Okinawa prefecture

Okinawa (沖縄) is the southern most prefecture of Japan and the main island of the Ryukyu (琉球) island chain. Because Okinawa had been the half-independent Ryukyu Kingdom until 1879, Okinawa has a culture and a language that are different from mainland Japan. The Okinawan language, known locally as Uchinaguchi, is only used by older Okinawan people. Most of the younger Okinawan people prefer to speak Japanese; while a few phrases like mensore (welcome) are still heard, the language is dying.

The name Okinawa is reputed to mean pearls on a rope in Chinese, presumably due to the chain of islands stretching from Japan's Kyushu island almost to Taiwan, of which Okinawa is the largest and most important. Senkaku Islands are administered as part of this prefecture.

Okinawa was directly controlled by the United States Armed Forces from the end of World War II (see also Battle of Okinawa), in 1945, to the islands' repatriation in 1972. The prefecture still hosts many bases of the United States Forces Japan (Kadena Air Base being the US's largest airbase in Asia), and there is still some tension between native Okinawans and the American personnel stationed there. While providing an important source of revenue to Japan's poorest prefecture, U.S. bases take up close to 20% of the main island of Okinawa. There have also been a number of incidents that have strained relations. In particular, the rape of a 12-year Okinawan girl by three American servicemen in early 1996 was a low-point for American-Japanese relations.

Okinawa's location in the East China Sea, within a few hundred kilometres of China, the Korean peninsula, Taiwan, and the Phillipines enabled the Ryukyu Kingdom to become a prosperous trading nation, and also accounts for Okinawa's current strategic importance to the US.

 
Okinawa prefecture (沖縄県)

Okinawa prefectural symbol
CapitalNaha
Region:Kyushu
Island:Okinawa
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 44th
2,271.30 km²
0.5%
Population
 - Total (Oct. 1, 2000)
 - Density
Ranked 32nd
1,318,218
580/km²
Districts:5
Municipalities:53
ISO 3166-2:JP-47
Symbols
Pref. Flower:Deigo
(Erythrina variegata)
Pref. Tree:Ryukyumatsu
Pref. Bird:Okinawa woodpecker
(Sapheopipo noguchii)

Table of contents
1 Climate and Nature
2 Architecture
3 History
4 Geography
5 Culture
6 Karate
7 Karate
8 Okinawan Tension with Japan
9 The Princess Lilies
10 External links references

Climate and Nature

The island is largely composed of coral rock, and rainwater filtering through that coral has given the island many caves, which played an important role in the Battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa is said to have the most beautiful beaches in all of Japan and normally enjoys above 20 degree Celsius weather throughout the year. Many coral reefs are found in this region of Japan and wildlife is abundant. Sea turtles return yearly to the southern islands of Okinawa to lay their eggs. The summer months carry warnings to swimmers regarding poisonous jelly fish and other dangerous sea creatures. Okinawa is a major producer of sugar cane and tropical fruits.

Architecture

Whereas most homes in Japan are made with wood and allow free-flow of air to combat humidity, homes in Okinawa are typically made from concrete with barred windows (protection from flying plant matter) to deal with regular typhoons. Roof styles also hint at resisting high gusts with each tile cemented on and not merely layered on as seen with most homes in Japan. Many roofs also display a roundish dragon statue called a Shisa which is said to protect the home from danger. Roofs are typically red in color and are inspired by Chinese design.

History

See History of Okinawa.

Geography

See the list of cities and districts of Okinawa prefecture

Culture

Since Okinawa did not become part of Japan until relatively recently, and for several hundred years was the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, there are considerable differences between Okinawan culture and that of mainland Japan. Examples of traditional Okinawan culture include Eisa dancing (a traditional drumming dance), the sanshin (a three-stringed Okinawan instrument, somewhat similar to a banjo, whose body is often bound using the skin of Okinawa's poisonous Habu snake), and the ubiquitous Awamori (an Okinawan spirit made from Thai rice).

Karate

Okinawa is also considered the birth place of karate. The origins of this form of martial art are not clear, but were likely born from the synthesis of an external style of kung fu brought from China and native Okinawan fighting techniques, known as Okinawa-te or simply Te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history very likely contributed to the purely weaponless nature of karate.

American service men and woman stationed in Okinawa after World War II learned karate there and took the martial art to America where it grew in popularity.

Karate

Okinawa is also considered the birth place of karate. The origins of this form of martial art are not clear, but were likely born from the synthesis of an external style of kung fu brought from China and native Okinawan fighting techniques, known as Okinawa-te or simply Te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history very likely contributed to the purely weaponless nature of karate.

American service men and woman stationed in Okinawa after World War II learned karate there and took the martial art to America where it grew in popularity.

Okinawan Tension with Japan

Many Okinawans refuse to raise the Japanese flag at official events, because of the flag's perceived link to Japan's emperor, the Japanese Imperial Military, and the World War II Battle of Okinawa. The Japanese flag reminds many Okinawans of the worst aspects of Japanese imperialism.

On October of 1987, Mr. Syoichi Chibana burned the Japanese flag while it was being raised for the Kaiho National Athletic meet in Yomitan, Okinawa. This incident not only shocked Okinawans, but also Japanese.

During the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese soldiers killed Okinawan civilians. One reason was due to non combatants disturbing the Japanese military in their hiding places. During the battle, people hid in the many caves on Okinawa. At first, there were only civilians, but the soldiers also took refuge in the caves after the fighting became intense. During the many fierce battles, the babies in the caves started crying. Their mothers tried to stop the crying, but the soldiers, being afraid of being found by the enemy, murdered the babies at once. This brutality was not unusual to the Okinawans. They were also killed over small amounts of food. "At midnight, soldiers would wake up Okinawans and take them to the beach. Then they chose Okinawans at random and threw hand grenades at them." (Moriguchi, 1992)

The suspicion of being a spy was another reason why Okinawans were killed. Classified World War II Japanese military documents describe punishment for Okinawans who didn't speak Japanese. They were declared spies, and killed for speaking their own language. Additionally, Japanese soldiers shot Okinawans who wanted to surrender to Allied Forces appealing to them to quit fighting. The Japanese military commanders were afraid of their subordinates losing their fighting spirit while watching civilians surrender. So they killed civilians to prevent their troops from losing morale.

During March 1945, there was an intense battle on Yaeyama Island. The Japanese military forced people to evacuate from their towns to the mountains even though malaria was prevalent there. Okinawans, without food and medicine, lost 54% of the island's population to starvation and disease. After WW II, the government stated that the Japanese military didn't know that malaria was prevalent on Yaeyama Island, however there is some evidence that this was known before evacuating the Okinawans to the mountains. The bereaved families of the malaria victims filed a lawsuit against the government for its responsibility.

The Princess Lilies

Another point of Okinawan resentment is due to that the WWII Japanese military forced school girls to join a group known as the Princess Lilies and go to the battle front as nurses. The Princess Lilies was an organization made up of girl students, 15 to 16 years old, who participated in the battle as nurses. There were seven girl's high schools in Okinawa at the time of WW II. The Princess Lilies were organized at two of them, and a total of 297 students and teachers joined the group and eventually served the Army as nurses. Two hundred and eleven died. Most of the girls were put into caves, which served as temporary clinics, and took care of injured soldiers. There was no medicine, food or water. Many of the young girls died while trying to get water for the wounded soldiers. The Japanese military also told these girls that if they were taken prisoner the enemy would rape and then kill them, and then gave the girls hand grenades to commit suicide with before being taken prisoner. One of the Princess Lilies explains this by saying, "We had a strict imperial education, so being taken prisoner was the same a being a traitor. We were taught to prefer suicide to becoming a captive." --(Moriguchi, 1992) Many students died saying "Tenno Banzai." which means "Long live the Emperor."

The board of education, made up entirely of mainland Japanese, required the girls' participation. Teachers opposed to the board of education, insisting the students be evacuated to somewhere safe, were accused of being traitors.

External links references


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