Background and History

Okinawa is the name for the island of Okinawa (Okinawa Shima) and the name of the 47th prefecture of Japan (Okinawa Ken) which includes not only the main island of Okinawa but also the southern islands of the Ryukyu archipelago. The kanji characters for Okinawa mean "offshore rope ". The capital city is Naha. On a world map, Okinawa is just a small dot in the Pacific Ocean, but it used to be an independent kingdom — the Kingdom of the Ryukyus.  As a small kingdom, Okinawa prospered in the region, trading with Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.  As the winds of world trade blew through, Okinawan people ventured out and brought back many foreign influences.  Subsequently, Okinawa has developed its own unique history and culture.  The heritage, the unique culture and history that the early travelers and traders started, has been passed on to descendents.  Morever, the idea of the pioneers, "islands open to the world" still lives on among Okinawans.

The following is from Okinawa Magazine, published by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Where is Okinawa?

Okinawa Prefecture is located southwest of mainland Japan, at 24 degrees to 27 degrees north latitude and 122 degrees to 128 degrees 30′ east longitude.  The prefecture consists of 161 islands (44 inhabited and 117 uninhabited islands), and those islands span 1,000 kilometers from east to west and 400 kilometers from north to south.  Okinawa can be found between mainland Japan and Taiwan in the Pacific Ocean and is considered an International resort destination.  Okinawa is found in the same latitude zone as the other famous beach resort destinations such as Hawaii, Florida, and the Bahamas.

What’s the Average Temperature in Okinawa?

Okinawa is in the subtropical climate zone and has comfortable weather for vacationers throughout the year.  In Japan, Okinawa is the only prefecture that is located in the subtropical climate zone.

The average annual termpature of Okinawa is 22.4 C (72.3 F).  Even during the winter, the temperature averages 16 C (60.8 F) and never dips below 10 C (50 F).

(The following is from Okinawan History: A Brief Outline by Dr. Mitsugu Sakihara)

Natural Setting

Ryukyu is an archipelago which stretches for 1300 km (about 800 miles) between Kyushu and Taiwan.  It consists of four island groups:  Amami-Oshima, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama in the order from North to South.  Okinawa prefecture embraces Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama islands excluding Amami-Oshima.  Its February 1983 population census reveals 1,135,629 people, consisting of about seventy islands, with the total land area of 2,245 sq. km (about 922 sq. miles).  The largest island is Okinawa with 53% of the total land area.

The relatively constant warm temperatures and frequent rainfall of the subtropical zone keep the islands green throughout the year.  It is not unusual for rainfall to be recorded for over half of the days of the year.  Typhoons with monsoon rains strike regularly in late summer and early fall, leaving destruction in their wake.

Cultural Characteristics

The Ryukyu language is a major dialect of Japanese.  The separation of the Ryukyuan dialect from the language of the Japanese main islands took place about 1500 years ago.  Over the subsequent centuries, Ryukyuan gradually became unintelligible to the Japanese.  Depsite government efforts after 1879 to establish Japanese as the standard language, the local dialect persisted as the informal language of the home and friends.  Recently, however, radio, television and increased travel between Okinawa and the main islands of Japan have accomplished to a large extent what prewar governments failed to attain.  Today, the Okinawan language is near extinction.

The indigenous religion is animistic with strong resemblance to the primitive Shinto on the mainland Japan.  Awe-inspiring natural objects, special geologic formations, and locations associated with ancestors are regarded with reverence.  Females, lay and professional shamans, play an important role in domestic and communal religion.

Prehistory

Continuous human habitation may be traced to about 4,000 years ago.  Two northern island groups (Amami-Oshima and Okinawa) show evidence of southwarad migration from Kyushu, whereas in the two southern island groups (Miyako and Yaeyama) evidence points to Melanesian cultural strains from the South.

History

In the 11th century, castles began sprouting all over Okinawa symptomizing a period of struggles among the emerging petty rulers.  In the late 12th Century, one of the petty rulers founded Shunten Dynasty (1187-1259).  It was followed by the Eiso Dynasty (1260-1349), the Satto Dynasty (1350-1405), the First Sho Dynasty (1406-1469), and the Second Sho Dynasty (1470-1879).  The last dynasty was replaced by Okinawa prefecture with governors appointed from Tokyo until 1945.  During the 27 year American interlude from 1945 to 1972, Okinawa was under the U.S. military government.

The first three dynasties exercised their control probably only in their adjacent areas.  But King Satto is known for establishing tributary relationships with China in 1372.  This relationship with China greatly accelerated Ryukyu’s cultural and political development.  The First Sho Dynasty achieved the political unification of Okinawa in 1422.

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