Why Okinawans Live Longer Than You

I’m currently in Okinawa, where until recently
lifespans were the longest on the planet. If you made it to sixty here and
had somehow survived the war, you could expect to live passed eighty,
up to ninety years old. On average. Since then, however, it’s been
dropping off a little bit. Not enough to cause alarm among the locals,
but for those who have been fetishizing the longevity of these people,
it has caused a little bit of a stir. Thousands of news articles have been
rewritten to have newer, hotter takes. Because as it turns out and lucky for the
plot of this video, there is more to longevity than mixing the perfect amount of pork
with the perfect amount of rice. The Okinawan diet is good. It was good. And in all likelihood it’s going to
continue to be be good. But if you want to live a really long time,
the one thing you truly need is money. So many people want to live longer. I don’t mean longer than they’ve lived
right now, I think that’s most of us, but longer than the average. They take weird vitamins and go on diets
and cleanses and all sorts of other fads. Not based on the premise that it will
necessarily make their lives better today, but that it might tack on a couple
more years on the end. Which to me, seems like a curse, not a gift. The worst monkey’s paw is being given more life
at the end by making life worse in the middle. But there’s no denying it’s popular. Here in Okinawa, there’s an entire tourist
subculture of fetishization around the idea that they hold some sort of
secret to our survival. And in true Rare Earth fashion, as is the case any time
I come across tourism in its most comical forms, I’m going to spend this entire video
making fun of them for it. In researching this episode, I read about
a hundred articles on Japan’s life expectancy. Everything from the AARP to the Guardian, from tiny
motherhood blogs to actual medical research. I put in way too much time trying to
determine what was true here. And from what I found,
it’s actually quite simple. Virtually all of these articles
are lying to you. Not lying in the direct sense of telling you a fact
that isn’t true, but lying by means of omission. And I’m sure that many conspiracy minded
people will claim that this is due to their corporate overlords handing down decrees about
keeping wealth inequality on the hush-hush or whatever, but I’m more of an Occam’s
razor type myself. I think they’re lying because they’re lazy,
and dietary longevity in some foreign land is an incredibly easy clickbait story that
intellectually lazy people just love to hear. Why do the Japanese live longer,
these journalists ask. Food! They respond. Something you could be doing but aren’t! Which is in some ways true. I don’t want to deny the facts here. Scientific studies on the Japanese, and more
specifically Okinawan aboriginal diet, have shown that those that stick to the common
core food groups have on average done better than those that haven’t. Japanese citizens eat more fish, less saturated
fats and fewer calories than other nations. It’s not that the news is wrong in saying
that, it’s just that they’ve extended the idea well beyond its natural legs. In Okinawa, they sell all varieties of local foods
under the idea that they’ll extend your life. Many of whom have ample scientific backing. Goya, the bitter melon common to most Okinawan
meals, is world-famous for its health benefits. Sweet potato from the main island is
a staple of nearly every desert and sea grapes off the coast are presented on TV
in the mainland as a rare and life-giving delicacy. In perhaps the most direct statement for tourists,
chomeiso leaves from Yonaguni are specifically marketed as “life extending”. And as I mentioned before, none of these
statements are specifically a lie. They’re just openly misrepresenting the truth. If you read these articles, you’d imagine
the Japanese to be superhuman, well surpassing any country by leaps and bounds. But in reality, they barely live a third of
a year longer than the next highest nation. For those already aged sixty, there is virtually
no discernible difference between any of the major Western nations. Or, perhaps I should say, the major Western
nations with quality access to healthcare. The recent collapse of the Okinawan lifespan
has likely little to do with their changing diet, just as the drastic growth of the
mainland post-war lifespan had little to do with them returning to their ancestral ways. In both cases, the changes seem far more in
line with fluctuations to personal wealth and access to medical care than they do
with any shift in consumption. The key to understanding the drop in life
expectancy of Okinawans is to understand that it’s being undertaken in comparison to
mainland Japan, not as an isolated area. They aren’t dying off at a much faster rate
so much as other parts of the country are living slightly longer now. The comparison is no longer a stark. And while nobody truly understands exactly
why that is, it’s almost always pitched as dietary, and I feel like in turn like there are certain things being
overlooked when this story is brought up by the media. Much of the media claims that
Americanization of the diet is to blame. And certainly, after the war, the influx of foreigners
with foreign meals and ideas about health were bound to have an effect on the
local population. Unquestionably, people here are now eating
more burgers and more salt and more processed foods than ever before. But so are the mainlanders. It would be hard to visit Tokyo and Naha and think
that Naha was somehow more Westernized in their diet. So there must be more to it than that. And the way I see it, and the way my research
presented it to me is that it has to be healthcare. Japan has one of the most effective and
cheapest healthcare systems on the planet. But that hasn’t extended equally
to the Okinawans. Not just because they’re a subjugated people
treated as second-class citizens in Japanese society, relegated to their own community’s most dangerous
jobs with worse pay, treated with less concern, and overall allowed less equality in society. But also because they’re island folk,
and not every island is prepared for maintaining the health of its citizens
like those on the mainland. On the island of Yonaguni, for example, Kata
and I caught a nasty strain of strep throat and found ourselves visiting
the only clinic available. It was a tiny three room box separated by
curtains, with barely enough capacity for a dozen visitors. If anything serious happened, it was incredibly
clear us that we’d have to be flown somewhere else. And there are few people in such an environment
that are going to the hospital for anything but the most important illnesses, simply
because it’s a bigger pain to do so. But that’s not the case on mainland. On mainland, as more people urbanize and the cities
densify and become wealthier and more developed, it just becomes easier to access a doctor. Wealth and the ability to see a doctor promptly, within
a reasonable budget, for the max number of citizens, is the key to statistical longevity. Diet is secondary. That’s what every news article
I read seemed to miss. If fish and a lack of meat was the ticket to longevity,
Switzerland wouldn’t be in second. If a lack of processed foods was the ticket,
Australia wouldn’t be in fourth. What all the leading nations share is access
to quality, timely, socialized medicine. Not just goya. But with all of that said, I still don’t want to finish this
video without spending at least a little bit more time mocking the tourists who came
here to eat the superfoods. Because they’re almost never doing so in a way
that could possibly be pitched as beneficial anyway. Tourists come to Okinawa
from the mainland to eat goya. But then they find it tastes terrible. So they turned into ice cream and shakes. Where it still tastes terrible. They just end up throwing it
out after the third sip. They eat the sweat potato but
they do it as desert, as pie. They eat the sea grapes with giant steaks and they
drink the chomeiso leaf after a couple of shots of sake. Nobody actually wants this stuff. Even if the diet was the key to longevity,
all this fetishizing does is symbolically sends a few pack a day smokers on a single
beach run during their vacation. None of the tourists who are visiting here
are going home to change their diet to that of the indigenous Okinawans. It’s all novelty. They’re just coming here for a quick hit of theoretical
health, and then leaving back to how they were before. Only for the Japanese, I guess they’re now
doing it a bit more ironically, because statistically they’re actually living longer
just staying home. If you want to believe that fad diets are
what keep you healthy, then by all means come here to Kokusaidori and have
a bit of goya ice cream. It tastes terrible, so you can
pretend it’s working. But if you want to go somewhere on vacation
wherever the culture might actually extend your life, just choose somewhere that
has got socialized healthcare. This is Rare Earth. And those are some old ladies.

100 thoughts on “Why Okinawans Live Longer Than You

  1. It isnt just access to care for acute medical conditions which is important. Addressing causes of poor health from birth to death, in the community is more important, in my opinion. As a nurse in Canada, most of my patients have preventable conditions which cause acute illnesses, disability, and/or death. Canada isnt doing great on the preventive medicine front.

  2. Access to proper health care is vital for quality of life and longevity. Although Japanese healthcare may not be perfect (by a long shot), it is a shining example of the possibility and benefits of universal health care.

    Japan has one of the most successful universal health care systems on the planet… but it does not have socialized health care. Japan has a commercial health care market that is funded by something that looks kind of like single-payer if you squint. Comparing it to single-payer wouldn't be entirely wrong, because the functional differences in why Japan is outperforming single-payer systems isn't really rooted in the technical differences between single-payer and their system. We just don't have a concise to term to say "the stupid mistakes common among those who've already implemented single-payer systems".

    There are people in the world who live in places without universal health care and weighing the decision on whether they should be implementing it. They're looking across the world at people and weighing options, and lives are at stake. To call a functional universal healthcare system "socialized" when it is not, and especially when there are more visible socialized health care systems which (to put it more politely than it should be stated) are not performing nearly as well, is dangerous.

  3. Well, when a country like the US spends over 50% of its discretionary budget on an already bloated military, and cutting taxes for the wealthy, and allowing over 90 companies/corporations to pay no taxes – that doesn't leave as much for negligible stuff like mere healthcare for its citizens. C'mon – Blackwater and Amazon need that money!

  4. Fad diet people who think eating some random crap for a week can help their health remind me of this fat lady who ordered a salad and then ordered a bunch of junk and someone commented to her that she bought a bunch of junk and she replied with "Yea, but I ordered a salad too!", as if ordering the salad but not eating it was having some sort of health effect.
    Some people are REALLY stupid.

  5. I don't care about longevity; its quality of life that matters to me, (then again, I was lucky enough to benefit from socialised medicine.)

  6. Speaking of superfoods, I absolutely hate the concept. When the concept of superfoods first became a thing, I was working at a nursery and a large amount of seedlings being sold got new tags to market them as superfoods. Did it help bolster sales? Yes but it also made it apparent to me that superfoods was just a marketing gimmick and nothing more.

  7. And Germany still has a 2 class medical health care system. I can't wait for the moment they'll bring same quality health care to everyone.

  8. I'm just gonna keep eating my foods that align with my moral compass and if something kills me it earned it. But I'll be damned if the privatized healthcare industry isn't directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people every year.

  9. I get my health care through the VA. It’s as close to socialized as America has. My doctors are great but the paper pushers makes seeing those doctors a challenge for most of us. What good is a doctor you aren’t allowed to see?

  10. Hi, you probably have a point here, the hype is stupid. But I mean, you don't REALLY know if diet is secondary. If you knew, that would probably be news, at least in medical publications.

  11. Well I bought a thick ass book called the Okinawan way, haven't started it and probably never will after this video. Maybe a flip through to see if it says anything about socialised health care.

  12. What you referred to by the Japanese name Goya, and is also known more widely as 'bitter melon,' is a staple of the Philippine diet and called Ampalaya here. And yes you have to be careful in preparing it, but cut correctly to remove the most bitter part, sauteed with onion and egg, it is a delight. I am really sorry your experience with it was unpleasant. It is one of my favorite vegetables.

  13. I like how your videos are not simply about some edgy/hipster tourism, but it covers the historical, socio-economic, political, cultural aspects of the places that you visit that make those places what they are now. On top everything, I like how these videos are so well-researched. And as an economist/statistician, I agree with most of your points (about healthcare policy) in this video.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. As to 'fetishizing' old age, you, my young whippersnapper are exhibiting your disdain for that which you know not. As we get older, if we are lucky, life still holds amazement, joy, and the promise of a future we would like to experience. Some of us carry the knowledge that as we pass on, a level of stability and safety will be removed from those around us. Our bodies may betray us, but our hearts and minds may not have done so. Yes, when the mind goes, or the pain of a failed body is too great, the end may be the best answer, but to not seek continuation of life, or existence in all other ways makes no sense. Sure crazy diets, and silly stuff, are what the are, but please don't think that we want to live longer as a fetish. Just wait… you'll see… just wait.

  15. Socialized healthcare, if handled well and optional, would be great for the US. The problem many people have here, is our government just doesn't handle things well in its current state. We need massive reforms on how money is handled, as millions, sometimes billions a year are going poof depending on the state. Minnesota especially, to the point that the federal government is penalizing the state by removing some funding, to which the state decides it's just going to tax its citizens more to make up for it, rather than finding the lost money. It's one of the reasons I like Andrew Yang, as he's looking at installing a large number of actual brakes on the current problems, with a number of things including term limits, a funding dividend on top of his primary UBI which could wash out many backroom deals, goal-posts for laws to fulfill before they can further bloat the books, etc. Many politicians are saying nice things people want, but the system in place would eat those changes alive, and the people with it, while hiding the actual problems behind layers of legalese and red-tape.

  16. The quality of Australian health care is different from state to state.
    You can live a long life in Australia. But if you dont care for your health and stay away from medications, you ll be doing it from a badly run, badly funded & or greedy nursing home.

  17. I got an ad for Chris Hadfield’s MasterClass before this, and didn’t skip it because in this context it seemed rude to.

  18. "and those are some old ladies"
    Is exactly my impression after living in Hiroshima.
    The elderly in Japan are active, visible and have a strong sense of purpose well into old age. Many keep working until they die. By contrast I rarely see people over 85 in North America just out and about… Always stuck in homes and isolated from society.

  19. In Bulgaria, there is a region with the highest concentration of individuals who live more than 100 years. Chinese people have Bulgaria the stereotype “bacteria-induced longevity” because of the statistic, since the diet is yogurt, etc. But that’s why the Japanese won’t live longer than me, at least.

  20. Garlic, onion, and jalapeno pickled with vintage and vodka will kill Streep in 5 minutes no need for a socialist doctor. Healing the sick should and was a free thing before the healthcare got turned into a for profit industry. And money has no place in a healthy culture it is a cancer.

  21. This video made me laugh, not for trashing misguided tourism but because I'm from the USA, aka one of the last major 1st world countries without socialized healthcare listening to a Canadian tell me that's where life longevity comes from. RIP me, I guess.

  22. To be fair it's well known America has a terrible diet and an incredibly unsocialised healthcare system, yet they don't fall too far behind my own country, the U.K, which has great healthcare and a diet that's at least a little better than America's.

    I think there's another major player here which is social time. The Japanese aren't famed for being the most sociable people but when you come here you realise they are incredibly intimate and have good, close relationships. The same is true for the States which is maybe the levelling force between them and the UK.

  23. I'm speechless. NEVER have I heard such impassioned reasons for socialized health care. Evan~Thank you.
    40+ yr nurse (ret), Canadian. And when I think of the "american model" of for profit medical care, I could just weep, I have wept.
    Imagine having to tell a mother her insurance doesn't cover a life saving medicine, test or procedure for her child.
    Let that sink in.
    "You're child may/will die if we don't do this test/procedure/surgery~but your insurance won't cover it. It's probably about $20,000. Can you pay out of pocket? No? Well then I'm sorry. Take your child home to die. Because we can't treat her/him without being paid. Do you need your parking validated?" (<<okay. That last bit wasn't necessary, but, it feels like it fits)
    There's no MAGA! It's never been that great and the number one reason is the incredible cost to individuals for healthcare. It's as much a right as is breathing~yet millions have ZERO access because of their for profit set-up.
    I won't go on. I could easily write thousands of words about this. It's been my absolute privilege for, as said, 40 years, to provide care to anyone, regardless of their bank balance.
    Jenn in Canada 🇨🇦

  24. Looks like you were there before Shuri Castle burnt down. I spent a couple of weeks in Okinawa a few years ago and it's such a beautiful place and the people were super nice. It's a shame they are treated so poorly by the Japanese government.

  25. Nope even you're sad voice don't brings truth . get ready to cry and lose perhaps a lone subscriber don't matter because it's just feeling. And I don't g a s

  26. Hey man, rare earth used to be profound…. then you posted every 3 minutes and dropped the profanity level. God i wish that word worked there.

  27. Yet to watch a bad vid. However densification is not a word……until it's published in five places, newspapers, magazines.

  28. I figured it out, the US doesn't have socialized health care so that marginalizing the poor is much easier to do. It has nothing to do with equality. In fact it is quite the opposite.

  29. Is that bitter melon? If it is, then its actually taste good. You just need to cook it right the same as cassava leaf, bitter melon is one of my favorite food if its cook right.

  30. i thought 80 was the normal age to reach… my grandma got to 85 and she had MS..

    other elderly people i know died earlier (70) but they where all obese or chain smokers so.. understandable.

  31. My grandma is from Kyushu (Kuyushu?) She said it's one of the southern islands but shes 88 years old and still, well, barely kicking!

  32. There are a few facts about socialized medicine that need to be addressed before a grand plan to transplant Japanese medicine everywhere: 1. It is a huge honor to have a doctor in a Japanese family, worthy of sacrifice on the part of siblings, so Japanese Drs make far less than US Drs and no legislation can address this. 2. Every socialized medical system, even Japan although to a lesser extent, is facing shortages of physicians, equipment and funds which can be seen in longer wait times for treatment, especially for patients who need imaging like MRI's. 3. Diet and socialized medicine extend the lives of those suffering from cardiovascular disease by sacrificing patients suffering from less common cancers, especially children. 4. The US could drastically increase the availability of medical care to poor just by enforcing anticompetitive laws that are already on the books to drastically reduce the cost of care making it more affordable for private charities to provide health care.

  33. You could spend 24 hours on a video or two weeks on a video. You guys put out quality no matter what, bringing light to things we need to pay attention to and be aware of in our natural world. Thank you

  34. Nicely done. People demonstrate they are deeply flawed every day. They are looking for the fountain of youth, and they want it in a pill form, and they don’t want to change anything in their lifestyles to achieve immortality and lasting beauty. So, while staying active, eating sensibly and taking all things in moderation is sound advice, it’s not sexy and most prefer some gnostic ancient cure aspect. The want the long held “secret” to to fixing whatever ails you to be some obscure piece of fruit or something scraped off a rock in the ocean, and they want desperately to believe it’s true. The placebo effect. And everyone is good with letting you think that it’s all true and then some because it brings in the money. So, yes, the fall back is being rich to afford health care, or live in a location that provides affordable healthcare, and rely on better living through medicine. Again, great piece. Keep up the good work.

  35. yes, socialized healthcare sounds amazing, but do you really trust the government to manage it correctly? It might work for a small island like Okinawa, but factor in 326 million more people and see how bogged down the system will get. If we could have a well managed, efficient, and quality socialized healthcare system, then I would be fine with it, but like everything the government puts their hands into it becomes inefficient, wasteful, and allows for people to abuse it and corrupt it for personal gain. So until then, I am more than happy to put aside a little more money and live within my means to ensure that I receive timely and quality healthcare when I need it.


  37. small point, the things u state in the beginning may not be necessarily done for a long life, i try to be healthy in the hope that i can maximise my physical independence and mentally activity till the day i die, when that may be is out of my control and not something i really think about, so a extraordinarily long life is not necessarily something everyone universally covets.

  38. Nice timing on the video, Evan; I had my first real experience with the Australian healthcare system this week.

    On Monday night, around 9pm, I lacerated my hand in the kitchen. My wife drove me to the hospital, so I could get some stitches. An examination, x-ray, and some antibiotics later, I'm sent home with an appointment for the hand surgeon the next morning.

    My 1pm on Tuesday, I am on the operating table, having the (apparently far more serious damage than I had anticipated) fixed.
    I'm back home at 6pm.

    I have no private medical insurance. This entire venture, including the physiotherapy yet to come has cost me $0. Even the parking at the hospital was free. Or the hospital meal I ate 20 minutes before being discharged. Free.

    Yes, in the broader sense, I do pay for it with my taxes, but that's kind of the point: me being out of the Australian workforce, not paying taxes, or working at reduced capacity due to an unfixed hand costs the Australian economy more in the long run.

    Our healthcare system works. When I go back to work in a few days, I'll be living proof.

  39. goya is nasty. I can't believe ancient people ate it and went, "yes, this isn't poison. let's make it part of our regular diet".

  40. "This episode was produced via the energy contained in [c]onbini chicken"

    What is born in darkness has the most difficulty reaching any light

  41. Please the US rather sucks in comparison to other western countries. This is yet another example of how the US is turning into the largest, wealthiest, third world country. A land of a few well off have's and a overwhelming majority of have not's.
    We argue about people should "be allowed" to see a doctor when sick. About if children should be saved from diseases eliminated, and now brought back. About if anyone who has a pulse should have as many firearms as they want.
    To be honest, I am surprised the statistics about US life expectancy are as good as they are. (#35-#38 depending on who did the study)

  42. In China we eat a ‘bitter cucumber’ that is probably Goya, and the only reason we eat it is because Grandma actually likes the taste…

  43. We have socialized medicine here in my backwater Philippine province…

    Yeah, I'd rather have Merican for profit Health Care thank you very much.

    Socialized Healthcare is not the answer. Quality healthcare is. What's the point of free healthcare, when said healthcare is worthless? What's the point of a free doctor, when said doctor is in charge of 200 beds every day?

    While yes, Merica's exuberant prices on healthcare is not exactly good value healthcare, it still offers more value than the rest of the world.

  44. That was a forgone conclusion here. Quality, accessible healthcare doesn't equal socialized healthcare. That is just a poor logic step. There are places where socialized healthcare is a failure and it revolves around money just like anywhere there isn't socialized healthcare. Rwanda has socialized healthcare; so does Ghana; hell, so does the US if you are old or poor.

  45. I haven't watched the video yet, only seen the thumbnail, but I hope the answer isn't "because they eat heaps of bitter melon". Because in that case I'm gonna die early rather than eat that nasty nonsense.

  46. While it would be great if the US had public healthcare, it's getting annoying hearing so much about a problem that only exists in one country in the developed world. The solution is so obvious to 90% of the world's population (and half of Americans) that more videos extolling the virtues of public healthcare aren't really worth watching any more.

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