet – and its wellbeing escapes pay homage to the healthy local lifestyle. Rose Dykins reports
A three-hour flight from Tokyo, Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost prefecture made up up 160 subtropical islands. Aside from the appeal of its emerald forests, spotless sandy beaches and coral reefs, Okinawa is revered for its status as one of the world’s five Blue Zones – places in the world where people live longest and healthiest.
Okinawa’s Blue Zone status makes it a fascinating place to explore a holistic approach to wellbeing, which is incorporated into the wellness retreats and programmes the islands offer. Travellers can immerse themselves in Okinawa’s untouched nature, its culinary culture based on healthy fresh produce, and its easy-going, active lifestyle that holds the key to the longevity of those who live there.
To the north of Okinawa’s main island is Ogimi, known by locals as the “village of longevity”, coined the “longest-living village in Japan”. Travellers can enjoy homestay experiences within the community, where locals share their wisdom on the factors they believe are conducive to living a long, healthy life. Hosts introduce their guests to Okinawan eating habits and the daily lifestyle choices that contribute to an active, less stressful existence.
As part of the homestay programme, guests take part in farming experiences and cooking classes, while tucking into home-cooked meals and benefiting from sage advice from Ogimi’s citizens. The one-or two-night experience curated by Ogimi Tourism is priced from ¥10,120 per person (£67) and includes activities, homestay accommodation, breakfast and dinner, and day trips to Ogimi can also be arranged.
Okinawa’s natural beauty sets the scene for memorable outdoor wellbeing experiences. For example, situated on the hill of Onna village – admired for its white-sand beaches and unspoilt coastal scenery – is spiritual health dojo Wayn-Zen.
They have created a restorative Walking Meditation and Beach Yoga programme, which begins with an early morning slow meditation whilst walking along the beach, followed by yoga. Classes start from £24 per person, and can be combined with post-class meals cooked with locally grown vegetables (with options for vegans, too).
Another distinctive part of Okinawa’s wellbeing offering is its natural hot springs. Located a 15-minute drive from Naha airport, the Ryuku Onsen Senagajima Hotel houses the Ryujin-ni-yu public hot spring, where deep ocean water is collected from 1,000 metres below land. The mineral-rich water helps promote circulation and soothe muscle tension, and is also believed to have moisturising benefits.There are a range of hot spring tubs and sauna experiences to choose from – including the 1.2-metre-deep Tachiyu hot spring tub, with views across the ocean to the Kerama Islands while you soak – and a massage and treatment menu (at extra cost). Entry to the hotel’s hot spring facilities starts from ¥1,360 per person (£9).
For those keen to delve deeper into the philosophy behind Okinawa’s healthy lifestyle, Halekulani Okinawa offers an exclusive wellbeing programme for its hotel guests, supervised by Professor Arakawa – who specialises in studying how Okinawa’s lifestyle enhances wellness and longevity. The Halekulani Okinawa Escapes programme is centred around discovering the island’s Mabui (soul), Umui (spirit) and Glow (nature).
For example, guests experience Goju-ryu – a traditional Okinawan style of karate – to gain an insight into the island’s soul, and visit areas and sites of spiritual significant and learn more about its wellbeing philosophies whilst discovering its spirit. Two- and three-night packages are available – including full board and a spa treatment – starting from ¥258,000 per person (£1,670).
Halekulani also offers a Wellness Retreat programme that pairs its signature spa treatments with therapies with Reash 4 Stance Theory – a method of training based on conditioning exercises that allow the body to move in harmony with its natural centre of gravity. The programme can be experienced as a half-day, one-day or two-day experience starting from ¥54,600 per person (£354).
Okinawa’s woodlands also set the scene for a memorable wellness experience. Travellers can take part in Nachura’s forest programme, where they embark on a first walk to a waterfall to practice Takigyo (traditional waterfall meditation) and the ancient Vipassana meditation technique, surrounded by birdsong and the rustle of the trees. They can also experience the skin detoxing benefits of Kucha clay, found only in certain spots around Okinawa. Nachura’s forest programme starts from ¥11,000 per person (£71).