Tokara Islands

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  • Other Names: 七島 (Shichitô), 宝島 (Takara jima)
  • Japanese: トカラ列島 (Tokara rettô)

The Tokara Islands are a string of islands in the northern part of the Ryûkyû archipelago, stretching between Yakushima and the Ôsumi Islands to the north, and the Amami Islands to the south. They are today administered as part of Kagoshima prefecture. Seven of the Tokaras are inhabited, and the Tokaras are sometimes called "the seven islands" (shichitô) as a result, though several of the uninhabited islands are of historical significance as well.

The chief Tokara Islands include: Kuchinoshima, Nakanoshima, Takarajima, Kodakarajima, Gajashima, Suwanosejima, Akusekijima, Yokoate-jima, and Tairajima.

The Tokaras are home to a distinctive Tokara breed of Ryukyuan horses.


In the 15th to 16th centuries, the Shimazu clan of Satsuma province began to expand into the islands to the south of Kyushu, just as the Ryûkyû Kingdom expanded to the north of Okinawa Island. Ryûkyû conquered much of the Amami Islands over the course of the late 15th to early 16th centuries, and it was in the Tokaras that Ryûkyû and the Shimazu clashed. Gajashima would be the northernmost territory ever held by the Ryûkyû Kingdom.[1]

In the early modern period, Satsuma han maintained offices on each of the seven main Tokara Islands, including regular regional administrative offices, as well as a tsuguchi bansho which oversaw the ports, and an ikoku bansho which worked to guard against interactions with foreigners.[2]

Meanwhile, the Ryûkyû Kingdom maintained a policy of attempting to hide relations with Japan (Satsuma han, specifically) from the Qing court. Evidence of Japanese or otherwise outside influence or interaction was attributed to trade or interactions with "Takarajima" (lit. "treasure island[s]"), a reference to the Tokaras.[3]


  1. Gregory Smits. "Examining the Myth of Ryukyuan Pacifism." The Asia-Pacific Journal 37-3-10 (September 13, 2010).
  2. Ono Masako, Tomita Chinatsu, Kanna Keiko, Taguchi Megumi, "Shiryô shôkai Kishi Akimasa bunko Satsuyû kikô," Shiryôhenshûshitsu kiyô 31 (2006), 230.
  3. Matsuda Mitsugu, The Government of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, 1609-1872, Yui Publishing (2001), 60n34.