There are several theories surrounding the origin of the Minatogawa people who are believed to have lived in Okinawa 22,000 years ago, one suggesting China being their origin while others speculating their origin to be Indonesia, Australia, and other regions.
Life was centered on hunting, gathering, and fishing during the so-called Shell Mound era, which lasted until around the 10th century.
During the Gusuku era between the 12th and 15th centuries, life transitioned to revolve around farming, and historical sites indicate that the population grew rapidly during this era.
Further into the Gusuku era, conflict began to erupt among regional chiefs in the 13th century, and the three political spheres of influence, Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan were eventually formed. All three regions traded with China’s Ming dynasty and embraced the rich culture coming from the continent.
The three regions were unified in 1429 by Sho Hashi and became the Ryukyu Kingdom, the first unified regime to be established in Ryukyu.
The Ryukyu Kingdom actively conducted trade with Japan and China, as well as Luzon (now the Philippines), Siam (now Thailand) in Southeast Asia and other nearby countries, and was even known to Europeans as Lequios or Goresu.
In an effort to entertain the envoys of the Chinese emperor who were dispatched each time a new king of Ryukyu ascended to the throne, the unique culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom, including performing arts, crafts, and food, became ever-more refined.
However, 1591 saw the invasion by the Satsuma (now Kagoshima Prefecture) from Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, and the Ryukyu Kingdom was placed under the control of Satsuma in 1606. While complying with mandatory subsumption ritual of visiting the Tokugawa shogunate’s capital of Edo, the Ryukyu Kingdom also continued its tributary trade with China. In 1875 during Japan’s Meiji era transition to becoming a modern country, the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished. This was soon followed by orders to terminate the tributary relationship with the Qing Dynasty and to comply with the political system of Japan. This heralded the beginning of Okinawa Prefecture.
After the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, the Japanese central government appointed Naoyoshi Nabeshima to become the first governor. Okinawa underwent modernization during that period, but a fierce ground battle unfolded during World War II that involved the general population, causing severe damage both in terms of human lives, and culturally.
In 1945, as World War II came to a close, Okinawa was placed under American rule, and until it was reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972, it went through a different history from that of the Japanese mainland, undergoing heavy influence from the United States.
Since then, the G8 Summit (G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit) of 2000 and other international events were held, the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu were registered as World Cultural Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2000, and today, Okinawa is highly regarded by both domestic and international visitors as one of the leading resort destinations in Japan.