Last in a series

Okinawa is well-known for the longevity of its people. Its subtropical climate may be one reason, but a major contributing factor is most likely the southern-most prefecture’s healthy foods.

A shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district serves up some of this bounty, offering a clue to a long life.

Ginza Washita Shop, which features products from Okinawa, draws a large number of customers, particularly the middle-aged and elderly. Among the fare found at the store are “ukon” (turmeric), “kokuto” (brown sugar) and “moromi” vinegar (vinegar made from distilled spirits, including “shochu” or “awamori”).

“One healthy product that is attracting the attention of our customers is ‘si-qua-sa hirami’ lemon, which contains a large amount of vitamin C, vitamin B1 and carotene,” said Taichi Higa, a sales clerk at the Ginza shop.

Hirami lemon, a small citrus fruit covered with a green skin, grows in Okinawa and Taiwan.

The lemon became popular thanks to a TV program in autumn 2000 that boasted its nutritional aspects. According to many researchers, the fruit can retard the development of stomach cancer, bring down the blood sugar level and lower blood pressure.

The shop sells bottles of hirami lemon drink ranging in price from 600 yen to around 2,000 yen.

“You can weaken the sour taste of hirami lemon by mixing it with water. A couple of drops of the juice enhances the flavor of grilled fish or a salad,” Higa said, noting that regulars at the shop who are attracted to the various fruit drinks from Okinawa have been snapping up hirami lemon juice.

Ginza Washita Shop offers other unique products, including locally grown mushrooms and Okinawan noodles. Washita, which means “our” in the Okinawa dialect, denotes the fact that the shop carefully selects products representative of the island prefecture, according to Higa.

“Our customers come looking for their favorite healthy products, which are not sold at ordinary stores in Tokyo,” he said.

Just as Okinawa’s foods are quite different from those of mainland Japan, so is its culture.

Under the Ryukyu Dynasty, the islands were influenced by Japan, China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Ginza Washita Shop offers 5,000 unique items, from food and drinks to crafts and books. Lending to its atmosphere is background music produced by Okinawan musicians, including traditional folk songs.

“We want people to learn about the culture of Okinawa through our shop, not just about the prefecture’s products,” Higa said.

The store holds promotional campaigns almost daily, offering discounts and free drinks, he said, noting customers recently were given a free cup of hirami lemon drink.

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