Okinawa and mainland Japan had different histories until the 19th century. In the past, Okinawa was an independent kingdom called Ryukyu, and Japan was a country called Yamato by Okinawan.

Ryukyu Kingdom Era (1429-)

In the past, Okinawa was an independent kingdom called Ryukyu which was founded by Shō Hashi, a king who pulled the influential people of the region together in 1429. With Shuri Castle functioning as a base and a major trading center, Ryukyu was a trading country that actively traded with other Asian countries including China and Japan. The Ryukyu Kingdom became a trading base for countries in China, Japan, North Korea and Southeast Asia, and was enriched by overseas trade. It developed by investing in infrastructure such as temples, bridges, and building cities.

In 1609, the Ryukyu Kingdom was invaded by the Shimazu Clan of the Satsuma Domain, located in Southern Japan, in 1609. The defeated Ryukyu Kingdom continued its tribute to China while being ruled by the Satsuma Domain, and maintained its independence and culture as much as possible. In 1853 and 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who was sent by the United States, visited Ryukyu and handed over an official letter from the President of the U.S. Government to the Ryukyu dynasty. Although the United States had plans to occupy Ryukyu, the Ryukyu government showed a friendly attitude to Perry, and the United States signed a treaty of commerce in 1854.

Present/After Annexation (1879-)

In 1879, the Ryukyu Kingdom was forcibly annexed to the Empire of Japan by the Meiji government. From this time, the Ryukyu Kingdom came to be called Okinawa Prefecture. The 450 year history of the Ryukyu Kingdom came to an end. Many people in Okinawa moved to Central and South America in response to the panic of the World War I depression.

During World War II, Okinawa became one of the areas worst affected by the war in Japan. A massive air raid by US Air-force on October 10, 1944 destroyed 90% of the capital city, Naha. On April 1, 1945, the U.S. Army landed on Okinawa’s main island, making it Japan’s only battleground stage in World War II. Okinawans were taught by the Japanese military that the U.S. troops were villainous. The Okinawan people were taught that men would be killed and women would be raped if they were caught by the U.S. soldiers, and hand grenades were given to the citizens. After the U.S. Army landed, civilians committed suicide throughout Okinawa using the hand grenades. Some research has shown that more than 1,000 people, including many children, committed suicide as well. This single battle on Japanese soil is called the “Battle of Okinawa”, and about 200,000 people, including 120,000 Okinawans, died during the event.

After World War II (1945-)

After the surrender of Japan, U.S. military rule began, and U.S. military bases were built one after another during the 27 years of reign of the US military. Passports were required when Okinawan people visited the mainland of Japan, and they were even discriminated against on the mainland of Japan.

Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, but contrary to the voice of the people of Okinawa, more bases were constructed while sacrificing Okinawa’s natural environment. Currently, more than 70% of U.S. military facilities and areas (exclusive-use facilities) in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. Now, a new airstrip will be built, and the beautiful sea of Henoko will be reclaimed. Even though opposition to the Henoko landfill has already been shown repeatedly through voting and direct actions, the Japanese government is again trying to treat this beautiful island unfairly and enforce policies against the opinions of the Okinawan people.

For further information on what is happening in Okinawa, please see the link below.

What’s Going on in Okinawa?