Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain which stretches over about one thousand kilometers from Kyushu to Taiwan.
Okinawa’s climate is subtropical, with temperatures barely falling below 15 degrees in winter. The seas surrounding Okinawa’s islands are considered among the world’s most beautiful with coral reefs and abundant marine wildlife.
The islands making up Okinawa Prefecture, are also known as the Ryukyu Islands, named after the native culture, which is distinctly different from that of the rest of Japan in terms of language, cuisine, arts, etc.
The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui. Okinawa was the Japanese word identifying the islands.For about 450 years, from the 15th to the 19th century, Okinawa prospered as the Kingdom of Ryukyu, a state independent of Japan’s central government. Since the islands are located at the eastern perimeter of the East China Sea relatively close to Japan, China and South-East Asia, the Ryukyu Kingdom became a prosperous trading nation. The Ryukyu Kingdom entered into the Imperial Chinese tributary system under the Ming dynasty beginning in the 15th century, which established economic relations between the two nations.Read More
In 1609, the Shimazu clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture, invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. Okinawa was an independent kingdom and tributary state to China for several centuries, the Ryukyu Islands came under control of the Satsuma feudal fief (today’s Kagoshima Prefecture) in the 17th century, and were made a Japanese prefecture in 1879, The Ryukyu Kingdom was obliged to agree to form a suzerain-vassal relationship with the Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, while maintaining its previous role within the Chinese tributary system. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trade with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate. Accompanied by efforts to assimilate the native population. But despite these past efforts, the Ryukyuan culture survived and is now Okinawa’s other main attraction.
Ryukyu Mission In Edo
Although Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ryukyu 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 a nominal suzerainty over the islands of the Ryukyu Kingdom, since the Ryūkyū Kingdom was also a member state of the Chinese tributary system. 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 last king Sho Tai
Places Not To Miss:
- Shuri Castle:
Shuri Castle was originally built in the late 1300s, and played an integral role in the political unification of the island. Shuri Castle served as the administrative center and residence of the Ryukyu kings for several centuries until Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. The castle is included as one of the UNESCO World Heritage designated Castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom sites.
- Churaumi Aquarium:
Okinawas wealth and culture can be experienced in the Chaurami aquarium. It is considered Japans best aquarium.It is the major attraction of Ocean expo park. It was opened at 1975 then redesigned and reopened at 2002. The tank contains wide variety of species and most striking of which are giant whales, sharks etc.
The aquarium holds 80 species of coral. It is one of only a few aquariums that keeps whale sharks in captivity, and is currently trying to breed them.
- Sefa Utaki:
Sefa Utaki, meaning “purified place of Utaki”, is an historical sacred space, overlooking Kudaka Island.The site is located on a densely forested hillside along the ocean and features several rock formations, which are connected with each other by walking trails. Sefa Utaki is included as one of Okinawa’s World Heritage sites.Sefa Utaki is on the Chinen Peninsula, and has been recognized as a sacred place since the earliest period of Ryukyuan history. According to Chūzan Seikan, this was the spot where Amamikyu, goddess of creation, came down to Earth.
- War Memorial:
Near the end of World War Two, Okinawa Honto became the site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles, when the US forces invaded and occupied the island.
The main memorial to the Battle of Okinawa is the Peace Memorial Park, which is located near the southern tip of the island. Its main attraction is the Peace Memorial Museum, which gives a sobering overview of the lead up to the battle, the battle itself and the reconstruction of Okinawa.
- Tamaudun Mausoleum:
The Tamaudun Mausoleum was built around the beginning of the 16th century as the mausoleum for the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was restored after suffering extensive damage during the war.The site, covering an area of 2,442m², consists of two stone-walled enclosures, the three compartments of the mausoleum itself facing north and backed by a natural cliff to the south.Eighteen kings are entombed at Tamaudun, along with their queens and royal children. The first to be buried there was King Shō En, for whom the mausoleum was constructed upon the orders of his son and successor, Shō Shin. The last was former Crown Prince Shō Ten, son of the Ryūkyū Kingdom’s last king, Shō Tai, who was entombed there on September 26, 1920.