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Okinawa

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History

The origins of the Okinawan people are difficult to say.  There are several theories believing that the Okinawan people migrated from northern Asia and moved south through Japan.  Another is that they came along the China coast to Miyako and the Yaeyama islands, and finally "seafarers from Southeast Asia reached Ishigaki and Miyako after being tossed about by the Black Current" (Okinawan 9).  It is also noted that there was human habitation tracing back 4,000 years ago.  Evidence points out that there was a southward migration from Kyushu to two northern island groups: Amami Oshima and Okinawa.  Additionally, there is also evidence indicating Melanesian cultural impacts from the south in two southern island groups: Miyako and Yaeyama (Background).
 
"Settlers arrived and brought with them household goods, domesticated animals, tools, weapons, and sacred objects.  Most importantly, they brought fire with them" (Okinawan 9).  An agricultural society was created.  Within the society, ranking gradually became evident.  By the 14th century there were three dominating forces (About).  These three forces were divided into three principalities: Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan, which today, correspond to the northern, central, and southern area's of Okinawa.  Today they are called Kunigami, Nakagami, and Shimajiri regions (Andagi 9).
 
Chuzan or the central region of Okinawa, took the lead in rapid growth.  They took on a "tributary relationship with China in 1372" (Andagi 9).  From this relationship they learned politically, economically, and culturally.  Cultural exchange played a huge part as Chinese were sent to Ryukyu to interpret, and teach diplomats and government officials, and Okinawan students were sent to China to study.  This helped to accelerate Okinawa's political and cultural development (Okinawan 9).
 
In 1429 the three principalities were united by Sho Hashi, thereby establishing the Ryukyu Kingdom.  It was then that the port of Naha was designated the center of trade, and Shuri, "the seat of government" (Andagi 9).  The port of Naha was open to all nations.  Evidently, Okinawa profited both culturally and monetarily.  Trade with China, Japan, Korea, and later Portugal and Europe lasted through Okinawa's Golden Age up until the early 1600's (Okinawan 10-11). 
 
The Japanese conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1609.  Their political independence was taken, not to mention their right to trade freely, by Satsuma, a province in southern Japan.  Okinawa was allowed to trade with China but only under strict supervision by Satsuma.  This would mark Okinawa's second "Golden Age" (Okinawan 11).  Between 1650 and 1750, Okinawa's economy improved and their culture flourished.  During this period, classical dancing emerged as a way to entertain the Chinese envoys.  In 1879 Okinawa was incorporated in the Japanese empire (Okinawan 11).
 
Okinawa was somewhat neglected by Japan.  Tokyo did not implement a modernization program in Okinawa as the Tokyo government did elsewhere.  There was a growing population, however, because of its physical isolation and the social discrimination, Okinawa was cut off from Japan.  This caused a lack of jobs forcing emigration to foreign lands.  In December 1899 Kyuzo Toyama, a civil rights leader, began "recruiting men to emigrate to Hawaii as sugar plantation laborers" (Okinawan 12).  On January 8, 1900, twenty-six men passed the requirements set by immigrations and were assigned to work at the Ewa Plantation.  By 1924 over 20,000 Okinawan men, women and children emigrated and settled in Hawaii (Okinawan 12).
 
On the morning of April 1, 1945, The Battle of Okinawa began.  "It was the largest land engagement in the pacific theater."  Three months later, when the fighting finally ended, there were more than 200,000 casualties, of which 122,000 of them were Okinawan civilians.  Many of them were tricked by the Japanese military, into thinking that the American soldiers were going to kill them.  The Okinawan people hid in caves and refused to come out.  Those caves became their tombs, as the Japanese sealed them shut and eventually bombed them (Okinawan 12). 
 
August 15, 1945, the Pacific War officially ended.  The American military took control of Okinawa.  For the next 27 years, the United States military occupied Okinawa.  Throughout this period, land was taken from the people, the military disturbance disrupted daily life and crimes were inflicted against the local community by American military personnel.  This fueled the desire for Okinawa to return to Japan.  "Today more than 50 years after the end of World War II, the United States military remains in Okinawa, drawing mixed feelings from it's people " (Okinawan 13).  Okinawans have spread out all over the world.  Here in Hawaii we have one of the largest communities numbering approximately 45,000 (Okinawan 13).  Could it be that we share so much more in common than most realize?  From a group of people settling on an island, ruled by Royalty, having been conquered, modernized and occupied by foreigners.  Maybe this is why they are drawn to Hawaii, if you think about it; it is a home away from home.