|Regions with significant populations|
| Okinawa Prefecture
Kagoshima Prefecture (Amami)
|Ryukyuan languages, Japanese|
|Ryukyuan religion, Buddhism, Shinto|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Yamato people, Ainu/Jomon |
The Ryukyuan or Lewchewan people (琉球民族 Ryūkyū minzoku?, Okinawan: Ruuchuu minzuku) are the indigenous peoples of the Ryukyu Islands between the islands of Kyushu and Taiwan. The generally recognized subgroups of Ryukyuans are Amamians, Okinawans, Miyakoans, Yaeyamans, and Yonagunians. Politically, they live in either Okinawa Prefecture or Kagoshima Prefecture. Their languages make up the Ryukyuan language family, one of the two branches of the Japonic language family, the other one being Japanese and its dialects. Okinawans are Japan's largest minority group, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa. Another 300,000 are dispersed outside Japan, mostly in Hawaii.
Chinese historical writings first mentioned the Ryukyus during the 6th-7th centuries (the Sui Dynasty). Exact details of these early voyages are still unknown, and it is widely believed that the ancient Ryukyus described by the Chinese consisted of the modern day Ryukyuan Islands and Taiwan. The Ryukyu Islands were inhabited early in historical times, by migrants believed to have crossed into the northern Amami-Okinawa Islands via Kyushu. Multiple waves of migrants, including those related to the Jomon, and, later, newcomers from Kyushu, continued to populate these islands. Similarities between the Ryukyuan and Japanese languages suggests a common origin in the language of immigrants from continental Asia to the archipelago.
Over the centuries Ryukyu had developed trade relations with Korea, Japan and China, and after 1371, when China initiated its maritime prohibition policy, Ryukyu gained a lot from its position as intermediary in the trade between Japan and China. In 1392, during the reign of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming dynasty, 36 Chinese families from Fujian were invited by the king of Okinawa Island's central kingdom (Chūzan) to settle near the port of Naha and to serve as diplomats, interpreters, and government officials. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers. They assisted the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations.
In the early 17th century, the Ryukyuan Kingdom was invaded by the Satsuma Domain of Kyūshū. The Satsuma domain kept the kingdom nominally alive because of the benefit from trade with China, although the Amami Archipelago came under the full control of Satsuma. During the Meiji period, the kingdom was formally abolished and Okinawa prefecture was established.
After World War II, the Ryukyu Islands, like the Japanese home islands, were occupied by the United States, but the U.S. maintained control of Okinawa even after the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, which went into effect on April 28, 1952. Some US soldiers stationed in the Ryukyu islands during World War II took local brides with them once the war ended. Twenty years later, in 1972, Okinawa was returned to Japan. Discrimination against Okinawans both past and present on part of mainland Japanese is the cause of smoldering resentment against the government. Furthermore, many Okinawans are strongly anti-military, which is due in part to the intense fighting in the islands during World War II and also stems from the belief that during the war the government ignored their suffering and used them as human shields to protect the mainland. Okinawa comprises just 0.6% of Japan's total land mass, yet three quarters of U.S. service personnel stationed in Japan are assigned to bases in Okinawa that take up 10% of the land area of the prefecture, including 18.8% of the land on Okinawa Island itself. Most Okinawans feel that they bear more than their fair share of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, and the presence of the military remains a sensitive issue in local politics. Feelings against the mainland have often caused protests, including refusal to sing the national anthem. For many years the Emperor avoided visiting Okinawa, since it was assumed that his visits would likely cause uproar rather than respect, although these tensions have eased in recent years.
The Ryukyuan people's marine environmental protection awareness is very strong. Traditionally, Ryukyuans have a very tightly-knit family life and enjoy close personal friendships, which contributes to dietary factors that make Ryukyuans among the longest living people in the world (in fact, the island is part of the so-called Blue Zone).
Okinawan food is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a good balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Although rice is a staple food, pork, seaweed, rich miso (fermented soybean) pastes, and black sugar all feature prominently in native cuisine. Most famous to tourists is the bitter melon, gōya, which is often mixed into a rice dish known as gōya champurū (Goya champuru). The taste of goya can best be described as an acquired taste by some, but others will describe its unique flavor as one that is approximated by no other vegetable.
Native Ryukyuan religion places strong emphasis upon the role of the women in the community, with women holding positions as shamans and guardians of the home and hearth. Shisa statues can often be seen on or in front of houses—this relates to the ancient Ryukyuan belief that the male spirit is the spirit of the outside and the female spirit is the spirit of the inside. To prevent the negative interaction or conquering of the inside spirit by the outside, the male spirits will go into the shi-shi statues while the man is inside and enter him again when he leaves. Most Ryukyuans of the younger generations are not serious adherents to this religion anymore, but many older Ryukyuans try to teach about the old ways, including dances and the language. Additionally, since being under Japanese control, Shinto and Buddhism are also practiced and typically mixed with local beliefs and practices.
The techniques of self-defense and using farm tools as weapons against armed opponents—called "Karate" by today's martial artists—was created by Ryukyuans who probably incorporated some gong fu and native techniques from China into a complete system of attack and defense known simply as Ti (literally meaning "hand"). These martial arts varied slightly from town to town, and were named for their towns of origin, examples being Naha-te (currently known as Goju-Ryū), Tomari-te and Shuri-te.
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- Namie Amuro; Singer (quarter-Italian).
- Yui Aragaki; Radio host, singer and TV personality.
- Nagisa Arakaki; Baseball player.
- Beni Arashiro; Singer (mother is Ryukyuan).
- Yukiya Arashiro; Road bicycle racer.
- Kanehisa Arime; Baseball player.
- Begin; Musical group.
- bless4; Musical group.
- Kurara Chibana; First runner-up for Miss Universe 2006.
- Yuki Chikudate; Singer.
- Rina Chinen; Singer, actress.
- Cocco; Musician.
- Da Pump; Musical group (4 original members).
- D-51; Musical group.
- Lieko English; Okinawan-American model, represented Okinawa in the 1965 Miss Universe.
- Finger 5; Musical group.
- Folder 5; Musical group.
- Fuzzy Control; Musical group.
- Natasha Allegri; American Animator. (half Bolivian)
- Gackt; Singer-songwriter, actor and author.
- Kazuki Ganaha; Football (soccer) player.
- Gori; Comedian and actor.
- Yoko Gushiken; Professional boxer.
- Kenji Haga; TV Talent (half-American).
- Chitose Hajime; Singer.
- Yoshie Hayasaka; TV Talent
- Ryan Higa; American actor, comedian, and producer of Okinawan descent.
- High and Mighty Color; Rock band, whose members are all Okinawan.
- Akinobu Hiranaka; Professional boxer.
- David Ige; Current Governor of the U.S. state of Hawaii
- James Iha; Musician.
- Takeshi Kaneshiro; Actor and former pop singer (half-Okinawa half-Taiwanese).
- Akino Kawamitsu; Singer, member of bless4.
- Shoukichi Kina; Musician and politician, currently a member of the House of Councillors.
- Kiroro; Musical duo.
- Ryoko Kuninaka; Actress.
- Meisa Kuroki; Actress (quarter-Brazilian).
- Caroline Lufkin; Singer (half-Uchinanchu half-Caucasian).
- Olivia Lufkin; Singer (older sister of Caroline).
- Kenichi Maeyamada; Composer.
- Mitsuo Matayoshi, aka Jesus Matayoshi, leader of the World Economic Community Party.
- MAX; Musical group.
- Saori Minami; Musician.
- Ai Miyazato; Golf player.
- Mongol800; Musical group.
- Yukie Nakama; Actress.
- Rimi Natsukawa; Singer.
- Risa Niigaki; Singer of the pop group Morning Musume. Third-generation Okinawan.
- Orange Range; Musical group.
- Rinken Band; Musical group.
- Dave Roberts; Major League Baseball player (born in Okinawa, mother is Ryukyuan).
- Jake Shimabukuro; Ukulele-player (fifth-generation Okinawan American from Hawaii).
- Speed; Musical group.
- Tomi Taira; Actress.
- Cyril Takayama; illusionist (father is Ryukyuan).
- Brian Tee; American actor (mother is Ryukyuan).
- Katsuo Tokashiki; Professional boxer.
- Takefumi Toma; Football (soccer) player.
- Tamlyn Tomita; Okinawan-American actress (quarter-Filipino).
- Masane Tsukayama; Actor, voice actor, and narrator.
- Shintaro Yamada; Actor, fashion model, and TV talent, younger brother of Yu Yamada.
- Yu Yamada; Actress.
- Passion Yara; Comedian.
- Kaoru Ishibashi; American musician of partial Okinawan descent.
- Ankō Asato; Martial artist.
- Ethel Azama; Jazz singer.
- Gichin Funakoshi; Martial artist, founder of the most widely known style of karate, Shotokan.
- Shō Hashi; The 2nd King of the First Sho Dynasty who united Okinawa Island.
- Hideki Irabu; Former Major League Baseball player.
- Ankō Itosu; Martial artist, considered the father of modern karate.
- Yeiki Kobashigawa; Soldier who received the Medal of Honor with the 100th Infantry Battalion in the United States Army during World War II.
- Matsumura Sōkon; Martial artist, one of the original karate masters.
- Chōjun Miyagi; Martial artist, founder of the Gōjū-ryū karate.
- Chōki Motobu; Martial artist, founder of the Motobu-ryu karate.
- Nanao Sakaki; Poet.
- Tatsuo Shimabuku; Martial artist, founder of the Isshin-ryū karate.
- Takamine Tokumei; He successfully performed surgery for the grandson of King Sho Tei, Sho Eki under general anesthesia.
- Kanbun Uechi; Martial artist, founder of the Uechi-ryū karate.
- Kentsū Yabu; Martial artist.
- Ultraman, Many concepts originated from the Islands of Okinawa by the key creator Tetsuo Kinjo.
- Kesuke Miyagi from the Karate Kid trilogy, played by Pat Morita.
- Mutsumi Otohime from the popular manga series Love Hina by manga artist Ken Akamatsu.
- Maxi, a character from the popular Soul series of video games.
- Mugen, from the anime series Samurai Champloo.
- History of the Ryukyu Islands
- Ryukyu independence movement
- Ethnic issues in Japan
- Okinawa prefecture
- Lewchew and the Lewchewans: Being a narrative of a visit to Lewchew or Loo Choo, in October, 1850. London, 1853. About the Ryukyu Islands. (Also available here) by George Smith
- Noguchi 2001, p. 69.
- Heinrich, Patrick, "Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands," Japan Focus, November 10, 2005; ______, "What leaves a mark should no longer stain: Progressive erasure and reversing language shift activities in the Ryukyu Islands," First International Small Island Cultures Conference at Kagoshima University, Centre for the Pacific Islands, February 7–10, 2005; citing Shiro Hattori. (1954) Gengo nendaigaku sunawachi goi tokeigaku no hoho ni tsuite ("Concerning the Method of Glottochronology and Lexicostatistics"), Gengo kenkyu (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan), Vols. 26/27.
- Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved 2011-02-04.
- Angela Schottenhammer (2007). The East Asian maritime world 1400-1800: its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. xiii. ISBN 3-447-05474-3. Retrieved 2011-02-04.
- Gang Deng (1999). Maritime sector, institutions, and sea power of premodern China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 125. ISBN 0-313-30712-1. Retrieved 2011-02-04.
- Katrien Hendrickx (2007). The Origins of Banana-fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus, Japan. Leuven University Press. p. 39. ISBN 90-5867-614-5. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
- Miyume Tanji, Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa, 1st ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006.
- Smits, Gregory. Visions of Ryukyu. University of Hawai'i Press. 1999. Pp 1–3.
- Kerr, George. Okinawa: History of an Island People. Charles Tuttle Co. 1959. Pp 454–471.
- Glacken, Clarence. "The Great Loochoo: A Study of Okinawan Village Life". University of California Press. 1955. Pp 299–302.
- Higa, Ryan (August 14, 2010). "Tweet 21137901638". Twitter. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- Murphy, Tom (February 19, 2013). "Kishi Bashi on learning how not to get pushed around by jaded New York Broadway types". Westword. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
- Kreiner, J. (1996). Sources of Ryūkyūan history and culture in European collections. Monographien aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien der Philipp-Franz-von-Siebold-Stiftung, Bd. 13. München: Iudicium. ISBN 3-89129-493-X
- Ota, Masahide. (2000). Essays on Okinawa Problems. Yui Shuppan Co.: Gushikawa City, Okinawa, Japan. ISBN 4-946539-10-7 C0036.
- An excellent collection of essays by a peace activist and former governor of Okinawa. Among the issues it discusses are those affecting the development of Ryukyuan identity.
- Ouwehand, C. (1985). Hateruma: socio-religious aspects of a South-Ryukyuan island culture. Leiden: E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-07710-3
- Pacific Science Congress, and Allan H. Smith. (1964). Ryukyuan culture and society: a survey. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
- Sakiyama, R. (1995). Ryukyuan dance = Ryūkyū buyō. Naha City: Okinawa Dept. of Commerce, Industry & Labor, Tourism & Cultural Affairs Bureau.
- Yamazato, Marie. (1995). Ryukyuan cuisine. Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture: Okinawa Tourism & Cultural Affairs Bureau Cultural Promotion Division.
- Okinawa Peace Network of Los Angeles, featuring information about Ryukyuan culture worldwide
- Inside Story: JAPAN, THE NEW BATTLE FOR OKINAWA (Asia Week)
- The Politics of Uchinau