If you let your eyes travel south along the arc described by the Japanese archipelago on a map, you will see a group of islands at the southernmost tip of the country that make up the prefecture of Okinawa. Okinawa Prefecture is made up of 49 inhabited islands and many uninhabited islands. The largest of these islands is Okinawa Honto. The city of Naha in the south of this island is the political and economic center of Okinawa Prefecture.
Okinawa is about 2,000 km from Tokyo, and is separated from Kagoshima City on the southernmost tip of Kyushu by around 650 km of ocean. Today Okinawa is one of Japan’s prefectures, but in the past it was a kingdom called Ryukyu (which also included the Amami Islands in what is now Kagoshima Prefecture). The kingdom of Ryukyu had flourished, conducting extensive trade with China and Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand.
During the Second World War, U.S. forces landed on Okinawa and fought the Japanese army. One hundred fifty thousand residents of Okinawa, said to be one-quarter of the prefecture’s population at the time, lost their lives in these battles. Okinawa was controlled by the U.S. for 20 years after the end of the war. As this indicates, Okinawa, which was returned to Japan in 1972, has experienced a turbulent history.
Today, Okinawa welcomes more than 5.6 million tourists per year, attracted by the region’s sub-tropical climate and glittering emerald-green seas. Over the course of Okinawa’s history, elements from Thailand, China, Japan, and most recently the U.S. have been incorporated in Okinawa’s lifestyle, customs, food, etc., and it seems that many visitors are also attracted by the unique “champuru” (jumbled-up) culture that the island has evolved.
Okinawa Prefecture also has a high percentage of residents aged 100 and above. It is known to be a prefecture in which people are particularly long-lived, even by Japanese standards, and the Japanese are said to have the longest life-spans in the world. In addition to the excellent climate of the island, people claim that this longevity is due to lifestyle factors, such as the fact that Okinawans have a strong sense of family and look after the older members of their families, and that people maintain active relationships with other members of the community. Another factor that is attracting attention is Okinawa’s unique cuisine, based on ingredients such as tofu, pork and konbu.