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|Native name: |
|Area||1,206.99 km2 (466.02 sq mi)|
as of 1 October 2018
|Highest elevation||503 m (1,650 ft)|
|Highest point||Mount Yonaha|
|Largest settlement||Naha (pop. 315,954)|
|Population||1,301,462 (Dec. 2014)|
|Pop. density||1,083.6 /km2 (2,806.5 /sq mi)|
Okinawa Island (沖縄本島 Okinawa-hontō, alternatively 沖縄島 Okinawa-jima; Okinawan: 沖縄/うちなー Uchinaa or 地下/じじ jiji; Kunigami: ふちなー Fuchináa) is the largest of the Okinawa Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands of Japan. The island is approximately 70 miles (110 km) long and an average 7 miles (11 km) wide, and has an area of 1,206.98 square kilometers (466.02 sq mi). It is roughly 640 kilometres (400 mi) south of the rest of Japan and 500 km (300 mi) north of Taiwan. The Greater Naha area, home to the prefectural seat of Okinawa Prefecture on the southwestern part of Okinawa Island, has roughly 800,000 of the island's 1.423 million residents, while the city itself is home to about 320,000.
Okinawa has been a critical strategic location for the United States Armed Forces since the end of World War II. The island hosts around 26,000 US military personnel, about half of the total complement of the United States Forces Japan, spread among 32 bases and 48 training sites. US bases in Okinawa played critical roles in the Korean War, Vietnam War, War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War. The presence of the US military in Okinawa has caused political controversy both on the island and elsewhere in Japan.
Okinawa's population is among the longest living peoples in the world. Residents have less cancer, heart disease and dementia than Americans, while Okinawan women live longer than anywhere else on Earth.
|History of Ryukyu|
Early Okinawan history is defined by midden or shell heap culture, and is divided into Early, Middle, and Late Shell Mound periods. The Early Shell Mound period was a hunter-gatherer society, with wave-like opening Jōmon pottery. In the latter part of this period, archaeological sites moved near the seashore, suggesting the engagement of people in fishing. In Okinawa, rice was not cultivated until the Middle Shell Mound period. Shell rings for arms made of shells obtained in the Sakishima Islands, namely Miyakojima and Yaeyama islands, were imported by Japan. In these islands, the presence of shell axes, 2500 years ago, suggests the influence of a southeastern-Pacific culture.
After the Late Shell Mound period, agriculture started about the 12th century, with the center moving from the seashore to higher places. This period is called the Gusuku period. Gusuku is the term used for the distinctive Ryukyuan form of castles or fortresses. Many gusukus and related cultural remains in the Ryukyu Islands have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites under the title Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. There are three perspectives regarding the nature of gusukus: 1) a holy place, 2) dwellings encircled by stones, 3) a castle of a leader of people. In this period, porcelain trade between Okinawa and other countries became busy, and Okinawa became an important relay point in eastern-Asian trade. Ryukyuan kings, such as Shunten and Eiso, were important rulers. An attempted Mongolian invasion in 1291 during the Eiso Dynasty ended in failure. Hiragana was imported from Japan by Ganjin in 1265. Noro, village priestesses of the Ryukyuan religion, appeared.
The Sanzan period began in 1314, when the kingdoms of Hokuzan and Nanzan declared independence from Chūzan. The three kingdoms competed with one another for recognition and trade with Ming China. King Satto, leading Chūzan, was very successful, establishing relations with Korea and Southeast Asia as well as China. The Hongwu Emperor sent 36 families from Fujian in 1392 at the request of the Ryukyuan King. Their job was to manage maritime dealings in the kingdom. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese ancestors. They assisted the Ryukyuans in developing their technology and diplomatic relations. In 1407, however, a man named Hashi overthrew Satto's descendant, King Bunei, and installed his own father, Shishō, as king of Chūzan. After his father died, Hashi became king, and the Xuande Emperor of China gave him the surname "Shō" (Chinese: Shang).
In 1429, King Shō Hashi completed the unification of the three kingdoms and founded the Ryūkyū Kingdom with its capital at Shuri Castle. His descendants would conquer the Amami Islands. In 1469, King Shō Taikyū died, so the royal government chose a man named Kanemaru as the new king, who chose the name Shō En and established the Second Shō Dynasty. His son, Shō Shin would then conquer the Sakishima Islands and centralize the royal government, the military, and the noro priestesses.
In 1609, the Japanese domain of Satsuma launched an invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom, ultimately capturing the king and his capital after a long struggle. Ryukyu was forced to cede the Amami Islands and become a vassal of Satsuma. The kingdom became both a tributary of China and a tributary of Japan. Because China would not make a formal trade agreement unless a country was a tributary state, the kingdom was a convenient loophole for Japanese trade with China. When Japan officially closed off trade with European nations except the Dutch, Nagasaki, Tsushima, and Kagoshima became the only Japanese trading ports offering connections with the outside world.
A number of Europeans visited Ryukyu starting in the late 18th century. The most important visits to Okinawa were from Captain Basil Chamberlain in 1816 and Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852. A Christian missionary, Bernard Jean Bettelheim, lived in the Gokoku-ji temple in Naha from 1846 to 1854.
In 1879, Japan annexed the entire Ryukyu archipelago. The Meiji government then established Okinawa Prefecture. The monarchy in Shuri was abolished and the deposed king Shō Tai (1843–1901) was forced to relocate to Tokyo.
Hostility against Japan increased in the islands immediately after the annexation in part because of the systematic attempt on the part of Japan to eliminate Ryukyuan culture, including the language, religion, and cultural practices.
The island of Okinawa was the site of most of the ground warfare in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, when United States Army and Marine Corps troops fought a long and bloody battle to capture Okinawa, so it could next be used as the major air force and troop base for the planned invasion of Japan. During this 82-day-long battle, about 95,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops and 12,510 Americans were killed. The Cornerstone of Peace at the Okinawa Prefecture Memorial Peace Park lists 149,193 persons of Okinawan origin – approximately one quarter of the civilian population – who either were killed or committed suicide during the Battle of Okinawa and the Pacific War.
During the American military occupation of Japan (1945–52), which followed the Imperial Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, the United States controlled Okinawa Island and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands. The Amami Islands were returned to Japanese control in 1953, but the rest remained in American possession until June 17, 1972, with numerous Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force bases there.
As of September, 2009, the Japanese government estimates the population at 1,384,762, which includes American military personnel and their families. The Okinawan language, called Uchinaaguchi, is spoken mostly by the elderly. But several local groups promote the use of the Okinawan language by younger people.
Whereas the northern half of Okinawa Island is sparsely populated, the south-central and southern parts of the island are markedly urbanized—particularly the city of Naha and the urban corridor stretching north from there to Okinawa City.
Okinawa is the fifth largest island in Japan (excluding the disputed islands north of Hokkaido). The island has an area of 1,206.99 square kilometers (466.02 sq mi). It is roughly 640 kilometres (400 mi) south of the rest of Japan. The island is connected to nearby islands by a land bridge: Yokatsu Peninsula (aka Katsuren Peninsula) is connected via the Mid-Sea Road to Henza Island, Miyagi Island, Ikei Island, and Hamahiga Island. Similarly, from the Motobu Peninsula on the northwestern side, all of Sesokojima, plus both of Yagaji Island and Kōri-jima are connected by bridges. Okinawa Island has multiple beaches such as Manza Beach, Emerald Beach, Okuma Beach, Zanpa Beach, Moon Beach and Sunset Beach.
The southern end of the island consists of uplifted coral reef, whereas the northern half has proportionally more igneous rock. The easily eroded limestone of the south has many caves, the most famous of which is Gyokusendō in Nanjō. An 850 m-long stretch is open to tourists.
In the forests of Yanbaru, there are a small number of endemic Yanbaru kuina (also known as the Okinawa rail), a small flightless bird that is close to extinction. The critically endangered Okinawa woodpecker is also endemic on this island.
The Indian mongoose was introduced to the island to prevent the native habu pit viper from attacking the birds. It did not succeed in eliminating the habu, but instead preyed on birds, increasing the threat to the Okinawa rail.
Okinawa Island from Space Shuttle Mission STS-43 (Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
There are many local pubs (izakaya) and cafes that serve Okinawan cuisine and dishes, such as gōyā chanpurū (bitter melon stir fry), fu chanpurū (wheat gluten chanpurū), and tonkatsu (tenderized, breaded, fried pork cutlet). Okinawan soba is the signature dish and consists of wheat noodles served hot in a soup, usually with pork (rib or pork belly). This contrasts with the mainland soba, which is buckwheat noodles. Rafute, which is braised pork belly, is another popular Okinawan dish. American presence on the island has also led to some creative dishes such as taco rice, which is now a common meal served in bentos, and common use of spam.
Among the prefectures of Japan, Okinawa has the youngest and fastest-growing population, but has the lowest employment rate and average income. The island economy is primarily driven by tourism and the US military presence, with efforts in recent years to diversify into other sectors.
Tourist attractions include Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (at one time the world's largest aquarium), Century Beach, Pineapple Park, the Orion Beer Factory and Hiji Falls. In recent years, Okinawa has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists from China and Southeast Asia.
United States military presence
There are 32 United States military bases located on Okinawa Island. In total, these bases occupy approximately 25% of the island's area. The major bases are Futenma, Kadena, Hansen, Torii, Schwab, Foster, and Kinser. The bases primarily exist to serve Japanese and American strategic interests, but are unpopular with most local residents, despite recent efforts to move the bases out of core areas following incidents involving military personnel and resultant protests (including the 1995 Okinawa rape incident).
Economically, the bases have been of declining importance, especially after Okinawan sovereignty returned to Japan, recently accounting for 4 to 5% of the island economy, but the economic impact may be double edged, as the presence of the bases may be hampering investment (and tourism potential). In 2012, an agreement was struck between the United States and Japan to reduce the number of US military personnel on the island, moving 9,000 personnel to other locations and moving bases out of heavily populated Greater Naha, but 10,000 Marines will remain on the island, along with other US military units. Attempts to completely close bases on the southern third of the island, where 90% of the population lives (all but about 120,000 people) have been impeded by both the American desire that alternative locations be found where bases subject to closure could move to (e.g. Henoko Peninsula roughly mid-island), as well as by local Okinawan opposition to any suggested locations on the island (who demand no US troops at all anywhere on the island). There exists also a smaller contingent of Japanese military bases on the island, whom the local Okinawans also view as colonizers. Tokyo itself has a different view of the situation from that of local residents, who complain that despite being home to less than 1% of Japan's population and area, Okinawa hosts the majority of the US military presence in Japan. In late December 2013, the governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, gave permission for land reclamation to begin for a new US military base at Henoko reneging on previous promises, furthering the effort to consolidate the American troop presence on the island, though away from urban Naha. This resulted in his loss of the governorship.
Several former US military facilities in Okinawa have been re-developed as commercial areas, most notably the American Village in Chatan, Okinawa, which opened in 1998, and the Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom in Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa, which opened in 2015.
Transportation and logistics
Naha Airport is the main transportation hub for the Ryukyu Islands and has an increasingly large role in regional logistics. All Nippon Airways opened a cargo hub at the airport in 2009, providing overnight freight service between Japan and other Asian countries.
Naha Airport serves the island. There are multiple bus companies, such as Toyo Bus, Ryukyu Bus Kotsu, Naha Bus, and Okinawa Bus. There is also a monorail. The Okinawa Expressway is a toll road that runs from Naha to Nago, and has a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph), the highest on the island. There are also many ferries to many of the nearby islands, such as Ie Shima. Tomarin Port in Naha, has ferries to nearby islands such as Aguni, Tokashiki and Zamami.
In popular media
Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), starring Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford, was based on the hit Broadway play. The storyline of the play and the film were set in Okinawa, but actual filming took place in mainland Japan near Nara and in a studio in California.
Okinawa was the setting for the 1974 Japanese science fiction kaiju film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, which featured a shisa dog as one of the monsters in the film; due to an awkward translation from Japanese to English, this monster is known in the film as King Caesar. Several scenes were filmed in the then-recently discovered Gyokusendo caves.
Okinawa was also the setting for the 1986 film The Karate Kid, Part II, in which Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) returns home to Okinawa with his student Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Although Okinawa was the setting for the film, only short scenes of the film were actually filmed in Okinawa.
- History of the Ryukyu Islands
- Okinawan martial arts
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