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A sotetsu plant at Yukimori Shrine on Amami Ôshima.
The fruit of the sotetsu (cycad), as depicted in a diorama at the Amami Nature and Culture Center on Amami Ôshima.
  • Japanese: 蘇鉄 (sotetsu)

Sotetsu, or cycad, is a palm-like plant widespread in the Ryukyu Islands, and long a symbol of the semi-tropical islands prior to the introduction in the mid-to-late 20th century of Hawaiian plants such as hibiscus and palm trees.[1] The fruit of the sotetsu is highly poisonous, but can be rendered edible through extensive boiling, and was eaten as a food of last resort during famines, in the aftermath of destructive typhoons that destroyed food stores, and other such situations. The most infamous instance of this was during the so-called sotetsu jigoku or "cycad hell" in Okinawa prefecture during the Great Depression of the 1920s-30s, which brought with it a severe crash in the sugar market and thus a crash in the Okinawan economy.[2] Prior to that, in the 17th-19th centuries, villagers on the Amami Islands may have relied on sotetsu in this manner more regularly and more deeply than those in the Ryûkyû Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa prefecture), as Kagoshima domain forced Amami islanders to focus intensively on sugar cultivation, to the detriment of maintaining sufficient production of other foods.[3]


  1. Gerald Figal, "Between War and Tropics: Heritage Tourism in Postwar Okinawa," The Public Historian 30:2 (2008), 93-94.
  2. Alan Christy, "The Making of Imperial Subjects in Okinawa," positions 1:3 (1993), 611-612.
  3. Gallery labels, "Sotetsu," Amami Nature and Culture Center, Amami Ôshima.[1]