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Okinawa Time
Life Rhythms, Stress and Aging
'Nan Kuru Nai Sa' (Don't worry, be happy -- popular Okinawan expression)

Japan is a country that is famous for its meticulous attention to detail -- an aspect that reveals itself in a certain sense of orderliness. Everything has its proper place and time, and everything runs according to schedule. Buses, trains, planes and events -- all start and finish right on time. With this in mind, you may be intrigued when you learn about the Okinawan way of viewing time. In these lush and temperate islands, life simply unfolds at its own pace. It seems to make up its own mind as it goes along. This easygoing approach, known locally as "Okinawa time," is a fascinating contrast to Japan's precision and punctuality. In Okinawa, people don't view the clock as the enemy -- in Okinawa, time is your friend.

Once you settle into the slower rhythms and laid-back attitudes of Okinawan culture, you too may begin to slough off the feeling that "time waits for no one" -- the unchallenged creed of the harried modern city dweller. Interestingly, Okinawa time is not simply a subjective feeling -- like the one we often sense in sunny, tropical island cultures. There is actually an objective reality to Okinawa time that shows up in delayed starting times for ceremonies, parties, lectures and symposia, not to mention casual meetings of friends or family gatherings. However, to some degree, time has been catching up with things in Okinawa in recent years as it adjusts to the frantic pace of modern society. A recent newspaper survey conducted in Naha, the bustling capital of Okinawa, showed that 40 percent of events held at local hotels actually started on time. Quite a record for Okinawa. The remaining 60 percent were still anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes late.

The longer you stay in Okinawa, the more you too might begin to wonder if Okinawa time can actually help to buffer some of the negative effects of stress. You might also begin to wonder if the fast-paced bustle of city life is in fact the best way to live, or simply another alternate lifestyle. You might begin to wonder if stress is really a "natural" part of life.

Leading a stressful lifestyle without coping skills can age you beyond your years. Try these tips from "The Okinawa Program":

* Breathe your stress away by inhaling and exhaling slowly and counting each breath to ten.
* Meditate for relaxation.
* Cultivate your sense of humor.
* Be optimistic.
* Nurture your spirit by building a healing spot in your home and working on your spiritual self.
* Surround yourself with a "healing web" of friends and relatives.
* Develop the "yuimaru spirit" by helping your neighbors, participating in community events and becoming a volunteer.

Finally, it is wise to remember that aging should not be feared but embraced. In Okinawa, aging is seen as a progressive gain in wisdom and an achievement to be celebrated. The biggest celebration takes place at age 97 and is called kajimaya. The elder participating in this celebration wears red, which symbolizes a return to youth. People try and touch or shake hands with the long-lived celebrant in order to share in their health and longevity, a process called ayakaru. If one can ayakaru the elder during the kajimaya celebration, it is believed that one will be able to share in the elder's good fortune and live a long and healthy life as well.

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