Tag Archives: longevity

Every country in the world has a signature dish, and if you ask any Japanese or Okinawan what Okinawa’s ‘champion’ dish is, they’ll say champuru. It would be safe to say that Okinawans would eat champuru daily, and it serves as the main dish to include everything healthy that makes up the Okinawan diet. So what is champuru?

To understand fully what champuru is, we’ll take a brief look at the history of Okinawan food culture. Okinawa is a large island between southern Japan and Taiwan. It was, for centuries, governed by the Chinese, and then invaded by the Japanese, and today is a Japanese prefecture (state). The Okinawans have always, though, held on to their culture and history, and still largely see themselves as Okinawans, and not Japanese. A point I agree with, as their language, culture, food, everything is different from Japan. This is why I focus on Okinawa as if it were another country, and not part of Japan, although it has been heavily influenced mostly by Japan.

Being under the governance of China for so long, and then Japan, it was a major trade ‘stop over’ for China, Japan, Korea and later Europeans. They all brought, traded and left their traditional and traded foods, culture, arts, etc, and Okinawa freely adopted many new things, fitting them into their own culture with ease and benefit. And as so many cultures settled, traded, lived, shared with and influenced the Okinawans for so long, their culture became and is a melting pot of variety and diversity, including its food, and ultimately champuru.

Champuru is both a dish and a concept. As a dish, it is a kind of stir fry, consisting almost always of tofu, leafy green vegetables, a local Okinawan vegetable called goya (which is quite bitter, and attributed partly to their legendary longevity), and sometimes meat.

And as champuru evolved into a ‘classic’ Okinawan dish, it also became a concept, almost a culinary symbol or metaphor for Okinawan culture and history – and that is: a little of everything from everywhere is OK, and don’t stress too much about how it’s prepared. Put a little of this in today, a little of that in tomorrow, and whatever we have the next day. This is very much part of the Okinawan way of life, and certainly their philosophy of teigei (easy-going-ness) is expressed in champuru.

I have also seen this in the traditional Okinawan martials arts, especially goju-ryu, the origins of Japanese and modern karate. While many countries, and styles, seem unwilling to accept other style’s influences into their often close-guarded systems, the Okinawans were open to learning many things from the Chinese, and later the Japanese, Koreans and Europeans. As a result, their martial arts, as well as many other aspects of their culture, became well-rounded, flexible and maintained an openness to further learning.

And herein we see the paradox that so often describes Japan and Okinawan. A seemingly slap-dash meal, with bits and pieces of this and that, but there is a ‘method in their madness’, a perfection that comes from the meal and an awareness and art that lives in the preparing, cooking and eating of champuru. The word “champuru” has also come to mean anything created by freely mixing or blending all sorts of things together, and this is referred to as the ‘champuru culture.’

Champuru is the ‘classic’ dish of Okinawa, but it is very much a strong part of Okinawan home-cooking also. And just as important, champuru is very healthy. We eat a few different kinds of champuru each week in my house. It’s easy, inexpensive and yummy!

Interested in trying champuru? Here’s a really simple way to make it:

1. Heat your frying pan well, then add tofu (a little firmer tofu works best, cut into 3–4cm cubes) and fry the tofu until golden brown.

2. Add some fresh vegetables (cooked lightly to retain their freshness and crispness) + a little sea salt (or other seasonings.)

3. If you want some kind of meat in the meal, add this to cook for a little time before the vegetables.

* As seen in the picture above, you can also add some egg and ham. At the end of the 2nd World War, Okinawa had been ‘invaded’ by the US military, who supplied the war-torn Okinawans with long-life foods such as spam, ham, sausages and other tinned foods, including beans. At that time, they had little food and no meat, due to heavy bombing (almost two thirds of the Okinawan population was killed during the final battles between Japan and the US.) But in true Okinawan adaptability and ‘champuru’ spirit, they readily adopted the new food and it quickly became part of their everyday cuisine, and sometimes still is. They are a very versatile people.

Are you interested in living to 100 years old? No? How about 90? What about a really healthy 80 year old? Would that be OK?

As a health professional and lifestyle coach, especially as I specialise in longevity, one of the saddest things I see in the western world is people’s attitude to aging. Unfortunately, our only view of ‘old people’ and aging is sickness, immobility, senility, dying and death. And even more frightening is that this view is accurate, due to our current aged population’s lifestyle for the last 80 years.

But do we have to be the same? Do we have to go down that same path of sickness, immobility, senility and poor quality aging as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents? Are you resigned to the same fate? How you ever thought about it? Most people haven’t and never will.

There are some cultures alive today who still believe in and live a ‘warrior spirit’, and some that follow success and prosperity, while others scarcity and poverty. And some, when it comes to quality health and wellbeing, especially in older age, are focused on living well and living long into their 80s, 90s and to 100 or over. What’s their secret? Attitude. Belief systems. Role models.

In Western countries, our attitude towards aging well is nothing short of disgraceful. We have so many socially conditioned thoughts, beliefs and verbal expressions that not only speed up the aging process, but create false milestones for poor aging and sickness. Some examples are ‘40 and over the hill’ or “You’re 50 (or 60) now and should be slowing down’, and these are compounded by earlier and earlier plans to retire (expire), start thinking about retirement and then nursing homes.

We say things like, “I’m here for a good time, not a long time”, and “If I ever get that old, shoot me”. The Western world’s health view is live hard, die young. And that view is seriously reflected in our health statistics and reality.

Role models and living examples are also extremely important. In some cultures, where aging well is revered and respected, and even a life pursuit, their role models are healthy, happy, active aged members of their communities – I’m talking about 80-100 year olds who are saner, sharper and healthier than people in the West who are 20-30 years younger. In Okinawa, it is a cultural pursuit to try and reach 97 years old, which is a sacred number in aging. They experience 97% less age-related disability and sickness. Stop and read that again! 97% LESS age-related disability. Isn’t that amazing?

While Australians and other Westerners are starting to experience some serious signs of disability in their 50s, and are having to ‘shut down’ and accept ‘Western aging’ disability in their 60s, 70s and are really ‘just waiting to die’ by their 80s, most Okinawan, Japanese and other countries’ elderly are living sprite, active, purpose-filled, healthy and happy lives.

Longevity is not about living forever. What I’m proposing for Westerners is a new definition of longevity, one that involves a new way of thinking. A new attitude towards aging and what aging means to us individually and collectively as a nation or culture. And with that change in attitude must come a change in lifestyle habits and practises, such as a new awareness of quality nutrition, smarter exercise, a better understanding of the aging process in humans, a renewed sense of life purpose, a deeper connection to something spiritual ‘out there’ or ‘in here’ that is driving and shaping us, and some new social conditioning.

I love life. I love learning and growing and experiencing new things in life daily. You may share this value, or have other meaningful values that drive you. Whatever they are, and whatever your life purpose and dreams, wouldn’t you want to pursue and achieve them for as long as possible? While I do accept that I don’t know what lies ahead for me in life, or how long I’ll live, I do have the goal of living to 100 or beyond, and that is by design, rather than destiny or fate. My own ideal and role models are healthy, happy, active and wise aged people, 80-100 year olds, and not the decrepit, sad and sick aged population that we seem to have accepted as the best example of elderly life and aging (with respect to all the wonderful aged people who we all know. I respect you. I thank you for your contribution to the nation. I just don’t accept that your age-related condition is the only option for my future.)

Who knows, with a simple shift in attitude and awareness, we could all be healthy, happy 90-100 year olds in the near future, setting shining examples of aging, super health and longevity for generations to come. I hope you join me on that journey.

- by Dean Bleasdale