Okinawa used to be its own kingdom, separate from the rest of Japan. It was called the Ryuukyuuan kingdom. Shuri Castle was the seat of government during the Ryuukyuuan Kingdom. It is the only Ryuukyuuan castle to have been restored after WWII, and is now designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
The lacquerware of Okinawa is distinctive from that found in mainland Japan or China, and was developed during the Ryuukyuuan Kingdom. The base is made of wood with various castings, colourings and decorations added in a process that can take up to 40 stages.
Though Ryuukyuuan glassware was invented before WWI, it was only considered a craft following WWII when Okinawans began collecting bottles discarded by the US troops, and melting them down to be recycled. Different bottles yield different colours, and today Ryuukyuuan glass is considered a luxury product.
Bingata are a type of traditional Okinawan dyed textiles. This style stencils intricate and colourful designs featuring plants and animals onto silk, cotton, and hemp fabrics.
Okinawa is surrounded by coral reefs containing 200 of the world’s 800 coral species. These reefs act as a natural breakwater, and protect the islands from the full brunt of typhoons.
Caught in the middle of the fighting between the Japanese and Americans, Okinawans experienced profound trauma during WWII. In our home city of Itoman, there is a unique war memorial which lists the names of all who lost their lives during the war, both military and civilian, regardless of nationality. Okinawans believe all life is precious.
When Okinawa was invaded by the Japanese in 1609, the people were forbidden to own weapons. They developed karate (literally, “empty hand”) in order to defend themselves.
The oceans surrounding Okinawa are full of life, including many fish, dolphins, sharks, whales and more. There are also underwater ruins of an ancient city by a distant island of Okinawa!