Okinawa 沖縄県

Original Okinawa flag design 1879 - 1945    Post-War Okinawa flag 1950 - 1967    New Okinawan Flag from 1972

Okinawa Island (沖縄本島 Okinawa-hontō) is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, and is home to Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture. The island has an area of 1201.03 kmē.

During the American occupation of Japan, following the Imperial Japanese surrender after WW II, the United States controlled Okinawa Island, which remained under U.S. governance until 1972. Since then, United States Armed Forces personnel and Kadena Air Base have remained on Okinawa Island by invitation of the Japanese government as part of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.

In 1990, the total population of Okinawa Island was an estimated 1.22 million people, comprising Ryūkyūans (especially native Okinawan's), Japanese people, and expatriates, as well as American military personnel and their families.

Whereas northern Okinawa Island is largely unpopulated, the south is markedly urbanized - particularly the city of Naha, and the urban corridor stretching from Okinawa City through Naha. The island also houses six gusuku, Okinawan fortresses most of which now lie in a state of ruin.

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 Gyokusendo in Tamagusuku. An 850 m stretch is open to tourists.

The island's subtropical climate supports a dense northern forest and a rainy season occurring in late spring.


The islands that now make up Okinawa Prefecture were formerly not part of Japan, but part of an independent nation called the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Currently they include the main island of Okinawa and the Yaeyama and Miyako island groups. Okinawa's location in the East China Sea, and relatively close proximity to Japan, Korea, China and South East Asia allowed the Ryūkyū Kingdom to become a prosperous trading nation. The many castle ruins that dot the island date from this period. The Ryūkyū Kingdom long had a tributary relationship with China. In 1609 the Satsuma clan, who controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan invaded the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Following this invasion, the Ryūkyū Kingdom was forced to enter into a tributary relationship with Satsuma in addition to their previous tributary relationship with China. Ryukyuan sovereignty, however, was maintained, since to do otherwise would have created problems with both China and the Tokugawa Shogunate, which Satsuma had opposed during the preceding period of conflict. This gave Satsuma a high level of access to trade with China during a period in which such trade was heavily restricted and largely clandestine. Though Satsuma maintained strong influence over the Ryūkyū Kingdom, the Ryūkyū Kingdom maintained a large degree of political independence. Four years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, Japan annexed the kingdom as a colony, entitling it Okinawa han (domain); Okinawa did not become a prefecture until 1879--incidentally, all other Japanese domains became prefectures in 1872.

Following the end of World War II and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, for 27 years Okinawa was under United States administration. During this time the US military established numerous bases on Okinawa Honto and elsewhere.

On May 15, 1972, Okinawa once again became part of Japan, although to this day the United States maintains a large military presence there. Over 15,000 Marines, in addition to contingents from the Navy, Army and Air Force, are stationed there. Representing only 0.6% of the total landmass of Japan, Okinawa supports roughly 75% of all U.S. troops in the country. Most Okinawan's feel that the large presence places an undue burden on their small island (20% of land on Okinawa Island is U.S. territory) and have been upset by a number of incidents involving U.S. service members and local citizens. Both Japan and the U.S., however, believe that the benefits of the U.S. presence outweigh the disadvantages. In 2006, the U.S. announced plans to move a few of its bases to Guam over a span of several years.

According to the Irosetsuden, the name of Naha comes from its original name, Naba, which was the name of a certain large, mushroom-shaped stone in the city. Gradually, the stone wore away and became buried, and the name's pronunciation and its kanji gradually changed. (Oshiro, 1964).

In Naha, some archaeological relics of the Stone Age were found. Also, from a Jomon period kaizuka, ancient Chinese coins were found.The bright red flower is very appropriate as the symbol of the southern islands that make up Okinawa, and its beauty plays an important role in promoting tourism. These factors were the reason for it being chosen as the symbol of Okinawa Prefecture in 1972.

Today Naha has developed as a city around Shuri Castle, the palace of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. In the period of the Ryūkyū kingdom, there were five districts in the area of present-day Naha.

After the replacement of the Ryūkyū Kingdom with Naha Han in 1872, Naha became the capital city of Naha Han. Naha Han was abolished in 1879 and the former Ryūkyū Kingdom was once merged into Kagoshima prefecture. With the later establishment of Okinawa Prefecture, Naha became its capital city.

When Naha city was founded in 1921, in the area that present-day Naha occupies there were several municipalities including Naha city and Shuri city. Later Shuri was merged into Naha.

During the battle of Okinawa in World War II, attacks by US forces highly damaged Naha. The entire centre of the city had to be rebuilt.

Shuri Castle 首里城

The date of construction is uncertain, but clearly it was in use as a castle during the Sanzan period. It is thought that it was probably built during the Gusuku period, like the other castles of Okinawa. When King Shō Hashi unified the three sections of Okinawa and established the Ryūkyū Kingdom, he used Shuri Castle as a residence. At the same time, Shuri flourished as the capital, and continued to do so during the second Sho dynasty.Shuri Castle before American bombing & total destruction

The is where Bushi Matsumura was commissioned as a body guard for the the king of Okinawa and where he spent most of his years in service. It's also where Itosu and Azato worked and were trained by Matsumura.

For 450 years from the beginning of the 15th century, it was the royal court and administrative centre of the Ryūkyūan Kingdom. It was the focal point of foreign trade, as well as the political, economical and cultural heart of the Ryūkyūs.

According to records, Shuri Castle burned several times, and was reconstructed each time. Before the war, it was designated a National Treasure, but during the war, thShuri Castle rebuilte Japanese military set up its headquarters underground at the castle, and beginning on May 25, 1945, the American battleship Missouri and others shelled it for three days. On May 27 it burned.

After the war, the University of the Ryūkyūs moved to the castle site. In 1958, the Shureimon gate was rebuilt, and in 1992, the main building of the castle was reconstructed. At present, the Shuri Castle - karate training in progress 1930'sentire area around the castle has been established as Shuri Castle Park. In 2000, along with other gusuku and related sites, it was designated as a UNESCOO World Heritage Site.

Last updated on Thursday, 16 September, 2010