Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost prefecture of Japan and encompasses two thirds of the Ryukyu Islands - a island chain over 1,000km long. With a culture uniquely its own, these tropical islands have been strongly influenced through trade with China, Japan, Korea and other Southeast Asian countries.
Ryukyu Kingdom Era
The Ryukyu Kingdom entered into the Imperial Chinese tributary system under the Ming dynasty beginning in the 15th century, which established economic relations between the two nations. It then became a vassal state of Japan after the Invasion of Ryukyu in 1609 and was later dissolved to form Okinawa Prefecture in 1879.
Okinawan culture bears traces of its various trading partners. One can find Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Southeast Asian influences in the island's customs. An example of which is the local alcohol drink known as awamori—an Okinawan distilled spirit made from indica rice imported from Thailand.
Another cultural influence it the sanshin - a three-stringed Okinawan instrument, closely related to the Chinese sanxian, and ancestor of the Japanese shamisen, somewhat similar to a banjo.
Okinawan culture also features the eisa dance, a traditional drumming dance performed by young people during the Bon festival, to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. The traditional drums are crafted in workshops throughout the islands.
Originally living in thatching houses, Okinawan townsmen developed architecture modeled after Japanese, Chinese and Korean structures. Houses were dug intro the red earth and surrounded by limestone walls. A common feature of Okinawan architecture are their baked, red roof tiles.
Okinawa is home to some of the longest living people on earth and they put a lot of importance on respecting one’s elders. Caring for one's ancestors and family is very engrained in Okinawan culture. The Okinawan's longevity is also credited to their diet which mainly consisted of the purple Okinawan sweet potato, along with other local island ingredients.
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