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Okinawa Prefecture

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Island groups
Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa Islands

2,271.30 km2

1.385 million (2009)

Okinawa Prefecture (Japanese: , Hepburn: Okinawa-ken, Okinawan: Uchinaa-chin) is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long. The Ryukyus extend southwest from Kyushu (the southwesternmost of Japans main four islands) to Taiwan. The Okinawa Prefecture encompasses the southern two thirds of that chain. Naha, Okinawas capital, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island.


Map of Okinawa Prefecture

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Okinawa Prefecture in the past, History of Okinawa Prefecture

The oldest evidence of human existence on the Ryukyu islands is from Stone Age and was discovered in Naha and Yaese. Some human bone fragments from the Paleolithic era were unearthed, but there is no clear evidence of Paleolithic remains. Japanese J?mon influences are dominant on the Okinawa Islands, although clay vessels on the Sakishima Islands have a commonality with those in Taiwan.

The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui. Okinawa was the Japanese word identifying 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 at the eastern perimeter of the East China Sea relatively close to Japan, China and South-East Asia, the Ry?ky? Kingdom became a prosperous trading nation. Also during this period, many Gusukus, similar to castles, were constructed. The Ry?ky? Kingdom had a tributary relationship with the Chinese Empire beginning in the 15th century.

In 1609, the Shimazu clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture, invaded the Ry?ky? Kingdom. The Ry?ky? Kingdom was obliged to agree to form a tributary relationship with the Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, while maintaining its previous tributary relationship with China; Ryukyuan sovereignty was maintained since complete annexation would have created a conflict with China. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trade with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate.

Although Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ry?ky? 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 Empire asserted sovereignty over the islands of the Ry?ky? Kingdom, since the Ry?ky? 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. In 1912, Okinawans first obtained the right to vote for representatives to the national Diet which had been established in 1890.


The islands comprising the prefecture are the southern two thirds of the archipelago of the Ry?ky? Islands (, Ry?ky?-shot?). Okinawas inhabited islands are typically divided into three geographical archipelagos. From northeast to southwest:

  • Okinawa Islands (, Okinawa Shot?)
  • Ie-jima
  • Kume-jima
  • Okinawa Island
  • Kerama Islands
  • Miyako Islands
  • Miyako-jima
  • Yaeyama Islands
  • Iriomote-jima
  • Ishigaki Island
  • Yonaguni
  • Language and culture

    Okinawa Prefecture Culture of Okinawa Prefecture

    Having historically been a separate nation until 1879, Okinawan language and culture differ in many ways from that of mainland Japan.


    The 34 US military installations on Okinawa are financially supported by the U.S. and Japan. The bases provide jobs for Okinawans, both directly and indirectly; In 2011, the U.S. military employed over 9,800 Japanese workers in Okinawa. As of 2012 the bases accounted for 4 or 5% of the economy. However, Koji Taira argued in 1997 that because the U.S. bases occupy around 20% of Okinawas land, they impose a deadweight loss of 15% on the Okinawan economy. The Tokyo government also pays the prefectural government around ¥10 billion per year in compensation for the American presence, including, for instance, rent paid by the Japanese government to the Okinawans on whose land American bases are situated. A 2005 report by the U.S. Forces Japan Okinawa Area Field Office estimated that in 2003 the combined U.S. and Japanese base-related spending contributed $1.9 billion to the local economy. On January 13, 2015, In response to the citizens electing governor Takeshi Onaga, the national government announced that Okinawas funding will be cut, due to the governors stance on removing the US military bases from Okinawa, which the national government doesnt want happening.

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