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Date updated:December 23, 2013

Introduction of Okinawa

History: A Unique Path

Okinawa was once an independent country which was ruled by the Ryukyu Kingdom, and flourished through trade with China - the largest country in Asia - as well as other neighboring countries. After the invasion of Satsuma in 1609, Ryukyu became a part of Japan’s shogunate system. It became a prefecture of Japan due to the Abolition of the Han System and Establishment of the Prefecture System, which occurred in 1879.

During the Pacific War, Okinawa was the site of the only land battle in Japan that involved civilians. After the war, Okinawa was placed under the administration of the United States. In 1972, however, Okinawa was returned to Japanese administration. Okinawa remains under Japanese administration today.

Nature: The Ocean with Coral Reefs and Subtropical Greenery Sustains Life on the Islands

Okinawa Prefecture is the only region in Japan that is in the subtropical zone, and is blessed with a warm climate all year round. An ocean with coral reefs, where schools of colorful tropical fish swim about, sustains various forms of life.

In addition, creatures that are treasured worldwide, such as the Okinawa rail and the Iriomote cat, make their habitats in the forests of the northern part of Okinawa island and Iriomote island.

World Heritage Sites: Passing on the History and Culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom to Today’s Generation

In December 2000, nine sites - including Shuri Castle Ruins and Nakagusuku Castle Ruins - were registered as world heritage sites and were named “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.” It is said that there are nearly 300 gusukus (castles) in the Ryukyu Islands, many of which were constructed on slopes with scenic views. The gusukus that were registered as world heritage sites are believed to have been the residential castles of regional rulers who played an active role during the process of establishment of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Performing Arts and Crafts: A Distinct Culture Developed by a Long and Glorious History

During the Ryukyu Dynasty, the royal government put a great deal of effort into developing performing arts, and royal performing arts such as kumiodori (a traditional narrative dance), buyo (a traditional dance), and music blossomed. Performing arts that were performed in festivals as well as those that were performed for amusement purposes by commoners also flourished, and are continued to this day. In recent years, the success of musicians and artists from Okinawa has received much attention.

In addition, Okinawa has a variety of traditional crafts including dyed textiles (such as bingata and bashofu), lacquerware, and earthenware, many of which were developed during the Ryukyu Dynasty through cultural exchanges with countries such as China and Japan. Okinawa has developed a distinct aesthetic beauty while being influenced by such cultural exchanges.

Rituals and Festivals: The Mindset of Worship and the Power of Festivals Open up a New Day

Okinawa has a variety of festivals for each season. The festivals range in variety and include: festivals for welcoming the spirits of ancestors, festivals for wishing a good harvest and abundant fish catches, and festivals for keeping away plagues. The regional flavors are also rich.

While we cherish traditional festivals, new festivals that incorporate Okinawan history, culture, and traditional performing arts, such as the All-Okinawa Eisa Festival and the Ryukyu Kingdom Royal Procession, have also been created.

Longevity and Food: The Food Culture Sustaining Health and Longevity

Okinawa is one of the world’s leaders in longevity. Some of the factors that have sustained this longevity include: a warm climate, the easygoing personalities of the locals, the spirit of “yumaru” (helping one another), and the traditional food culture.As for the food culture in particular, the idea of “healthy diet, healthy body” has become widely accepted in Okinawa, influenced by cultural exchanges with China.

Okinawan cooking includes royal cuisine, which was developed to serve the Chinese emperor’s envoys or officials from Satsuma, and commoners’ dishes which were developed to suit the lives of common people.