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For more than 20 years, Okinawa has nurtured a growing trend toward achieving sustainability on all levels of society. In a rapidly changing world that is still negotiating a pandemic, many Okinawans have been working to create initiatives that both engage tourists and enrich the local community and environment.

From actively protecting natural habitats, to eating as the locals do, to engaging with their traditional ways of life, here are just a few ways that you can contribute to the increasing sustainability of these islands, while experiencing the best of Okinawa along the way.

Revive the Coral Reef in Onna Village

More than half of the world’s coral species can be found in the Pacific Ocean reefs surrounding the Okinawa archipelago, where they support rich ecosystems for native marine life, create natural seawalls, and absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide. In Onna “Coral” Village on the west coast of the main island, a 30km-long reef has for centuries supported local seafood and livelihoods.

In 1998, due to a sudden rise in sea temperatures, almost 90% of the coral around Okinawa’s main island succumbed to bleaching. Shocked by this tragic loss, local fishermen resolved to save the reef by becoming coral farmers. By 2003, they succeeded in transplanting farm-raised coral into the sea. So far, they have transplanted more than 100,000 coral seedlings.

Protecting and reseeding the coral reefs around Okinawa. | Photo by OCVB

At Sango Batake in Yomitan, you can make an individual coral seedling, which is nurtured at the farm until it’s large enough to survive in the ocean. The mature coral is then transplanted into the sea, where it eventually spawns and repopulates the critically endangered reef. As responsible travelers, we can also protect the reefs by not touching living coral in the sea, by using coral-friendly skin products, and by learning more about how best to protect the reefs.

Eat Seasonal “Longevity Food” in Ogimi

Okinawa is famous as one of the world’s five “Blue Zones” of longevity, where more than a thousand centenarians are still living relatively healthy, happy lives. These ageless islanders are surrounded by peaceful and abundant nature, they participate in a lively and supportive community, and most importantly, they eat a healthy diet.

Former nutritionist and chef Emiko Kinjo was fascinated in particular by the prolific vegetable gardens of the village grandmothers, as well as the naturally medicinal properties of local seasonal ingredients. She opened her own farm-to-table restaurant Emi no Mise in Ogimi to share the culture of Okinawan “longevity cooking” with visitors. By eating locally grown food, you can experience a fundamental part of Okinawa’s traditionally healthy lifestyle, while contributing to preserving the local food culture.

Preserve Traditional Culture on Taketomi Island

In 1986, the few hundred residents of Taketomi in the Yaeyama Islands stood up to save their island from uncontrolled development by drafting the Taketomi Island Charter. This comprehensive charter encompasses issues ranging from land ownership to landscape preservation, and even usage of locally grown and produced materials to make souvenirs.

Responsible tourism is the rule on Taketomi Island in the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa. | Photo by OCVB

Now you too can walk along clean narrow streets paved with white coral sand, among limestone walls that surround traditional wooden houses with red-tiled roofs. (Please be aware, however, that Taketomi Island is still understandably cautious about welcoming tourists during the pandemic, so be sure to check the local situation before you make plans to visit.)

Before travelling, please always check the latest government advice about your destination.

As Okinawans young and youthful work and play to preserve their culture and traditions, there are many ways you can join the trend toward sustainability. Engage in environmental preservation, enjoy the seasonal food harvest, or explore the various unique aspects of traditional culture. While you’re visiting the outer islands of Okinawa, why not pick up the native three-stringed Sanshin and learn how to play “Asadoya Yunta,” a folk song from Taketomi Island?

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Photos by OCVB

Cherise Fong

Cherise Fong

Originally from San Francisco, currently living in Tokyo, preferably traveling by bicycle. Always seeking out invisible ecosystems, untold stories and new perspectives to connect Japan's cultural and physical landscapes.

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