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Location of Ryukyu Islands

 is one of Japanmarker's southern prefectures, and consists of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islandsmarker in a chain over 1,000 km long, which extends southwest from Kyūshūmarker (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwanmarker. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of the largest and most populous island, Okinawa Islandmarker, which is approximately half-way between Kyūshū and Taiwan. The disputed Senkaku Islandsmarker (Mandarin: Diaoyu Islands) are also administered as part of Okinawa Prefecture at present.


The oldest evidence of human existence in the Ryukyu islands was discovered in Naha and Yaesemarker. Some human bone fragments from the Paleolithic era were unearthed, but there is no clear evidence of Paleolithic remains. Japanese Jōmon influences are dominant in the Okinawa Islands, although clay vessels in the Sakishima Islandsmarker have a commonality with those in Taiwanmarker.

The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui. This Ryukyu might refer to Taiwan, not the Ryukyu islands. Okinawa was the Japanese word depicting the islands, first seen in the biography of Jianzhen, written in 779. Agricultural societies begun in the 8th century slowly developed until the 12th century. Since the islands are located in the center of the East China Seamarker relatively close to Japanmarker, Chinamarker and South-East Asia, the Ryūkyū Kingdommarker became a prosperous trading nation. Also during this period, many Gusukus, similar to castles, were constructed. The Ryūkyū Kingdom had a tributary relationship with the Chinese Empire beginning in the 15th century.

In 1609 the Satsuma clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecturemarker, invaded the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Following the invasion the Ryūkyū Kingdom surrendered to the Satsuma and was forced to form a tributary relationship with Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, in addition to its previous relationship with China. Ryukyuan sovereignty was maintained since complete annexation would create a problem with China. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trades with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate.

Though Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ryūkyū Kingdom maintained a considerable degree of domestic political freedom for over two hundred years. Four years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government, through military incursions, officially annexed the kingdom and renamed it Ryukyu han. At the time, the Qing Dynastymarker of China asserted sovereignty over the islands of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, since the Ryūkyū Kingdom was also a tributary nation of China. Ryukyu han became Okinawa Prefecture of Japan in 1879, even though all other hans had become prefectures of Japan in 1872.

Following the Battle of Okinawa and the end of World War II in 1945, Okinawa was under United States administration for 27 years. During the trusteeship rule the USAF established numerous military bases on the Ryukyu islands.

In 1972, the U.S. government returned the islands to Japanese administration. Under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) have maintained a large military presence. 27,000 personnel, including 15,000 Marines, contingents from the Navy, Army and Air Force, and their 22,000 family members are stationed in Okinawa. 18% of the main island was occupied by U.S. military bases and 75% of all USFJ bases are located in Okinawa prefecture.

Accidents and crimes committed by U.S. servicemen have reduced local citizens' support for the U.S. military bases. The Japanese and the US government consider the mutual security treaty and the USFJ absolutely necessary. The rape of a 12 year old girl by U.S. servicemen in 1995 triggered large protests in Okinawa. As a result, both the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenmamarker and other minor bases. However, at present, the closure of the bases has been indefinitely postponed. These disagreements also contribute to the relatively recent anti-Japanese sentiment and ensuing Ryukyu independence movement.


Major islands

The islands of Okinawa Prefecture.
The set of islands belonging to the prefecture is called Ryūkyū Shotō (琉球諸島). Okinawa's inhabited islands are typically divided into three geographical archipelagos. From northeast to southwest:


Map of Okinawa Prefecture.
Okinawa Prefecture includes eleven cities.

Towns and villages

These are the towns and villages in each district.



Gusuku ruins.
Shuri Castle Naha
The island is largely composed of coral rock, and rainwater filtering through that coral has given the island many caves, which played an important role in the Battle of Okinawa. Gyokusendo is an extensive limestone cave in the southern part of Okinawa's main island.


The island experiences temperatures above } for most of the year. Okinawa and the many islands that make up the prefecture contains some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world. Rare blue corals are found off of Ishigaki and Miyako islands as are numerous species throughout the chain.


Okinawa prefecture age pyramid as of October 1, 2003

(per 1000s of people)
Age People
0-4 84
5-9 85
10-14 87
15-19 94
20-24 91
25-29 97
30-34 99
35-39 87
40-44 91
45-49 96
50-54 100
55-59 64
60-64 65
65-69 66
70-74 53
75-79 37
80 + 55
Okinawa Prefecture age pyramid, divided by sex, as of October 1, 2003

(per 1000s of people)
Males Age Females
43 0-4 41
44 5-9 41
45 10-14 42
48 15-19 46
46 20-24 45
49 25-29 48
49 30-34 50
43 35-39 44
46 40-44 45
49 45-49 47
52 50-54 48
32 55-59 32
32 60-64 33
32 65-69 34
24 70-74 29
14 75-79 23
17 80 + 38

Natural history

coral reefs found in this region of Japan, provides an environment to specific fauna. The Sea turtles return yearly to the southern islands of Okinawa to lay their eggs. The summer months carry warnings to swimmers regarding poisonous jellyfish and other dangerous sea creatures. Okinawa is a major producer of sugar cane, pineapple, papaya, and other tropical fruit, and the Southeast Botanical Gardens represent tropical plant species.

Language and culture

Having historically been a separate nation, Okinawan language and culture differ considerably from that of mainland Japan.


There remain numerous Ryukyuan languages which are more-or-less incomprehensible to Japanese speakers. These languages are in decline as the Mainland Japanese is being used by the younger generation. Many linguists, at least those outside Japan, consider Ryukyuan languages as different languages from Japanese, while they are generally perceived as "dialects" by mainland Japanese and Okinawans themselves. Standard Japanese is almost always used in formal situations. In informal situations, de facto everyday language among Okinawans under age 60 is Okinawa-accented mainland Japanese called ウチナーヤマトグチ (Uchinaa Yamatoguchi "Okinawan Japanese"), which is often misunderstood as Okinawan language proper, ウチナーグチ (Uchinaaguchi "Okinawan language"). Uchinaaguchi still is used in traditional cultural activities, such as folk music, or folk dance. There is a radio news program in the language as well. [3626]


Okinawa also has its own religious beliefs, generally characterized by ancestor worship and the respecting of relationships between the living, the dead, and the gods and spirits of the natural world.

Cultural influences

Okinawan culture bears traces of its various trading partners. One can find Chinese, Thai and Austronesian influences in the island's customs. Perhaps Okinawa's most famous cultural export is karate, probably a product of the close ties with and influence of China on Okinawan culture. Karate is thought to be a synthesis of Chinese kung fu with traditional Okinawan martial arts. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods after the invasion and forced annexation by Japan during the Meiji Restoration period also very likely contributed to its development.

Another traditional Okinawan product that owes its existence to Okinawa's trading history is awamori—an Okinawan distilled spirit made from indica rice imported from Thailandmarker.

Other cultural characteristics

The people of Okinawa maintain a strong tradition of pottery, textiles, and glass making.

Other prominent examples of Okinawan culture include the sanshin—a three-stringed Okinawan instrument, closely related to the Chinese sanxian, and ancestor of the Japanese shamisen, somewhat similar to a banjo. Its body is often bound with snakeskin (from python, imported from elsewhere in Asia, rather than from Okinawa's venomous Trimeresurus flavoviridis, which are too small for this purpose). Okinawan culture also features the eisa dance, a traditional drumming dance. A traditional craft, the fabric named bingata, is made in workshops on the main island and elsewhere.

Okinawans eat low-fat, low-salt foods, such as fish, tofu, and seaweed. Okinawans are known for their longevity. Individuals live longer on this Japanese island than anywhere in the world. Five times as many Okinawans live to be 100 as in the rest of Japan, and the Japanese are the longest-lived nationality in the world. There are 34.7 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants, being the highest ratio in the world. The possible explanations to this fact is the diet, low-stress lifestyle, caring community, activity, and spirituality of the inhabitants of the island..

In recent years, Okinawan literature has been appreciated outside of the Ryūkyū archipelago. Two Okinawan writers have received the Akutagawa Prize: Matayoshi Eiki in 1995 for and Medoruma Shun in 1997 for A Drop of Water (Suiteki). The prize was also won by Okinawans in 1967 by Tatsuhiro Oshiro for Cocktail Party (Kakuteru Pāti) and in 1971 by Mineo Higashi for Okinawan Boy (Okinawa no Shōnen).


Karate originated in Okinawa. Over time, it developed into several styles and sub-styles, among them Wado Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Gohaku-Kai, Isshin-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shorinji Ryu and Pangai-noon.


A traditional Okinawan house
Okinawa has many remains of a unique type of castle or fortress called Gusuku. These are believed to be the predecessors of Japan's castles.

Whereas most homes in Japan are made with wood and allow free-flow of air to combat humidity, typical modern homes in Okinawa are made from concrete with barred windows (protection from flying plant matter) to deal with regular typhoons. Roofs are also designed with strong winds in mind, with each tile cemented on and not merely layered as seen with many homes elsewhere in Japan.

Many roofs also display a statue resembling a lion or dragon, called a shisa, which is said to protect the home from danger. Roofs are typically red in color and are inspired by Chinese design.

Okinawa during the Vietnam War

Between 1965 and 1972 Okinawa was a key staging point for the United Statesmarker, in its military operations directed towards North Vietnam. Okinawa along with Guammarker also presented the United States military a geographically strategic launch pad for covert bombing missions over Cambodiamarker and Laosmarker. Anti Vietnam War sentiment, became linked politically to the movement for reversion of Okinawa to Japanmarker. Political leaders such as Oda Makoto, a major figure in the Beheiren movement (Foundation of Citizens for Peace in Vietnam), believed that Okinawa returning to Japan, would lead to the removal of U.S forces ending Japan’s involvement in Vietnam. In a speech delivered in 1967 Oda was critical of Prime Minister Sato’s unilateral support of America’s War in Vietnam claiming "Realistically we are all guilty of complicity in the Vietnam War".

The United States military bases on Okinawa became a focal point for anti-Vietnam War sentiment. By 1969 over 50,000 American military personal were stationed on Okinawa. accustomed to privileges and laws not shared by the indigenous population. The United States Department of Defense began referring to Okinawa as "The Keystone of the Pacific". This idea was even stated on U.S military license plates.

As controversy grew regarding the alleged placement of Nuclear Weapons on Okinawa, so fears intensified on the possible escalation of the Vietnam conflict. Okinawa was now seen by some inside Japan as a potential target for Chinamarker, should the communist government feel threatened by the United States.. American military secrecy blocked any reporting locally, on what was actually occurring at such bases as Kadenamarker. But as information leaked out, and images of air strikes were published, the local population began to fear the potential for retaliation.

The Beheiren became a more visible protest movement on Okinawa as the American involvement in Vietnam intensified. The anti-war movement employed tactics ranging from demonstrations, to handing leaflets to Soldiers directly, warning of the implications for a third World War. The Vietnam War forced many Okinawan's to address their own recent history, in particular the destruction wrought by the battle of Okinawa in World War Two. Images of devastation in Vietnam, by planes based, and armed in Okinawa, led many to see parallels in the two conflicts. This sympathy for a fellow Asian nation only increased public outrage, and calls for a return to what Okinawan's called "Absolute Pacifism".

The United States military bases, once viewed as paternal post war protection, were increasingly seen as aggressive. The military build up on the island during the Cold War increased a division between local inhabitants, and the American military. The Vietnam War highlighted the differences between the United States and Okinawa, but showed a commonality between the islands and mainland Japan..

U.S. military controversy

U.S. military bases in Okinawa
Because the islands are close to Chinamarker and Taiwanmarker, the United States has large military bases on the island. The area of 14 US bases are , occupying 18% of the main island. Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land, but hosts about two-thirds of the 40,000 American forces in the country. Two major bases, Marine Corps Air Station Futenmamarker and Kadena Air Basemarker are located near residential areas. One third (9,852 acres) of the land used by the U.S. military is the Marine Corps Northern Training Area in the north of the island.

According to a 2007 Okinawa Times poll, 85% of Okinawans oppose the presence of the U.S. military due to noise pollution from military drills, aircraft accidents, such as one in 1959 which killed 17 people, and environmental degradation, and crimes committed by U.S. military personnel. The Okinawan prefectural government and local municipalities have made various withdrawal demands of the US military since the end of WWII, but no fundamental solution was ever performed by either the Japanese or U.S. governments.

On September 4, 1995, two U.S. Marines and a sailor abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl. At the time of the incident, Japanese police could not arrest the men known to be involved because they had to remain with the United States Military until charged in a court, per the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. Anti-military base emotions erupted in some of the largest protests in recent history. Eventually through political pressure, the former Marines were tried and convicted in early 1996. As a result of this incident the Status of Forces Agreement, which was criticized for being too protective of U.S. servicemen involved in crimes, underwent revision.

In November 1995, a group called "Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence" was organized to raise awareness of crimes alleged to have been committed by U.S. military personnel on the island. Sentiments against the United States military presence in Okinawa were inflamed further by the Michael Brown Okinawa assault incident, in which a Marine Corps Major charged with attempted rape (and later convicted of the reduced charge of attempted indecent assault) was not turned over to the Japanese authorities at their request. Okinawa authorities pressed for a modification of the Status of Forces Agreement in an effort to remove the military's unilateral right to determine whether it would turn over a servicemember charged with a serious crime.

Tensions increased even more following allegations of an assault committed by an American serviceman against a minor. A restriction was imposed to all U.S. military and Status of Forces Agreement eligible personnel at bases in Okinawa and Iwakuni in February, 2008. It has since been lifted.

In April 2008 the U.S. Military charged a Marine with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa, pressing ahead with a case that spurred protests against the U.S. presence on the island. U.S. military charges against Staff Sgt. Tyrone L. Hadnott included rape, kidnapping through luring. Hadnott pleaded guilty to the assault charge, but was cleared of the charges of rape and kidnapping. He was convicted on the assault charge with a prison sentence of three years and dishonorably discharged from the US military. Hadnott was not indicted by Japanese prosecutors, however, because the girl declined filing charges.

Alleged former US nuclear arms base

The Japanese government strictly restrained the introduction of nuclear arms into Japanese territory by the non-nuclear policy (Three Non-Nuclear Principles). Prior to the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese administration in 1972, it is speculated, but never confirmed, that 1200 nuclear weapons were deployed to US bases in Okinawa. Most of the weapons were stored in ammunition bunkers at Kadena Air Basemarker.

There are conspiracy theorists who speculate that not all the supposed weapons were removed from Okinawa.Edwin O. Reischauer, former US ambassador to Japan, in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in 1981, said that US naval ships armed with nukes stopped at Japanese ports on a routine duty, and this was approved by the Japanese government.

MCAS Futenma relocation

The governments of the United States and Japan agreed on October 26, 2005 to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenmamarker base from its location in the densely populated city of Ginowanmarker to the more northerly and remote Camp Schwab. Under the plan, thousands of Marines will relocate. The move is partly an attempt to relieve tensions between the people of Okinawa and the Marine Corps. Protests from environmental groups and residents over the construction of part of a runway at Camp Schwab, and from businessmen and politicians around Futenmamarker and Henoko, have occurred.

The legality of the proposed heliport relocation has been questioned as being a violation of International Law, including the World Heritage Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in an article titled "Boundary Intersections of UNESCO Heritage Conventions: Using Custom and Cultural Landscapes to Save Okinawa’s Dugong Habitat from U.S. Heliport Construction". The article even questions whether the current use of Camp Schwab for amphibious training violates these three conventions.

Proposed solutions

As recently as 2003 the US was considering moving most of the 20,000 Marines on Okinawa to new bases that would be established in Australia; increasing the presence of US troops in Singapore and Malaysia; and seeking agreements to base Navy ships in Vietnamese waters and ground troops in the Philippines. Under plans on the table, all but about 5,000 Marines would move, possibly to Australia.

As of 2006, some 8,000 US Marines were being removed from the island and being relocated to Guammarker. In November 2008, US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Timothy Keating stated that the move to Guam would probably not be completed before 2015.

Japan's foreign minister Katsuya Okada said he wants to review the deployment of U.S. troops in Japan to ease the burden on the people of Okinawa, where many U.S. bases are located, The Associated Press reported October 7, 2009.


The public schools in Okinawa are overseen by the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education. The agency directly operates several public high schools. The US Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) operates 13 schools total in Okinawa. Seven of these schools are located on Kadena Air Base.

Okinawa has many types of private schools. Some of them are cram schools, also known as juku. Others, such as Nova did, solely teach language. Since Nova's closure, more people are favoring small language schools . Japanese language schools for foreigners are also becoming popular in Okinawa.

There are 10 colleges/universities in Okinawa including the Asian Division of University of Maryland University College (UMUC).





In addition, various baseball teams hold training during the winter in the prefecture as it is the warmest prefecture of Japan with no snow and higher temperatures than other prefectures.

There are numerous golf courses in the prefecture, and there was formerly a professional tournament called the Okinawa Open.


Air transportation




The major ports of Okinawa include

United States military installations

See also


  1. 山下町第1洞穴出土の旧石器について , 南島考古22
  2. 沖縄県の基地の現状 , Okinawa Prefectural Government
  3. 沖縄に所在する在日米軍施設・区域 , Japan Ministry of Defense
  4. National Geographic magazine, June 1993
  5. Santrock, John W. A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development. pg. 131-132. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
  6. John Morrocco. Rain of Fire. (United States: Boston Publishing Company), pg 14
  7. Havens, T. R. H. (1987) Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan, 1965–1975. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Pg 120
  8. Christopher T. Sanders (2000) America’s Overseas Garrisons the Leasehold Empire Oxford University Press PG 164
  9. Havens, T. R. H. (1987) Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan, 1965–1975. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press Pg 88
  10. Mori, Kyozo, Two Ends of a Telescope Japanese and American Views of Okinawa, Japan Quarterly, 15:1 (1968:Jan./Mar.) p.17
  11. ROBERT TRUMBULLSpecial to The New York Times. "ASIA CRISIS SLOWS OKINAWAN DRIVE :War Peril Quiets Campaign for Return to Japan." New York Times (1857-Current file), March 10, 1965 (accessed September 27, 2009)
  12. Havens, T. R. H. (1987) Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan, 1965–1975. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Pg 123
  13. Tanji, Miyume., Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa (Taylor & Francis, 2006),Pg 94
  14. ROBERT TRUMBULLSpecial to The New York Times. "OKINAWA B-52'S ANGER JAPANESE :Bombing of Vietnam From Island Stirs Public Outcry." New York Times (1857-Current file), August 1, 1965, (accessed September 27, 2009).
  15. 語り継ぎたい「沖縄戦」 , Okinawa Times, May 13, 2007
  16. Impact on the Lives of the Okinawan People (Incidents, Accidents and Environmental Issues), Okinawa Prefectural Government
  17. 沖縄・米兵による女性への性犯罪(Rapes and murders by the U.S. military personnel 1945-2000) , 基地・軍隊を許さない行動する女たちの会
  18. Military base Affairs Division, Okinawa prefecture
  19. U.S. servicemen convicted in Okinawa rape, CNN, March 7, 1996
  20. US marine on Okinawa accused of raping girl, 14, Gardian, February 11, 2008
  21. U.S. limits Okinawa troops to bases over rape case, Reuters, February 19, 2008
  22. US marine guilty of Japan assault, BBC, May 16, 2008
  23. 完全撤去の保証を与えよ , Okinawa Times, October 22, 1999
  24. 疑惑が晴れるのはいつか , Okinawa Times, May 16, 1999
  25. [1]
  26. Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage
  27. "Boundary Intersections of UNESCO Heritage Conventions: Using Custom and Cultural Landscapes to Save Okinawa’s Dugong Habitat from U.S. Heliport Construction"
  28. DefenseLink News Article: Eight Thousand U.S. Marines to Move From Okinawa to Guam
  29. Kyodo News, "Marines' Exit May Take Till '15: U.S.", Japan Times, November 9, 2008.
  30. [2]

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