Okinawa prefecture

  • Established: 1879
  • Japanese: 沖縄県 (Okinawa ken)

Okinawa prefecture is the southernmost of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Consisting of 49 inhabited islands (and many uninhabited ones) covering a total land area of some 2,000 square kilometers, it comprises roughly one percent of Japan's total land area.[1] It is governed from the prefectural capital of Naha, on the island of Okinawa, and includes a section of the Ryûkyû Islands, stretching from Okinawa and its immediately surrounding islands southward, nearly to Taiwan, including the Miyako Islands and Yaeyama Islands (collectively known as the Sakishima Islands), plus Iô Torishima. The territory of the prefecture is essentially identical to that held by the Ryûkyû Kingdom between 1609, when Satsuma han annexed nearly all the islands north of Okinawa Island, and 1879, when the kingdom was abolished.

The population of Okinawa prefecture today is around 1.3 million, the same as the State of Hawaii.[2] The prefecture's economy relies chiefly on activities surrounding the US military bases (incl. civilian employment on-base, restaurants and entertainment, etc.), and tourism.


Meiji Period

Statue of Emperor Meiji at Naminoue Shrine, identified as kokka, or, "The State."

There has been considerable debate within scholarship as to whether the annexation of Okinawa, and policies executed there, should be considered "colonialist" in character, and whether Okinawa should be considered a "colony" of Japan. At the time, through to today, Okinawa was never officially considered a "colony," and "Colonial" "Development" offices were never established there as in Hokkaidô; Okinawa was placed under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry shortly after its annexation, was termed a "prefecture," unlike Taiwan or Korea, and was never subject to a Governor-General or Colonial Administration Office, and never came under the authority of the Colonial Ministry. As late as the 1980s, it was fairly standard amongst even Anglophone historians to not consider Okinawa as a "colony," or as part of the imperialist/colonialist expansion of the empire.[3] However, in more recent years, scholars have begun to argue that the assimilation policies, uneven or hypocritical racial/ethnic discrimination, extension of national systems of infrastructure, public institutions, governmental structures, education, and so forth, among other aspects, bear considerable similarities both to Japan's own history in Taiwan and Korea, and to colonializing processes elsewhere in the world. Others, however, have suggested Okinawa not be considered so separately from the rest of Japan, emphasizing that homogenizing policies and extension of modern institutions, and so forth, were implemented throughout the archipelago; they argue that what was done in Okinawa was not so dissimilar from what took place in Tôhoku, Hokuriku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and indeed throughout all of Japan, only that it got off to a later start in Okinawa, and moved more slowly.

The prefecture was established in 1879, as the last stage in the Ryûkyû shobun, or "disposal" of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. The Kingdom had been replaced by Ryûkyû han in 1872, with the king being made a han'ô, basically equivalent to the position of daimyô which had just been abolished in mainland Japan. Now, the king was made a Marquis in the new European-style kazoku peerage system, and was obliged to relocate to Tokyo. The royal family maintained Ryukyuan royal customs for a time, but after the end of the mourning period following the death of Shô Tai, the last king, in 1901, they abandoned the trappings of royalty and more fully adopted those of modern Japanese aristocracy.[4] Governors, chiefly from Kagoshima prefecture (Satsuma) but all of them from mainland Japan, were appointed to head the governance of Okinawa; while former members of the Ryukyuan royal government scholar-bureaucracy held many governmental posts, the top levels of government, and education officials, were all dominated by non-Okinawans.[5] In 1880, more than 80% of prefectural officials in Okinawa were Japanese (non-Okinawan).[6] The mainland legal system was extended to Okinawa in 1897, and Okinawans were able to elect representatives to the prefectural assembly beginning in 1909, and to the National Diet in 1912, but governors continued to be appointed from outside of Okinawa throughout the prewar and wartime period; it was only after the end of the US Occupation in Ryûkyû, and the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty in 1972 that Okinawans were able to enjoy the rights and privileges of democratic participation & representation as fully as those in the rest of Japan.

Matsuda Michiyuki arrived in Naha on 1879/1/25, and the following day presented to Prince Nakijin a missive from the Prime Minister reproaching Ryûkyû for breaking the prohibition imposed by Japan on sending diplomatic missions to China, and for obstructing the implementation of Japanese law enforcement and criminal administration in the islands. The following month, Beijing sent formal communications urging Tokyo to not annex Ryûkyû as a prefecture. Kinashi Seiichirô was named Acting Governor of the not yet established Okinawa Prefecture on 3/3.

He was soon replaced by Nabeshima Naoyoshi, appointed the first official governor of the prefecture. The second governor, Uesugi Mochinori, supposedly out of genuine concern for the ordinary Okinawan people (i.e. commoners/peasants), was quite harsh on the traditional aristocracy, accusing them of having oppressed and impoverished the Ryukyuan people, and attempting to remove them from power and from elite status.[7] Much of these initiatives were reversed by his successor, the third governor, Iwamura Michitoshi, however, who implemented a series of policies known as kyûkan onzon ("preserving old customs"). Under these policies, much of the kingdom's legal and administrative structures were left in place for a time, including incorporating many of the kingdom's experienced scholar-bureaucrats into positions of governmental administration. While many former scholar-bureaucrats accepted positions in the new government, many others, such as Ôta Chôfu, protested by refusing to work, and refusing to aid the new officials in taking over the administration.[8] This policy of maintaining old administrative structures was pursued, at least in part, as the result of concerns (perhaps quite valid concerns) by the Meiji government that abruptly dismantling these political and economic systems all at once could spark widespread popular resistance. Thus, all the way until 1903, the kingdom's systems of land divisions (magiri), taxation, and so forth, were left intact to a certain extent. While low-ranking Ryukyuan aristocrats lost their special status entirely, and no Ryukyuans outside of the royal family were incorporated into the kazoku or shizoku systems of gentry, middle- to high-ranking Ryukyuan aristocrats were at least permitted to retain their government stipends until 1909; these were, however, paid out of the prefecture's budget, and not out of any separate additional funds granted to Okinawa by Tokyo. While Hokkaidô, similarly annexed by Imperial Japan in 1869, received considerable investment for development, Okinawa received very little from the government. All in all, throughout the Meiji period, Okinawa paid higher taxes per capita, and received less national expenditures per capita, than any other prefecture.[5]

Land divisions and the associated tax structure were reorganized in a major undertaking in 1899 to 1903 known as the Okinawa Prefecture Land Reorganization Project, bringing practices in Okinawa into line with systems used throughout the rest of the country. This included converting much communal land into private property, and eliminating the payment of taxes in kind (i.e. in grain or other products), and replacing it with payment in cash.[9]

Meanwhile, traditional systems of education were also left in place for a while, alongside national public education. However, under the eighth governor of the prefecture, Narahara Shigeru, just before the end of the 19th century, assimilation efforts were stepped up. Narahara is said to have had very little respect for Okinawan customs or heritage, and very little interest in doing anything to defend or ensure continuation of their traditions; he supported not only the ramping up of assimilation efforts, but also pushed for development and modernization. The Ryukyuan languages were frowned upon, labeled as undesirable dialects or simply poor or incorrect Japanese, and efforts were made to root them out. Speaking "in dialect" was banned in public schools, and students caught speaking Ryukyuan languages were severely punished, often by being forced to wear a heavy wooden "dialect plaque" (hôgen fuda) around their neck, shaming them for having spoken that way. Native Ryukyuan religion was also suppressed, and yuta and noro priestesses persecuted, while State Shinto was introduced and encouraged. Many of these assimilation practices continued in full force into the 1930s-40s, and left a considerable impact upon the culture and sense of identity of the Okinawan people.

Though supported by Prime Ministers such as Itô Hirobumi and Matsukata Masayoshi, Narahara's administration inspired particularly strong criticism and opposition within Okinawa, including from Jahana Noboru, the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, and the Kôdôkai anti-assimilation movement, which pushed once again for the restoration of Ryukyuan royal leadership. Despite the significant differences between Hokkaidô and Okinawa, Narahara and his supporters cited the success or failures of reforms in Hokkaidô to rebuff Okinawan protests, and to force through his policies.[10]

By the turn of the 20th century, nationwide efforts to provide uniform education and create a uniform culture and language were implemented in Okinawa as they were throughout the nation, inspiring the formation in 1896 by former royal prince Shô En and a number of noble supporters of the Kôdôkai ("Society for Public Unity"), which worked to strongly oppose assimilation, and to petition for the restoration of rule by Okinawans.[11] The formation of the field of Okinawan Studies, pioneered by Iha Fuyû at this time, was also inspired by Narahara's programs to eliminate Okinawan language, culture, and identity.[12]

Okinawa saw modernization of its infrastructure and public institutions in the Meiji period as well, though more slowly and to a smaller extent than in much of the rest of the Empire. The first modern theater in the islands, the Nakamô Engeijô, opened in 1891. The first public library in Okinawa was opened in 1906 in Nago, the Okinawa Prefectural Library was established in 1910 with Iha Fuyû as its first director, and the first electric railway, running a short distance within Naha City, was opened in 1911. Light rail lines were extended across the island beginning in 1914, connecting Naha with Yonabaru, Kadena, and Itoman; however, the rail lines were never rebuilt after their destruction in World War II,[13] and the only train line in the prefecture today is the Okinawa Monorail, which runs from Naha Airport to Shuri (with planned extension into Urasoe).

Mainland businesses began to expand into Okinawa, even seizing monopolistic levels of dominance in many locales and commercial sectors, pushing Okinawan local/native merchants and entrepreneurs into far weaker positions, or out of business entirely.[14] Facing considerable economic difficulties, not to mention in at least some cases cultural and/or political opposition to Japanese assimilation, many Okinawans began to emigrate to Hawaii, Latin America, and elsewhere. Okinawa was one of the top prefectures from which people emigrated in the late Meiji period, and Hawaii continues today to be the home of the largest Okinawan diasporic community in the world. The first Okinawan immigrants arrived in Hawaii in 1900, and immigration peaked in 1906, with nearly 4,500 people arriving in that year.

Around the time of the Sino-Japanese War, Okinawan politics came to be dominated by conflict or tensions between a pro-Japanese Kaika-tô ("Enlightenment Party") and a pro-Chinese Ganko-tô ("Stubborn Party").[15] Japanese victory in that war, however, strengthened or solidified popular conceptions of Japanese military/political strength, and the idea that Japanese control over Okinawa was not going to be undone; anti-Japanese activism declined, and by 1903, the kyûkan onzon policies were lifted.[16]

Not only Japanese modern popular culture, but foreign culture as well, began to gain widespread currency in Okinawa. The first American film ever shown there was one about the Spanish-American War, screened in 1902.

1912 to 1945

The population of Okinawa rose from 500,000 in the late 1900s to nearly 600,000 on the eve of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.[17]

Throughout the prewar period, Japanese government policy attitudes towards Okinawans, arguably not dissimilar to attitudes towards Koreans and Taiwanese, placed them in a paradoxical or in-between position. Assimilation policies transformed them into being little different from other Japanese, and they were expected to fulfill all the obligations to the State of any Japanese subject, but were not extended quite the same rights, freedoms, and protections. At the Fifth Domestic Exposition, held in Osaka in 1903, organizers attempted to put Okinawans on display in a "human zoo"-style exhibit, alongside Ainu and Taiwanese aborigines, as colonized peoples; the Okinawans vehemently protested, arguing they had assimilated, educated and acculturated, and were no different from Japanese, and so should not be grouped together with these hairy barbarians. The Okinawans were spared from being displayed at that event, in the end, but their treatment as second-class citizens, with less political voice, and fewer rights and protections, but expectations of full obligation to sacrifice themselves for the state, continued in various ways.

A number of major sites associated with the Ryûkyû Kingdom were named National Treasures in the 1920s-30s, including Shuri castle, the Buddhist temples Engaku-ji (Okinawa) and Sôgen-ji, and Oki Shrine, thus appropriating them into narratives of Japanese national greatness. Meanwhile, a number of sites including Shuri castle (in 1925) and Naminoue Shrine (in 1890) were also transformed into Shinto shrines, incorporating them into networks and systems of sites of the nation. Shuri castle, made the site of a military garrison from 1879 until 1896, and then public space beginning in 1909, was made into a Shinto shrine in 1925. At some point in the 1930s, it became home to a major underground military headquarters, thus unfortunately inviting its destruction in 1945, and along with it the destruction of numerous irreplaceable artifacts and documents of Ryukyuan cultural and historical significance.

Military conscription began in Okinawa in 1898, a few decades after it was implemented in mainland Japan; by 1945, Okinawans were trusted enough as Japanese subjects to serve loyally in the military right alongside Japanese soldiers, but Okinawan civilians were still treated quite differently from Japanese by the military. These problems of second-class status manifested perhaps most boldly in the Battle of Okinawa, as Okinawans, taught by Japanese propaganda to fear rape and torture by the Allied forces, fled south along with the Japanese military, expecting that their own country's forces would protect them. Instead, they were pressured to sacrifice themselves for the glory of the Empire, with a great many dying in caves, or throwing themselves off cliffs, rather than being protected by their own government's military. Speaking more broadly, many people today characterize the battle as a "sacrificing" of Okinawa as a whole, to benefit & protect Japan; Okinawa was considered Japanese enough to be subject to assimilation policies, expectations that the Okinawans would behave as loyal Japanese, and so forth, but was not considered integral enough to the Japanese state that it should be protected, defended, as well. A disproportionate number of the Japanese soldiers who died in the Battle of Okinawa were from Hokkaido, leading many to speak of the ways in which Hokkaido, as another marginal place on the peripheries of the Japanese state, was also "sacrificed" for the protection of those from the center.

Battle of Okinawa

Map of the Battle of Okinawa at Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu

The Imperial Japanese military established a headquarters beneath Shuri castle, and fortified much of Okinawa Island into a major base of military strength, leading it to become an important target for Allied forces to address as they pressed their way towards Japan proper in the final stages of World War II. Much of Naha was destroyed in a major bombing raid on 10 October 1944, typically known simply as the "10-10 Bombing Raid."[18] Fearing a land invasion of Okinawa, as many as 70,000 people fled Okinawa to Kyushu or Taiwan by March 1945; many others fled north from central and southern parts of Okinawa Island into the forests of Yanbaru in the north of the island.[19]

Allied forces first made landfall on Okinawa on 1 April 1945 (after making earlier landings in the Kerama Islands), declaring on that same day, in what has come to be known as the Nimitz Proclamation, the end of “All Executive Powers of the Japanese Empire” in Okinawa.[20] The ensuing Battle of Okinawa would last several months, with fighting continuing until late June 1945.[21]

Often known in Okinawa as the "Typhoon of Steel" (鉄の暴風, tetsu no bôfû), the Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war. One of the largest naval fleets in history bombarded the island with shells,[22] and by the time the fighting was over, much of the central and southern parts of the island were decimated. Some 100,000 Okinawans died during the Battle, representing roughly a quarter to a third of the total Okinawan population. Countless priceless artifacts and documents were lost as well, along with most of the island's significant cultural, religious, and historical sites. Perhaps as much as 3,000 tons of unexploded ordnance remains on the island; some estimates wager it would take fifty years to clear it all.[23]


A photo of the Rippôin, where the Ryûkyû Government (Ryûkyû seifu) - the elected Okinawan representative assembly under US Occupation - met. Today the site of the Okinawa Prefectural Legislature (Okinawa kenchô).

Following the end of World War II, Allied forces occupied Japan, placing it under martial law. For the next seven years or so, up until 1952, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his SCAP offices oversaw considerable rebuilding efforts, as well as changes in the education system, reorganization of government and economy, and so forth. A weak civilian government was permitted to operate, and political parties were allowed to be formed in 1947, but the following year, the US stepped up its military control of the islands, and considered holding onto the archipelago permanently.[24] A September 1947 letter from a W.J. Sebold, addressed to the US Secretary of State, relates that according to Japanese diplomat Terasaki Hidenari, the Emperor supports the long-term Occupation of the Ryukyus, in order to show the rest of Japan “that the US has no ulterior motives and would welcome US Occupation for military purposes.”[20]

Throughout the Battle, and into the early months of the postwar, Okinawan civilians were gathered into refugee camps (J: shûyôjo). Ostensibly, this was for their protection (during the Battle), and so that Allied forces could attend to their food, shelter, and other needs amidst the destruction, and the rebuilding which had not yet taken place. The first of these camps was established almost immediately after the first Allied landing in April 1945; by the end of the war there were 16 civilian camps, in addition to those where prisoners of war (POWs) were held. On August 15, 1945, the day of Imperial Japan's formal surrender, representatives from each of the refugee camps were brought to Ishikawa (now part of Uruma City, on Okinawa Island) to form an Okinawa Advisory Council. Occupation authorities then held elections within the camps on September 20 and 25, to form civilian government which would oversee matters within the camps, including the distribution of rations and the announcement and implementation of Occupation authorities' orders. In these elections, all men and women over the age of 25 were permitted to vote, and to be elected to office. Okinawans were finally permitted to leave the camps to return to rebuild their homes, and their lives, beginning in late October 1945. The US military provided 2x4s and other basic materials to Okinawan construction workers for the construction of some 75,000 basic homes known in Okinawa as kikakuyaa 規格家.[25] However, in the meantime, Occupation authorities had already also unilaterally seized large tracts of land for military bases, and so many Okinawans returned to their villages to find the area inaccessible, surrounded by barbed wire fences.[20]

The population of the prefecture recovered quickly after the Battle, with some 124,000 returnees + new settlers bringing the population back up over 500,000 within a year of the end of the war.[17] After that, however, even as the population continued to grow steadily, Occupation policies made it difficult for Okinawans and Japanese to travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan. As early as 1946, Okinawans resident in Tokyo began pushing for Okinawa's reversion, that it should be reintegrated into Japan.[20] A group in Kansai, meanwhile, formed the Okinawajin Renmei (Okinawans' League) to help aid these "refugees" and to petition the government for assistance. Okinawan groups in Hawaii and elsewhere overseas gathered large amounts of money, pigs, goats, and other supplies to ship to Okinawa, to contribute to the well-being of their fellow Okinawans, and to rebuilding efforts.[26]

SCAP represented the Ryukyuans in most of their rhetoric as a separate people (minzoku) from the Japanese, as colonized, minority, and subordinate, contributing to its justifications for US military retention of Okinawa even after sovereignty was restored in the rest of Japan. The Japanese Communist Party, in its official publication Akahata ("Red Banner" or "Red Flag"), also described the Okinawan people as being a separate nation, and a minority people who have been oppressed.[24]

SCAP also took steps to promote education and the arts in Okinawa, founding the University of the Ryukyus on the former grounds of Shuri castle in 1950, and an early predecessor to the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum around the same time.

As early as 1951, as the Treaty of San Francisco was being negotiated, Okinawan groups pushed for a variety of different ends. Several major political parties pushed for immediate reversion to Japanese sovereignty, something supported by nearly 200,000 signatures on an appeal, accounting for over 70% of the eligible voters in Okinawa. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party in Okinawa pushed for Okinawa to become a trustee under the United States, while the Republican Party in Okinawa angled for full independence.[24]

In 1952, mainland Japan was restored to Japanese sovereignty. However, under Article 3 of Chapter 2 (Territory) of the Treaty of San Francisco, Japan was obliged to agree to any proposal the US made to place any portion of the Ryûkyû Islands and/or the Ogasawara Islands under trusteeship; further, until such a proposal was made, the United States was to continue to "exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation, and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters."[27] Thus, the Allied military Occupation, and martial law, continued for another twenty years in Okinawa, under USCAR - the United States Civil Administration of Ryukyu. At that time, the occupation of Ryukyu had no set end-date, and the 1950s-1960s saw considerable protest and agitation. The US military removed people from their land by force in order to build or expand military bases, in a move known as "bayonets and bulldozers," and offered monetary compensation as a means of resolving all land problems. After the majority of landowners refused in 1952 to lease their land to the US authorities, USCAR changed the rules, forcing them to lease the land, and though rental rates were initially negotiable, in the end, the US military obliged landowners to accept extremely low rent payments. In 1955, a US government report known as the Price Report officially stated that such exploitative land rental policies were justified, indeed required, due to Okinawa's uniquely vital strategic location. This spurred further protest. Some 300,000 people participated in rallies and community meetings in 1956, discussing and establishing principles of resistance, and declaring their opposition to the Price Report, land seizures, and the stationing or storing of B-52s, nuclear weapons, and chemical weapons such as Agent Orange in Okinawa. For seven months, from July 1955 into February 1956, people displaced from their land, including many people dispossessed from farming and left with no way of making a living, marched from northern Okinawa to the government offices in Naha, in what came to be known as the "Beggars' March" (乞食行進, kojiki kôshin).[28] Demonstrations calling for reversion, the end of US "colonial" rule, and the removal of all nuclear weapons from Okinawa continued through the next decade. In 1957, the Occupation authorities declared the High Commissioner to be the supreme authority in the islands; that same year, nuclear weapons were brought to Okinawa for the first time.

Though the Amami Islands and Ogasawara Islands were initially included alongside the Ryukyus as areas not reverted to Japanese control in 1952, hunger strikes and protests led to the Amamis being returned the following year. As a result, the Amamis, already separated from the Ryûkyû Kingdom and placed under somewhat more direct Japanese (samurai) control since the 1610s, were to continue along a rather different historical, and therefore cultural, trajectory from the rest of the Ryûkyû Islands.[20]

While Okinawan civilians began to have a greater say in selecting their own civilian governmental leaders beginning in the late 1950s, this was not without restrictions. Throughout the Occupation period, Okinawan civilians were forbidden from criticizing the military government, fighting against land seizures, or calling for reversion. Organizations which did engage in these acts were punished financially, and newspapers and other publications were strictly censored by the US authorities from 1945 up until 1965. In 1954, a prominent political activist named Senaga Kanejirô was arrested by Occupation authorities for harboring members of the Okinawan People's Party (Okinawa jinmin tô), who the Occupation authorities had expelled from Okinawa as "Communists." After serving two years in prison, Senaga successfully ran for mayor of Naha, being elected in 1956, just months after his release from prison, on a platform of promising to fight land seizures and otherwise oppose oppressive American policies. USCAR then acted to remove funding from the Naha municipal government, and the following year modified the law to allow it to more easily remove civilian officials from office; Senaga was then removed from his position as mayor.[20]

A group of prominent Okinawan activists formed the Okinawa Prefecture Reversion Council in 1960, protesting against a wide variety of USCAR policies and actions, and pushing for reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. Due to the strategic value of Okinawa for the Korean War, and then for the Vietnam War which began in 1965, however, the US delayed on any moves towards reversion, and sought ways of retaining control of the islands. B-52 bombers were first deployed to Okinawa in 1968, and quickly became a major target of local protest. Documents declassified or otherwise uncovered in the early 21st century reveal that the US military was storing chemical weapons such as mustard gas and sarin on Okinawa by 1969.[20]

President Nixon and Prime Minister Satô Eisaku finally came to an agreement about reversion in 1969.

The Koza Riots which broke out in the city of Koza (today, Okinawa City) in 1970 were the most violent of the Okinawan protests during the Occupation. A public referendum was held among residents of Okinawa, asking whether they would prefer independence or to return to Japanese sovereignty, and overwhelmingly they chose the latter. Many Okinawans at that time railed against "rule by a foreign people" (iminzoku shihai), referring to the Americans, but are said to have done so while identifying themselves as Japanese, and not as a separate Okinawan or Ryukyuan identity. Okinawan protesters employed Japanese flags as a symbol of their Japanese (and non-American, or anti-American) identity so frequently and prominently that the US Occupation authorities attempted to ban it; the Okinawans flew the flag anyway. Many in mainland Japan supported their push for reversion to Japanese sovereignty as well. Reversion finally took place on May 15, 1972.[29]

While Okinawans were now once again free to choose their leaders and governmental representatives, and regained all the rights and protections associated with being Japanese citizens, US military bases continued to occupy up to 20% of the island's land area, creating difficulties and representing a continued "occupation" of Okinawan land. In addition to incidents of aircraft crashes, US soldiers attacking, even raping, Okinawan girls, and even just getting into traffic accidents or just drunkenly being a public nuisance, and being immune from Japanese legal prosecution, many Okinawans also feel that the presence of the US bases make Okinawa a military target, just as the Japanese military bases made Okinawa a target, and a battlefield, in 1945. While Washington and Tokyo maintain that Okinawa is of great strategic value because of its geographic location and so forth, many Okinawans believe that if there were no military bases on Okinawa - or at least, fewer - Okinawa might be spared death and destruction in the next great military conflict to come, whatever that may be.

1972 to Present

The rebuilt Seiden (Main Hall) of Shuri castle.
A banner hung by protestors on the fence at Futenma Air Station, 2013. It reads roughly "Revoke the deployment of Osprey. Close the dangerous Futenma!"

Shortly after reversion, Okinawa hosted the 1975 Ocean Expo, a major expo in the tradition of the world's fairs, celebrating maritime history and culture, and in particular that of the Pacific. The prefecture's population first reached one million around this time.[17]

The 1970s saw a considerable resurgence in efforts by individuals, especially in the arts, to revive Okinawan traditions and pride in Okinawan identity. Paralleling the "Hawaiian Renaissance" taking place around the same time,[30] this so-called "Okinawan Renaissance" saw revived activity and interest in many of the traditional arts, and the emergence of pop music groups like Champloose, Nenes, and Rinken Band who incorporated sanshin, classical and folk music elements, Okinawan language, and other cultural elements into their music; this was accompanied, too, by increased interest in Okinawan culture by people in mainland Japan, and elsewhere, aided along by the broader boom in world music at that time. While many arts are still struggling to some extent today, as are efforts to have Okinawan language, culture, and history incorporated in a larger way into public school curricula, to a large extent this cultural "renaissance" continues today.

Where many Okinawans had previously emphasized their Japanese identity, flying Japanese flags in defiance of American occupation, many now turned to an Okinawan or Ryukyuan identity as separate from, or even opposed to, Japanese identity. Activist Chibana Shôichi famously burned a Japanese flag at a national sports event in 1987 in his hometown of Yomitan, at which the Crown Prince, Akihito, was in attendance.[29]

Shuri castle was rebuilt in 1992, and many other sites, including Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and the like have similarly been rebuilt and serve today either as active temples & shrines, or as museums and community centers. The castle, along with the royal mausolea at Tamaudun, the reconstructed royal villas at Shikinaen, and a number of gusuku ruins elsewhere on the island, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and a G8 Summit was held in Nago that same year. Continuing on from the 1975 Ocean Expo, this marks certain significant discourses, as to acknowledging and celebrating Ryukyuan history and culture, and its membership within Japan. Tourism remains one of the prefecture's chief industries, and numbers increased steadily over the course of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The prefecture saw some 500,000 visitors each year in the early 1970s. Numbers spiked to around 1.5 million in 1975, the year of the Ocean Expo World's Fair before falling below one million again the following year, but recovered and grew steadily from then on; over six million people visited Okinawa in 2008.[31]

While newspaper polls regularly show that the vast majority of people in Okinawa support remaining a part of Japan (only a very small percentage support any sort of independence or sovereignty movement), the issue of the US military bases remains a hot-button issue. US bases continue to occupy around 20% of the land area of the tiny island of Okinawa, and constitute over 70% of the US military presence in Japan. Though rapes, crashes, and other incidents are infrequent, each is one too many, and protests have become not only a regular occurrence, but a major portion of the mainstream political issues in the prefecture. As of 2014, authorities have been speaking for years of shutting down Futenma Air Base in Ginowan, but have yet to do so, while protests and political opposition has so far been successful in significantly slowing, but not yet successful in blocking entirely, the construction of a replacement base at Henoko Bay, which threatens the delicate coral reef & dugong habitat there.

Governors of Okinawa Prefecture

  1. Nabeshima Naoyoshi (1879/5/18-1881/5/19)
  2. Uesugi Mochinori (1881-1883)
  3. Iwamura Michitoshi (1883-)
  4. Maruoka Kanji (1888-1892)
  5. Narahara Shigeru (1892/7-1908)
  6. Hibi Kimei (1908-)


  1. Yara Chôbyô (c. 1973)
  2. Ôta Masahide (1990-1998)
  3. Nakaima Hirokazu
  4. Onaga Takeshi (2014-2018)
  5. Denny Tamaki (2018-present)


  1. Hiroko Matsuda and Pedro Iacobelli, "Introduction," Matsuda and Iacobelli (eds.), Rethinking Postwar Okinawa, Lexington Books (2017), vii.
  2. Richard Pearson, Ancient Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2013), 8.; Hawaii, Lonely Planet (2009), 52.
  3. For example, Mark Peattie makes no mention at all of Okinawa or Hokkaidô as "colonies" or "colonialist ventures" in his book The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945, Princeton University Press (1984), co-edited with Ramon Myers, and describes the Japanese efforts in Taiwan as "experiments," based on no prior experience in colonial administration.
  4. Kerr, 452-453.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gregory Smits, "Jahana Noboru: Okinawan Activist and Scholar," in Anne Walthall (ed.), The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, Scholarly Resources Inc. (2002), 102.
  6. Gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Museum.[1]
  7. Gregory Smits, Visions of Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press, (1999), 146-147.
  8. Kerr, 402.
  9. Plaques on-site at Gokoku Shrine.
  10. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, "The Frontiers of Japanese Identity," in Stein Tønnesson and Hans Antlöv (eds.), Asian Forms of the Nation, Psychology Press (1996), 62.
  11. George Kerr, Okinawa: the History of an Island People (revised ed.), Boston: Tuttle Publishing (2000), 425.; Smits, Visions of Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (1999), 148-149.
  12. "Narahara Shigeru." Asahi Nihon rekishi jinbutsu jiten 朝日日本歴史人物事典. Accessed via, 27 May 2010.
  13. Plaque at Naha Bus Terminal, former site of Naha Station.[2]
  14. Kerr, 398.
  15. "Ōta Chōfu." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People in Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 2002. p15.
  16. Junko Kobayashi, "The Demise of Ryukyuan Painting," Okinawan Art in its Regional Context symposium, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 10 Oct 2019.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Gallery labels, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.[3]
  18. More than 1000 planes launched from a carrier task force, attacked in five waves, attacking Naha as well as airfields and port facilities elsewhere on Okinawa and the immediately surrounding islands (including Iejima, Tsuken, and Hamahiga Island). Ninety percent of Naha was destroyed in the resulting fires; 668 soldiers and civilians were killed, and 758 injured. The bombing raid was also an opportunity for the US military to take aerial photos of Okinawa. The same air task force then attacked targets in the Yaeyama Islands and Taiwan beginning on October 12. It swiftly defeated the Japanese air force sent against it. Okinawa ken heiwa kinen shiryôkan sôgô annai 沖縄県平和祈念資料館総合案内 ("General Catalog of Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum"), Nanjô, Okinawa: Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum (2004), 50-51.
  19. Local government established centers to provide for these people in Yanbaru, but food and other supplies quickly ran out, and many succumbed to starvation or malaria. Okinawa ken heiwa kinen shiryôkan sôgô annai, 52-53.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 Gallery labels, Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum, Itoman, Okinawa.
  21. American forces took Shuri castle (and the 32nd Army Headquarters located in tunnels under the castle) by the end of May 1945, following particularly serious fighting at Sugar Loaf Hill (Asato, Naha) and Untama Forest (Untamamui, in Nishihara/Yonabaru). The highest-ranking Japanese officer on the island, Gen. Ushijima Mitsuru, committed suicide on June 22; formal military resistance ended soon afterward. Okinawa ken heiwa kinen shiryôkan sôgô annai, 64-65.
  22. "Operation Iceberg," as it was termed by the US military, included some 1,500 naval vessels and 548,000 troops. It's estimated that 6.8 million shells were fired at the Kyan peninsula alone, in just one month of the battle. Okinawa ken heiwa kinen shiryôkan sôgô annai, 59, 69.
  23. Okinawa ken heiwa kinen shiryôkan sôgô annai, 69.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Richard Siddle, "Return to Uchinâ," in Siddle and Glenn Hook (eds.), Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity, Routledge Curzon (2002), 135.
  25. Okinawa Taimusu Shurijō shuzaihan 沖縄タイムス首里城取材班, Shurijō: shōchō ni naru made 首里城:象徴になるまで, Okinawa Times (2021), 82.
  26. Shari Tamashiro, "Pigs from the Sea," blog/website.
  27. "Treaty of San Francisco," Wikisource.
  28. 「戦い続ける者」, "Okinawa 2015," episode 5, VICE News Japan, 2015.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Siddle, 136.
  30. Adrienne LaFrance, "Who Remembers the Hawaiian Renaissance?," Honolulu Civil Beat, 7 Oct 2011.
  31. "Okinawa kankô kyaku no suii," gallery label, National Museum of Japanese History.[4]