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Medicine Man Emerges from Okinawan Jungle

By: Kari Vajtaola

Date Posted: 1999-11-19

Seikichi Shimoji grew up listening to his parents telling him to become a medical doctor. But instead of laboring in the classroom towards the goal set for him by parental authority, he often skipped classes and spent time in the jungles and bushes of his native Miyako Island. “Every time I spent time in the jungle, I discovered something new,” Shimoji now says.

His interest in herbs and plants was fostered by the tales of his grandmother who used to lecture him on old traditional medicines based on locally grown herbs, such as aloe, guava, mugwort, kandaba and unjana. His grandmother knew which herb healed an accidental wound, what cured an upset stomach, what helped with a fever, and even what was good for lowering high blood pressure.

The young man was so impressed with the usefulness of the herbs that, instead of heading for medical school, he just went deeper and deeper into the jungles of Miyako, and eventually ended up cultivating medical herbs in the dry land of Miyako Island in 1974. That was the start of "źakusou-En", or herb garden, Shimoji's life-long labor and love.

Over the years Shimoji has learned more of the best use of the medicinal herbs and experience has taught him what his eyes should be cast on when walking in Okinawan forests.

"I encounter a variety of herbs when I'm out there. I study them and that probably has lead me in my own way to be a doctor as my parents wanted," Shimoji said. All in all, he has spent 54 years of his life studying and cultivating herbs since his first encounter with medicinal herbs.

Today, the center of Shimoji's operation is in Sashiki Town in Okinawa's main island. Over the years, he has discovered many herbs that people thought were worthless, but which have turned out to be of good nutritional and medicinal value. The number of herbs he cultivates has grown to over 1,000. That includes varieties from all over the world, now flourishing in his garden. Just recently, he brought back a rare kind of herb with him from China.

Shimoji says that his company's motto is "to help people live healthier lives in more beautiful bodies."

He also wants to send out the message "good health is everyone's birthright" to the world from Okinawa, the prefecture universally recognized for its people's longevity. More than 1,000 kinds of herbs are grown, then processed and packed at the processing plant. An associated company named "Chouju Sangen" then sells the final product. Visitors to Yakusou-En can also sample foods spiced with Shimoji's homegrown herbs at the restaurant Chujyu-Gen in the facility.

The restaurant also accepts reservations for parties, (including year-end parties) and other special occasions. The restaurant is open daily from 9:00-21:00.

Directions to Chujyu-Gen: Take Highway 329 south. In Yonabaru turn left at T-shape intersection towards Sashiki. Yakusou-En is on the left, about 5 kilometers from the intersection.

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