The Japanese Ryukyu Islands (also known as the Luchu Islands)
comprise an archipelago extending from Kyushu, southernmost of
the Japanese main islands, south for about 1,050km (650 mi) to
Taiwan. The islands compose Okinawa prefecture. The 143 islands
and islets, separating the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean,
are divided into three main groups:
the Amami Islands in the north, the Okinawa Islands in the center,
and the Sakishima Islands in the south. The islands have a
population of 1,222,458 (1990).
OKINAWA is the largest and most populous island of the Ryukyu and
contains the capital and largest city, Naha, a major seaport.
The economy is basically agricultural; sugar and pineapples are
exported. Tourism is a major source of revenue.
Originally an independent kingdom, the Ryukyu were conquered by
the Chinese in the 14th century and by the Japanese in the 17th
century; they were finally incorporated into Japan in 1879. The
scene of one of the bloodiest campaigns of World War II, Okinawa
was captured by U.S. troops in 1945. The islands were returned
(1972) to Japan, although the United States retained the right to
operate military facilities on Okinawa. Aministrative Divisions of Okinawa
(The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1994)
The Kingdom of Ryukyu prospered during the late fifteenth and
early sixteenth centuries through international trade in luxury
items. By the late sixteenth century, its economic fortunes were
in decline. In 1609, with Bakufu approval the Japanese domain of
Satsuma invaded and conquered Ryukyu. Since 1372, Ryukyu had been
a regular participant in formal tributary relations with the Ming
Court, and it used this connection with China to pursue trade.
Among other purposes, the Bakufu and Satsuma hoped to use Ryukyu
as a means for indirectly conducting trade with China. After the
fall of the Ming Dynasty, Ryukyu also became an important source
of information for the Bakufu about developments in China.
Despite Satsuma's invasion, Ryukyu remained a separate kingdom,
ostensibly independent but largely under Satsuma/Bakufu control.
The political status of Ryukyu was highly ambiguous, and
pesent-day vocabulary of nations and nation-states is not adequate to
describe this status accurately.
Its ambiguous political status and the severely depressed economy
of the kingdom in the decades immediately following the 1609 invasion led to fears within Ryukyu that the kingdom itself might cease
to exist. Such fears prompted several intellectual and political
leaders to attempt to redefine and reconstruct Ryukyu in light of
the changed conditions of the seventeenth century.
(I found this in the January 17, 1998, issue of the Okinawa Times - it may change the historical perspective of Okinawa's early history:)
"Many Korean style tiles were discovered in the Urasoe Yodore, the royal mausoleum in the court of Urasoe Castle. The Urasoe City Education Bureau is now trying to unearth the history of Urasoe Yodore, which was the tomb of the Eiso family which controlled the southern part of Okinawa Island from 1187 to 1392.
"The finding of the Korean tiles shows that there were formal historical relations between ancient Okinawa and Korea in the early stages of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Researchers believe that Korean style kilns and buildings were present at the time. There has not yet been any historical evidence of the existence of
such kilns in other Asian areas.
"King Satto, one of the monarchs of the Eiso family, traded with Ming Dynasty China and contributed to making Ryukyu a rich kingdom. He expanded Urasoe Castle which was initially built by King Eiso in the 13th century.
"The historical discovery of the Korean tiles prove the fact that the Ryukyu Kingdom had experienced exchange with the outside world. The city of Urasoe has plans to construct an international park that will include a Korean Temple with blue Korean style tiles on its roof."
From the Ryukyu Shimpo:
According to a January 11 announcement by the Urasoe Board of Education, a large number of Korai-style tiles have been discovered in Urasoe. Korai was a Korean dynasty from 918 to 1392.
The tiles have turned up at the excavations among the ruins of Urasoe Castle at the Yodore, the mausoleum used by Kings Eiso and Shonei. It is presumed to be the location of a kiln for making this type of tile, and if so, it is a major discovery.
Other artifacts have also been found such as metal gilt ornaments. Furthermore, stone walls and evidence of a smith's furnace from the late 14th-early 15th-century era of King Satto have been unearthed.
It is generally accepted that King Eiso built the Urasoe Yodore in the 13th century, and that Shonei repaired it during the 17th century. However, these finds seem to prove that there was restoration work in King Satto's
Susumu Asato, head of the Culture Section of Urasoe Board of Education, said, "If this proves to be a Korai tile kiln, it will be the first one to be found anywhere in Asia, including Korea.
"If this kind of tile was used in Okinawa, it will alter our image of the Yodore quite radically. We expect more to emerge from our continuing excavations." (Jan 12 am ed)