Ryukyu Islands

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Ryukyu Islands

(rēo͞o`kyo͞o), Jap. Ryukyu-retto or Nansei-shoto [southwest group], archipelago (1990 est. pop. 1,500,000), c.1,850 sq mi (4,790 sq km), SW Japan, in the W Pacific Ocean. The chain stretches about 650 mi (1,050 km) between Taiwan and Japan, separating the East China Sea from the Philippine Sea. The Ryukyus are composed of three principal groups: they are, from north to south, the Amami Islands (part of Kagoshima prefecture), the Okinawa Islands, and the Sakishima Islands (both part of Okinawa prefecture). OkinawaOkinawa
, island (1990 pop. 1,222,458), 454 sq mi (1,176 sq km), W Pacific Ocean, SW of Kyushu; a part of Okinawa prefecture, Japan. It is the largest of the Okinawa Islands in the Ryukyu Islands archipelago. Naha is the largest city and chief port.
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 is the largest and most important island of the Ryukyus.

The islands are the exposed tops of submarine mountains and are of volcanic or coral origin; there are several active volcanoes in the group. Although the islands are low, with few points above 2,000 ft (610 m), they have rugged hills and little flatland. The Ryukyus have a subtropical climate with much rain and are often hit by typhoons. The chief agricultural products are sugarcane, sweet potatoes, pineapples, and rice. Fishing is also important to the economy. Some light industry is found in NahaNaha
, city (1990 pop. 304,836), on Okinawa island, in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan. A port on the southwest coast, it is also the chief manufacturing center of the island. In 1853, Commodore Perry chose Naha as his first base for the penetration of Japan.
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, Okinawa, the Ryukyus' largest city. Sugar and canned pineapples account for most of the exports. The inhabitants speak a language said to be related to that of the AinuAinu
, aborigines of Japan who may be descended from a Caucasoid people who once lived in N Asia. More powerful invaders from the Asian mainland gradually forced the Ainu to retreat to the northern islands of Japan and Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in what is now the Russian
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The islands were the site of an ancient independent kingdom that had its capital at Shuri, on Okinawa. The Chinese reached the islands in the 7th cent. but did not exact tribute until the 14th cent. In the 17th cent. the Japanese prince of Satsuma invaded the islands, which thereafter paid tribute to both Japan and China. Commodore Matthew PerryPerry, Matthew Calbraith,
1794–1858, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1809, he first served under his brother on the Revenge and then was aide to Commodore John Rodgers on the
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 of the U.S. navy landed in the Ryukyus in 1853. The entire archipelago was incorporated into the Japanese empire in 1879, but the islands were generally neglected by Japan.

During World War II the Ryukyus were the scene of fierce fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces, with the United States winning control of the islands in 1945. After the war the islands south of lat. 30°N were placed (Aug., 1945) under a U.S. military governor at Naha. The Ryukyus became a key salient of the U.S. Pacific defense perimeter, and major military bases were established on Okinawa. In 1951, at the San Francisco Peace Conference, the Japanese were given residual sovereignty over the islands, but the United States retained actual control.

The Amami group was returned to Japan in 1953, and the Japanese desire to regain the remaining U.S.-held islands was a source of friction between the two countries for nearly two decades. In 1962 the occupation administration was liberalized, and in 1968, after a series of negotiations, the United States permitted the popular election of the governor of the Ryukyus and the seating of Ryukyu representatives in the Japanese Diet. The archipelago was returned to Japan in May, 1972. The United States was allowed to retain its military bases subject to certain limitations.

Other forms of the name are Lu-chu, Loo-choo, Liu-kiu, and Riukiu.

Ryukyu Islands


(also Nansei-Shoto), an archipelago in Japan, between the islands of Kyushu and Taiwan. The Ryu-kyus separate the East China Sea from the open Pacific Ocean and stretch in an arc from northeast to southwest for approximately 1,200 km. The archipelago consists of six groups of islands—Osumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yae-yama; the last two groups are often called Sakishima. The six groups include 98 islands, with a total area of about 4,800 sq km. (In Japanese sources the name “Ryukyus” often refers only to the middle and southwestern segments of the island arc—that is, to 55 islands, with a total area of 2,400 sq km.) The largest islands are Okinawa and Amami-o-shima. Population, 1.2 million (1970, estimate).

The southeastern group of islands is composed primarily of Mesocenozoic karstified limestones. In the axial zone the Paleozoic folded basement often crops out at the surface. Igneous rocks are common in the northwest; there are three active and several extinct volcanoes. Plateaus, low mountains (300–500 m), and low coastal terraces dominate the relief. The highest point is 1,935 m, on the island of Yaku. South of 29°N lat., coral reefs stretch along the shores in some places. The islands have deposits of phosphorites and hard coal.

The northern islands have a subtropical climate. The southern ones have a tropical monsoon climate, with about 2,000 to 3,500 mm of precipitation a year and with frequent typhoons in August and September. The mean January temperature is 14°–18°C; the mean July temperature is 27°-28°C. The mountain slopes of the southern islands are covered in places by tropical forests of palms and orchids. On the northern islands, forests of camellias, magnolias, camphor trees, and oaks remain.

Economic activities include the cultivation of rice, sweet potatoes, and sugarcane, fishing, and the production of silk fabrics and lacquer ware. The principal city is Naha, on the island of Okinawa.