Ryukyu islands have a complex history of being an independent kingdom and a territory subjected to the rule of other nations. These islands are now most famous by their Japanese name, “Okinawa.” This island chain is located between Taiwan and Japan in the Western Pacific and stretches for approximately 1,100 kilometers. Due to historical peculiarities, the majority of the population speaks Japanese, and there are groups that speak other languages. In 2008 the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights recognized the right of the people of Okinawa to implement policies to protect their right to preserve their cultural heritage.
- Pre-European expansion period could be characterized by the flourishment of trade due to the favorable geographic position of the Kingdom of Ryukyu.
- The Japanese rule started in the 17th century when King Sho Nei expanded his sovereignty over the Kingdom. The Japanese established new bureaucratic rules, although the dynasty and the façade of the ruling elites remained the same. Since the Japanese rule was not direct or official, the Kingdom preserved its trade relations with China.
- Short period of relative autonomy started in the first part of the 18th century when Japan was weakened by political turmoil. The Ryukyu Kingdom managed to develop diplomatic relations with Japan, China, and European countries (France, in the first place).
- In the 1870s, Japan established its official rule over the islands. The ruling elites resisted fiercely but had no resources to protect their sovereignty. Japan conquered the islands and made the kingdom its colony as a type of punishment that was also associated with forced assimilation (komin-ka policies).
- During the Second World War, Okinawans had to go through all the atrocities of the horrible war with bloody battles and thousands of lost lives.
- After 1945, and after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, the islands were controlled by the US government, and the military occupation lasted till 1972.
- In 1972, Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture, and the rule of the Japanese government was established. However, the US military forces (and economic influence) remain intact up to 2012.
- It is necessary to stress that Okinawans tried to fight for their independence for centuries, and this struggle is still in place.