Okinawa – The Southern Tip of Japan / 日本国境以南冲绳OKINAWA

Okinawa – The Southern Tip of Japan 

Okinawa in ancient times was known as the Ryukyu Islands. Around the 10th century, the Ryukyu area was populated with many tribal groups who battled long against each other, before it was unified and named the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 15th century. Ryukyu Kingdom and China had close ties and prospered through transit trades with Southeast Asia and Japan.

In the early 17th century, Satsuma invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. Trade relations and close bilateral ties between Ryukyu Kingdom and China were still maintained, and with the rule of Satsuma, the kingdom entered an era of two genera. Only in the 19th century did the Meiji government officially change the name of the area from Ryukyu to Okinawa.

World War II then saw Okinawa as the main battle ground in Japan. The war came under the U.S. military’s control for as long as 27 years, before Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. With a history of power struggles, domination and cultural influences, there in emerged a unique local Okinawa culture, which is also known as Ryukyu culture : the fusion of the Japanese culture, together with cultural influences from China and the United States.

Historical Monuments

Okinawa has a long history, with a rich number of well-preserved historical sites.

Shuri Castle

Shuri is the main city of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Within it lies the historical Shuri Castle, the Shureimon gate, Sunuhyan-utaki, and the royal mausoleum Tamaudun. Shuri Castle, the home city of the Ryukyu Kingdom, according to records, was built after the unification of Ryukyu by the first ruler. The second ruler of the kingdom then expanded the grounds during his rule. Much of Shuri Castle was burned and destroyed in the battle of Okinawa during World War II. It was restored and opened to public in 1992, and in 2000 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shikina Park

Shikina Park was the largest royal garden and villa during the Ryukyu Kingdom era. The park served as a place for the royal family to recuperate, as well as a reception ground for when Chinese official dignitaries came to visit. The park is a migratory courtyard surrounding a pond, and is a good place to soak in the beautiful surroundings. Shikina Park is also registered as a distinct element of the collective UNESCO World Heritage site designated as “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu”.


Sefa-Utaki is the most sacred ground of Okinawa and is a stage to one of the seven mythologies about Ryukyu and its origins. During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, an inaugural ceremony would be held for the kingdom’s newly elected highest female official during the Lunar New Year in February and April, and the King would also grace the event. The ground is now also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traditional Celebrations and Activities

Throughout the year, there will be celebrations, ancient rituals, festivals, sporting events and music festivals taking place across Okinawa islands. Almost every month of the year, various celebrations and activities are staged in an uninterrupted manner one after another.

Like the Okinawa island-wide Eisa folk dance gathering, held around mid-July of the Lunar calendar, it is a celebration and dance to ward off illness and to make prayers for the safety of everyone. During this festival, Eisa dancers would wear various costumes according to their local tradition and parade the streets in an orderly manner dancing and playing the drums. This lively performance and the coming together of various Ryukyu cultures is truly a sight to behold.

In addition, there’s also the Naha tug-of-war contest, which has its roots dated back to the 17th century and made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest tug-of-war event in the world in 1997. Using ropes of up to 200 meters long, the annual event attracts some 15,000 attendees. After the event, participants could bring the tug-of-war rope home as an amulet to ward off misfortunes.

Other activities such as the Naha Marathon, which is the largest marathon event in Japan, and the biggest rock music event in Okinawa – The Peaceful Love Rock Festival are some of the events held in different months of the year. No matter which month you’re visiting, you are sure to experience the charm and excitements that Okinawa has to offer.

Traditional arts and crafts

Okinawa’s traditional arts and craft scene is divided into various categories namely pottery, lacquerware, glassware and dyed fabrics. For example, there’s a special Okinawa pottery known as ‘Yachimun’ that was crafted in the 14th century, whilst under the influence of China, Korea, Southeast Asia and Japan.

Ryukyu Lacquerware is one of the chief artistic products of the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Mainly used as tribute to the China’s Emperor and Shoguns of the Edo period, they come in many shapes and designs. During the same period, textile materials were also introduced in Okinawa and given as tributes to royalties; in particular, the use of red-coloured clothes was only for princely and aristocratic women or by court dancers.

After World War II, Okinawa developed the Ryukyu glass, which was made by recycling and processing waste glass bottle remains of the war. Today, these glassware are highly artistic in design and form.






























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