The Okinawans (Amamijin, Loochoo Islanders, Okinawajin, Ryuku Islanders, Ryūkyūjin, Sakishimajin) are Japanese people who inhabit the Ryukyu Islands, a group of small islands 640 kilometers south of Japan. Most Okinawans live on Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawans speak a dialect of Japanese, and in some ways they differ culturally from the Japanese. Okinawan people were independent for most of their history, until they were conquered by the Meiji regime in 1872. The Okinawan king was removed, and the Japanese have followed a forceful policy of assimilation since that period. The Okinawans lost 150,000 people in the Allied invasion of World War II, many killed by Japanese soldiers who doubted their allegiance.
Okinawa remained under the control of the United States until 1972, with the agreement of Japan but without consultation with the Okinawans themselves. During the late 1940s the United States built military bases, intended to be permanent, that take up 20 percent of the land on the island of Okinawa. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Okinawan economy grew quickly as it adapted to servicing the needs of the U.S. bases and military personnel.
The Okinawan people supported the return of Japanese control in 1972, but many now regret the transfer because they have less autonomy than they did under U.S. control. A special problem has been the opening of Okinawa to Japanese economic competition, which has resulted in high unemployment. There is now a movement toward independence, led by a number of groups including Shima-okoshi (Island Revival Society). Agriculture is now almost nonexistent and the new growth industry is tourism.
A small percentage of the people living in Okinawa face an unusual and distinctive problem. These are the children of American fathers and Okinawan mothers. They are frequently the object of abuse by Okinawans, and, owing to the vagaries of Japanese and U.S. laws, they have no legal citizenship whatsoever.
See also Japanese
De Vos, George A., William O. Wetherall, and Kaye Stearman (1983). Japan's Minorities: Burakumin, Koreans, Ainu, and Okinawans. London: Minority Rights Group.
Kanaseki, Takeo (1978). Ryūkyū minzokushi (Ryuku folklore). Tokyo: Hōsei Daigaku Shuppankyoku.