Japanese Regions: Okinawa

Figure 1.--Here we see a Okinawa primary school in 1904. Notice that the boys wear tradition dress, but the teachers Western dress. The Okinawa education system was basically an imort from Japan.

Kyūshū is the most southerly of the main islands. The largest cities are Fukuoka and Kumamoto. The Ryukyu Islands are part of Kyūshū. One of the largest of the Ryukyu Islands is Okinawa, an island of Volcanic origins. Of all the islands, the Ryukyu/Okinawa are the most culturally dectinct because of its relatively recent incorporation into Japan by samuris (17th century). It was the closeness of Okinawa to Kyūshū that invited the Jaopanese invasion. Even after the Japanese invasion, considerable cultural autonomy continued. Its soutern location made it a target of the United States in the Pacific War. Just as the closeness to Kyūshū invited the Japanese invasion in the 17th century, it also invited the American invasion (20th century). The result was an apocolyptic World War II battle, the last major battle of the War.

Early History

Although located off the coast of China, south of Japan, China took little interest in Okinawa and the oter Ryukyu islands. The Ryukyu Islands were not united and either Okinawa itself was not united under any centralized rule. Okinawa consisted of small farming and fishing villages with no centralized political organization.

Unification (12th-14 century)

The period from the 12-17th century is known as "Ko Ryukyu" or "Ancient Okinawa". Local nobels called "Aji", began to expand their fiefdoms and fighting each other. They began building "Gusuku", stone fortresses (14th century). After two centuries of struggle, tree Aji dominated the island. This era is referred to as Sanzan jidai (period of Three Kingdoms). It was the Sho dynasty from central Okinawa that finall unified the island.

Independent Sho Okinawa

Okinawa under the Sho was a small, but prosperous kingdom. It was officially a vassal state of China, but China exerted littlecontrol. The island was located on trade routes between north Asia (northern China and Japan) and southeastern Asia. Okinawa also had a very valuable resource--sulfur. This was a necessary ingredient of gun powder. This prosperity declined with the arrival of Westeners (16th century). The Westerners brough products from southeastvAsia as well as products such as hand guns and artillery pidces. As a result, Okinawa declined as a trading and maritime supply center.

Japanese Conquest (1609)

Sho Okinawa was not an important military power. Two centuries of peace meant that the island had little military skill. Japan on the other hand had become a martial society. The civil war with embroiled Japan for over a century, mean that Japan and its faed samuris had developed a warrior culture. Danyo Shimazu from southern Kyushu invaded Okinawa (1609). The islanders surrendered after only 3 days. Shimazu ws concerned about offending China. He administered the island as a protectorate. The Japanese conquest ended what is known as "Ko Ryukyu". The period from Danyo Shimazu's invasion (1609) until the suppression of the Oknawa kingdom (1879) s called "Late Okinawa".

Japanese Protectorate

Japanese occupation had some benefits. Japan wa a more advanced country. Soicial and economic life was better orgnized. Superstions like socery were supressed. An important Okinawan reformer was Haneji Choshu. He promoted a restrained life style and education to resist Shimazu culturally. Under the Tokugawa Shoigunate, Okinawa like Japan itself was closed to Westerners, with the exception of a limited Dutch trade. This was the Japanese policy of "Sakoku" or "National seclusion policy". There were contacts with Chinese and Koreans.

Commodore Perry (1853)

The United States dispatched Commodore Perry and a squadron of four naval vessels to open Japan (1853). The United States was interested in both trade a support base for its north Pacific whaking fleet. Before the incident at Tokyo Bay, Perry first called at Okinawa. Perry realized that no matter how powerful this squadron, he could not conquer Japan with it. So he cconceived of a plan to take occupy Okinawa if the Shogun refused his demands to open the country. The Shogun decided, however, that resisting the Westeerners was futile. Under the Kanagawa Treaty, four ports were opened to the United States. Similar treaties with Britain, France, and Russia followed.

End of the Shogunate (1868)

The Western opening of Japan exposed the weakness of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This destabilized the Japanese feudal feudal system over which the Shogun precided. A civil war followed between forced supporting the Shogun and the Emperor. Here the issue of opening Japan was no clear cut between the contending forces. The defeat of the the Shogun ushered in the Menji restoration--"Taisei hokan". The Tokugawa family was forced to give up their fiefdoms (1868). The other Danyos had to surrender their fiefdoms as well. The Okinawa Kingdom was suppressed (1879).

Ryukyu shobun / Settlement of Okinawa (1879)

The Ryukyus was the most culturally destincr area of Japan. The new Japanese Government did not proceed to undertake the adotion of Japanese customs. In fact, the Governmen was willing to ccept Okinawa's cultural destinctness. A Japanese law (law called "Kyushuonzon" or "conservation of ancient custom). While thelaw mat seem progressive, it also delayed the modernization of Japan.

Intr-War Era

Okinawa ws eventuallu goverbed just like the rest of Japan. The islands did not, however, share n Japan's prosperty. Some migrated. A number went to Japan's new South Pacific islands--the Marianas. The islands had bee seized from Germany during World war I,

World War II (1941-45)

Japanese militariss with expanonist plns seized control of the Governent (1930s). In need of alloes they moved toward NAZI Hermany and formally joined the Axis (1941). The militarists debated striking nort against the Soviets or south against the British and American. The decesion was made to attack America. The Peal Harbor attack (December 1941) was the beginning of an enormous military operation in which Japan seized a vast empire from Burma to the Solomon Islands east of New Guinea. Okimawa was a small, seemingly unimportant island dep within the new Japanese empire. While devestaing, the Japanese atPearl failed in their main objective, destroying the American carriers. And the surviving carriers delvered a stunning blow to Japan an Midway (June 1942). This ended Japanese naval dominnce, but it took 2 more years of savage fighting for the United States to penetrate the island bastions protecting Japan from American naval and air power. After the climatic battle of the Philippines Sea (June 1944), the Americans debated their net target. MacArthur insisted on retuning to the Philippines. The Japanese thought Formosa (Taiwan) would be next. The Japanese began to evacuate the civilian population of Okinawa, although Formosa was seen as a more likely target. The evacuation proved impossible. American submarines had destroyed much of Japan's merchant fleet. And surviving vessels attemting to reach Japan were liked to be interceopted by submaries. In one tragic incident, an American submarine sank the Tsushimamaru carrying 1,700 evacuees off Kyushu. On board were 800 Okinawa school children (August 21, 1944). More than 1,500 people perished. Of all the islands in he Pacific, the Americans selected Okinawa as its next target. Geography ruled the choice. The United States was preparing to invade the Home Islnds. Kyushu was the first target because of its southerly location. And Okinawa would serve as both a logistical support center and a base for aircraft supporting the invasion. While Formosa had a sizeable garrison, Okinawa had a much smaller garrison. The Americans first landed a Kerama near Okinawa (March 26, 1945). It ws at this time it was clear Okinawa was the American trget. The Americans landed at Kadena beach along the mid-section od the island (APril 1). The Japanese did not oposed the landing and the Americans quickly sliced across the island. This seprated the northern and southern section od the island Most of population and the army units were concentrated in the south. As the mericans moved south, the Japanese began putting up a stiff resistance which intensified as the American moved south. Kaimkaze pilots attacked the Americn task force. The bttle developed into one of the mot fierce of the Pacific War. The Japanese defense was based on Shuri Castle. The Japanese Army reused to surrender or to allow civilians to surrebnder to the Americans. The battle did not end until the Japanese commander, General Ushijima Mitsuru, committed suiside (June 23). Virtually the entire Japanese garrison fought to the death--about 90,000 men. Okinawa civilians suffered horibly. Many retrewated into caves wear they attempted to survive without food or even water. in addition about 150,000 civilians (25 percent of the population) perished. Many were either killed by Japanese soldiers or forced to commit suiside.


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Created: 4:01 AM 8/25/2008
Last updated: 4:01 AM 8/25/2008