is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over long. The Ryukyus extend southwest from Kyūshū (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwan. The Okinawa Prefecture encompasses the southern two thirds of that chain. Okinawa's capital, Naha, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island.
The oldest evidence of human existence in the Ryukyu islands was discovered in Naha and Yaese. Some human bone fragments from the Paleolithic era were unearthed, but there is no clear evidence of Paleolithic remains. Japanese Jōmon influences are dominant in the Okinawa Islands, although clay vessels in the Sakishima Islands have a commonality with those in Taiwan.
The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui. Okinawa was the Japanese word identifying the islands, first seen in the biography of Jianzhen, written in 779. Agricultural societies begun in the 8th century slowly developed until the 12th century. Since the islands are located at the eastern perimeter of the East China Sea relatively close to Japan, China and South-East Asia, the Ryūkyū Kingdom became a prosperous trading nation. Also during this period, many Gusukus, similar to castles, were constructed. The Ryūkyū Kingdom had a tributary relationship with the Chinese Empire beginning in the 15th century.
In 1609, the Shimazu clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture, conquered the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The Ryūkyū Kingdom was obliged to agree to form a tributary relationship with the Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, while maintaining its previous tributary relationship with China; Ryukyuan sovereignty was maintained since complete annexation would have created a conflict with China. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trade with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate.
Although Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ryūkyū Kingdom maintained a considerable degree of domestic political freedom for over two hundred years. Four years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government, through military incursions, officially annexed the kingdom and renamed it Ryukyu han. At the time, the Qing Empire asserted sovereignty over the islands of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, since the Ryūkyū Kingdom was also a tributary nation of China. Ryukyu han became Okinawa Prefecture of Japan in 1879, even though all other hans had become prefectures of Japan in 1872. In 1912, Okinawans first obtained the right to vote for representatives to the national Diet which had been established in 1890.
A quarter of the civilian population died during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. The dead, of all nationalities, are commemorated at the Cornerstone of Peace. After the end of World War II in 1945, Okinawa was under United States administration for 27 years. During trusteeship rule, the United States established numerous military bases on the Ryukyu islands. During the Korean War, B-29 Superfortresses flew bombing missions from Kadena AFB, on Okinawa, over Korea.
In 1972, the U.S. government returned the islands to Japanese administration. Under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) have maintained a large military presence. 27,000 personnel, including 15,000 Marines, contingents from the Navy, Army and Air Force, and their 22,000 family members are stationed in Okinawa. Since 1960, the U.S. and Japan have maintained an agreement that allows the U.S. to secretly bring nuclear weapons into Japanese ports, and there is speculation (see below) that some nuclear weapons may be located in Okinawa. Both tactical and strategic weapons have been maintained in Okinawa. U.S. military bases occupy 18% of the main island, while 75% of all USFJ bases are located in Okinawa prefecture.
Reports by the local media of accidents and crimes committed by U.S. servicemen have reduced the local population's support for the U.S. military bases. A strong emotional response has emerged from certain incidents. As a result, the media has drawn renewed interest in the Ryukyu independence movement which developed after 1945. The rape of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. servicemen in 1995 triggered large protests in Okinawa. U.S. servicemen in Japan have an overall low rate of criminality, lower than the general population within Okinawa. Partially as a result, but also to deploy USFJ more efficiently, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in 2006 to the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and other minor bases. A new Japanese government that came to power in 2009 froze the relocation plan, but in April 2010 indicated their interest in resolving the issue by proposing a modified plan. Okinawan feelings about the U.S. military are complex, and some of the resentment towards the U.S. bases is directed towards the government in Tokyo, perceived as being insensitive to Okinawan needs and using Okinawa to house bases not desired elsewhere in Japan. Okinawa is the poorest prefecture within Japan, and the issue of U.S. bases has become tangled with the sense of colonialist/imperialist treatment of Okinawa by Tokyo.