Long time between posts, I know. I have been very busy and I still am, but this was long overdue.
The second half of my Spring Break had me visiting beautiful Okinawa. Because the first thing I used to think of when I heard Okinawa was kamikazes, I think a little Okinawan history would help a lot.
Okinawa was originally the centerpiece of the Ryukyu kingdom, which had much success trading with Korea, Japan, and China. However, as time went on, the Ryukyu kingdom became sort of tributaries of both China and Japan. While China was content to leave the Ryukan islands alone for the most part, Japan continued to restrict the islands. Eventually in 1872, Japan took over Okinawa, ending the Ryukyu kingdom.
Okinawa had a hard time with Japan. The Japanese wanted Okinawa to be more like Japan, while the Okinawans wanted to preserve their old customs. However, after Japan became very successful in several wars, the Okinawans desired to become more Japanese. Unfortunately, the Japanese never regarded the Okinawans as Japanese anyway, and the Okinawans were seen as inferior and somehow separate from the “real” Japan.
This came to a climax in the WW2 Battle of Okinawa. The island was left with a skeleton force to defend it, with the Japanese officials already anticipating Japan’s defeat in the battle and already preparing for the Americans’ inevitable (so they thought) invasion of the main island of Kyushu. The goal of the military on Okinawa was to endure the Americans and hold off defeat for as long as possible. The battle ended up having the greatest number of of civilian deaths in the war, as civilians were often included–willingly or not–in the fighting.
In the end, Okinawa went to the U.S., who had it for twenty years before giving it back to Japan. Okinawa still has about 70% of all Japan’s American military bases, and they take up about 20% of the island’s area.
So, Okinawa has been taken in many different directions over the years. The U.S. influence can be seen in many places. The military bases aren’t hard to find and the island even has A&W restaurants while the rest of Japan does not. But Okinawa’s Ryukan roots can be seen as well. I visited Shurijo Castle, the former castle of the Ryukan kingdom, as well as the Cultural Museum, which went into detail about Okinawa’s history.
I did not see any resentment towards Americans. Some people told me that the Okinawans have a lesser opinion of Americans due to the great number of bases in the area. From what I saw, they were just as nice and willing to help as all other Japanese.
In the end, I went to the beach. I happened to find an incredible tidal area filled with coral, which was amazing to swim in. Overall, I ended up loving Okinawa and only wish I had had more time to spend there.