Ryukyu Islands, also known as the , is a chain of
islands in the western Pacific, on the eastern limit of the East China Sea and to the southwest of the island of Kyūshū in Japan.
Location of Ryukyu Islands
about 1829 until the mid 20th century, they were alternately called
, akin to the Mandarin pronunciation
. They stretch southwest
from the Japanese island of Kyūshū to within of
the island of Taiwan.
islands are administratively divided into the Satsunan Islands to the north, belonging to
Prefecture, and Ryūkyū
Shotō to the south, belonging to Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.
Yoron Island is the southernmost island of the Satsunan Islands,
and Yonaguni is the
southernmost of the Ryukyu Islands.) The largest of the islands is
The islands have a subtropical
with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation
is very high, and
is affected by the rainy season and typhoons
is home to the Ryukyuan languages
. The original dialects
are native to each island and distinct from one another.
In Japanese, the definition of the , literally meaning "Ryukyu
Islands", is somewhat different from the English definition of the
Japanese, the term Ryūkyū Shotō is used to refer to the
part of the Nansei Islands which is in Okinawa
Prefecture (the southern half), as opposed to islands of the
same group located in Kagoshima Prefecture (the northern half).
Modern usage of the word in Japanese, however, is usually replaced
by the word , which is considered its synonym. When referring to
the region in the broad sense, the Nansei Islands are sometimes
referred to as , literally "Amami-Okinawa Region", or variations
thereof. For example, the Japanese train timetables uses variations
of Nansei Shotō
but completely avoids using the word Ryūkyū
English, until well into the late 1800s (Meiji period in Japan), the word
"Ryukyu" was spelled Luchu, Loo-choo, or
These spellings were based on the Chinese
pronunciation of the characters for "Ryukyu", which in Mandarin is
Kingdom was once an independent kingdom occupying the
island chain, from Yonaguni
Island in the southwest to Amami Ōshima in the north. In 1372, it became a tributary state of the Ming Dynasty.
In 1609, Shimazu Tadatsune
, invaded the Ryūkyū
Kingdom with a fleet of 13 junks and 2,500 samurai
, thereby establishing suzerainty
over the islands. They faced little
opposition from the Ryukyuans, who lacked any significant military
capabilities, and who were ordered by King Shō Nei
to surrender peacefully rather than
suffer the loss of precious lives. After that, the kings of the
Ryukyus paid tribute to the Japanese shogun
as well as the Chinese
1879, the Meiji
government announced the annexation of the Ryukyus.
Messengers sent by the Ryukyuan king had
knelt outside the Zongli Yamen
Chinese foreign affairs office in Beijing, for three days, pleading
not to be separated from China. China, weakened from internal
corruption and colonial occupation, refused the request to send
military protection. Instead, China made diplomatic objections and
asked former United States
President Ulysses S. Grant
to arbitrate. Grant decided that
Japan's claim to the islands was stronger and ruled in Japan's
favor. The claims of the indigenous Ryukyuans to the land were
In the process of annexation, the Japanese military assassinated
Ryukyu politicians and civilians who opposed the takeover. The
Ryukyu Kingdom became part of its northern neighbour, the Satsuma
han. Later, it became its own prefecture, Okinawa Prefecture, when
the prefectural system was
. Compulsory Japanese education was enforced
on the Ryukyu children, whereby they were taught Japanese language,
culture and identity, while strictly forbidden the use of their
Military activity on the island, before and during World War II,
especially the Battle of Okinawa
had a devastating effect on the Okinawan people. A huge loss of
civilian life left many feeling that they were being mistreated by
both the Japanese and American military. Okinawa remains the
poorest prefecture in Japan to this day.
The US was granted control over Ryukyu Islands south of 29°N
latitude amongst other Pacific islands, under the San Francisco Peace Treaty
the Allied Powers and Japan. US military control over Okinawa began
in 1945 with establishment of the Okinawa Advisory Council
organization eventually became the government of the Ryukyu
which existed from 1952 to 1972. Sovereignty
was given to Japan in 1972.
Today, there are a number of issues arising from Ryukyuan history.
Some Ryukyuans and some Japanese feel that people from the Ryukyus
are different from the majority Yamato
. Some natives of the Ryukyus claim that the
central government is discriminating against the islanders by
allowing so many American soldiers to be stationed on bases in
Okinawa with a minimal presence on the mainland.
Additionally, there is some discussion of secession
Many popular singers and musical groups come from the Ryukyus.
These include (among many others) the pop groups Begin
(ビギン) and Orange
, singers Namie Amuro
, as well as the group Da Pump
. See also Ryukyuan
Historical description of the 'Loo-Choo' islands
An article in the 1878 edition of the 'Globe Encyclopaedia of
described the islands as:
Loo-Choo, Lu-Tchu, or Lieu-Baeu, a
group of thirty-six islands stretching from Japan to Formosa, in
20°-27° 40' N. lat., 126" :o'-!29° 5' E. long., and tributary to
The largest, Tsju San ('middle island') is about 60
miles long and 12 broad; others are Sannan in the S. and Sanbok in
Nawa, the chief port of Tsju San, is open to foreign
The islands enjoy a magnificent climate, and are highly
cultivated and very productive.
Among the productions are tea, rice, sugar, tobacco,
camphor, fruits, and silk.
The principal manufactures are cotton, paper,
porcelain, and lacquered ware.
The people, who are small, seem a connecting link
between the Chinese and Japanese.
are known for their longevity
. The Okinawa Centenarian
attributes this phenomenon to a combination of diet,
exercise, and lifestyle practices.
latest Japanese invasion in 1879, Japanese has become the main
language of public life on the Ryukyus, especially on Uchinā (Okinawa),
through discriminating policy in school.
middle-aged people tend not to speak a Ryukyuan language as
fluently as Japanese, if at all.
Nansei Islands subtropical evergreen forests
The Ryukyu Islands are recognized by ecologists as a distinct
moist broadleaf forest ecoregion
and fauna of the islands have much in common with Taiwan, the
Philippines, and Southeast Asia,
and are part of the Indomalaya ecozone.
The coral reefs
of the Ryukyus are one of
the World Wildlife Fund
ecoregions. The reefs are
endangered by sedimentation
, mostly a result of
, as well as damage from
This list is based on present day Japanese geographic names:
- Nansei Islands
- Satsunan Islands (The Northern Half)
- Ōsumi Islands with:
Islands (The Shichi-tō): Kuchinoshima, Nakanoshima, Gajajima, Suwanosejima, Akusekijima, Tairajima, Kodakarajima, Takarajima
- Amami Islands: Amami Ōshima, Kikaigashima, Kakeromajima, Yoroshima, Ukeshima,
- Ryūkyū Shotō (The Southern Half)
Islands (The Central Group or Ryukyu proper): Okinawa
Island (aka. Okinawan mainland, Okinawa hontō), Kumejima, Iheyajima, Izenajima, Agunijima,
Iejima, Iwo Tori Shima (Iōtorishima) 
- Sakishima Islands ("Further Isles")
- Miyako Islands: Miyakojima, Ikema, Ogami, Irabu, Shimoji, Kurima, Minna, Tarama
- Yaeyama Islands: Iriomote, Ishigaki, Taketomi, Kohama, Kuroshima, Aragusuku,
Hatoma, Yubujima, Hateruma, Yonaguni
- Senkaku Islands (claimed by PRC and
ROC): Uotsurijima, Kuba
- For some of the island names above, the suffix -jima, -shima,
and -gashima can be interchanged, omitted, or appended. The suffix
means "island." In general, the islands are listed from north to
south where possible.
- "Shotō" is replaced with "Islands" in the list except for
Ryūkyū Shotō (琉球諸島), since the term "Ryukyu
Islands" already exists in English. The Japanese term refers only to the
islands that comprise Okinawa Prefecture, while the English term
refers to the entire chain of islands between Kyūshū and Taiwan.
- Ryūkyū Rettō (琉球列島) refers to what was once
the territory of the former kingdom, which are the Amami Islands,
Okinawa Islands, Miyako Islands, and Yaeyama Islands.
- Kerr, George H. (2000). Okinawa: the History of an Island
People. (revised ed.) Boston: Tuttle Publishing.
- Ross, J.M. (editor) (1878). "Globe Encyclopaedia of Universal Information",
Vol. IV, Edinburgh-Scotland, Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing
Works, retrieved from Google Books 2009-03-18;
Note: this article incorporates text from the
1878 edition of the
Globe Encyclopaedia of Universal
Information, a work in the public domain