Okinawa History & Culture
Okinawa has a distinct dialect and culture derived from its history as part of the Ryukyu Kingdom from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The islands were conquered in the early 17th century by Japan's southernmost feudal realm, the Satsuma daimyo. By the 20th century, Japanese schooling and public administration contributed to the steady decline of the Okinawan dialects, as well as many characteristic folkways and customs, such as long hair on men. Nonetheless Okinawans have maintained a definite culture, with noteworthy art traditions including glass blowing and music. Karate originated in Okinawa. The traditional Okinawan religion, an amalgam of shamanistic, Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, remains strong.
Okinawa's strategic location in the Pacific Ocean meant that it was targeted during World War II. The battle for Okinawa lasted almost three months and was among the most deadly of the war. Japanese troops who forced residents from hiding places, took their food, and often simply murdered civilians. By August 1945, when the Ryukyu Islands were placed under U.S. military governance, 250,000 Japanese, including nearly 150,000 non-combatants, were dead, along with some 12,500 Americans who were killed.
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