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About Okinawa


The climate on Okinawa has very high humidity, usually above 60 percent. The average summer temperature is about 89 degrees, while the winter norm is 58 degrees. The rainy season is April-June and typhoon season is May to November. The temperature range varies from 52-90 degrees with an annual precipitation of 84 inches. As an island, Okinawa sometimes must go into mandatory water-rationing. The severity of this is determined on the length of the dry spell. It's recommended that you have bottled water on hand in order to avoid the rush at the commissary when this happens.

Customs & Courtesies

The society and customs of Okinawa, like those of its Asian neighbors, have survived thousands of years ... lately including significant industrialization and modernization. Although the island has changed over the years from an agrarian and trading culture to a modern business and tourism frontier, Okinawans still maintain many ancestral traditions.

One most prominent custom on Okinawa (and Japan) is bowing. Bowing is an Okinawan greeting... having the same meaning as shaking hands in America. It also shows respect: the deeper the bow, the greater the respect. Normally, one would not bow deeply to a shopkeeper when making a purchase... nor would it be acceptable to merely nod to a person of honor. You will find that Okinawans do not often shake hands. If in doubt, by all means bow.

Another sign of respect on Okinawa concerns how you address people. When addressing an Okinawan, custom dictates using his or her name and adding the suffix "san." A man named Masahiro Higa is called Higa-san. The same principle applies when you address a woman. First names with the suffix "san" are reserved for very close acquaintances. As a Westerner addresses an Okinawan, it is proper to use the last name plus "san" or simply use Miss, Mr. or Mrs. You do not, however, refer to yourself using "san."

Enjoying some Okinawan cuisine requires the use of chopsticks. After a few attempts, you will find chopsticks are quite easy to use. Several local restaurants will supply you with conventional forks and spoons.

One of the most delightful Okinawan customs is gift-giving. Okinawans exchange presents between friends and neighbors on seasonal occasions, journeys, moves, and at the beginning of the new year. When receiving a gift, it is customary to give one in return. Remember, if you give a gift to an Okinawan, he or she will most likely feel obligated to give one in return. Ensure exchanges are appropriate and proportional.

Another Okinawan custom deal with matters of courtesy. First, show respect for the elderly, as they have an exalted place in Okinawan society. Second, you should not walk into Japanese homes, shrines or temples wearing shoes. If you see tatami (rice straws) mats, it is usually a clue to take your shoes off. When in doubt, observe your host and do as they do.

Generally, you do not have to leave a tip at off-base restaurants, hotels, bars or in taxicabs. On base, however, American customs prevail.

Both Japanese and western toilets are used in Japan. Most public lavatories offer a choice. When using a Japanese-style toilet, it is usual to squat facing the hooded end. There is no shortage of Japanese public toilets, but some offer no towels or toilet paper. Hot running water is highly unusual. Carry a handkerchief or tissues for drying hands.

Okinawans seldom display emotion in public. Elders frown on public expression of affection.

If you find customs here different or strange, exhibit understanding and appreciation. Both Eastern and Western cultures developed separately over many centuries. Many differences remain. Learn to enjoy local customs – they are very enjoyable!


The word "Okinawa" first appeared in Japanese records around 753. During the 14th century, Okinawa was divided into three main kingdoms; Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan (northern, central, and southern). In 1429, Sho Hashi unified these three kingdoms as the Ryukyu Kingdom. This led to increased stability and better trade with such regions as Java, Siam, Korea, China and Japan.

Initially, World War II had little impact on Okinawa, however, as the United States forces came closer, more and more Japanese troops landed on the island. Tens of thousands of Okinawans were drafted into the army.

On Oct. 10, 1944, U.S. aircraft bombed Naha. The invasion began on Easter Day, April 1, 1945. This began the largest land battle of the Pacific War which devastated island. The American contingency included 1,321 ships and more than 183,000 troops. Although Japan surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, the Japanese on Okinawa did not officially surrender until Sept. 2, 1945.

On May 15, 1972, Okinawa reverted to Japanese control.


The population of Okinawa and its surrounding islands which make up Okinawa Prefecture is approximately 1,300,000 people.


Okinawans have traditionally followed Ryukyuan religious beliefs. This is characterized by worshipping ancestors and respecting the relationships between the living, dead and the gods and spirits of the natural world.

The majority of Japanese follow two ancient religions, Shinto and Buddhism, which flourish side by side. It is not strange to the Japanese to practice different aspects of both at the same time. Many Japanese have small Buddhist altars in their homes sitting alongside miniature Shinto shrines. Some Japanese think of Shinto in terms of folkways and Buddhism as religion. Shinto, meaning "way of the gods", is native to Japan and dates back to prehistoric times. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is chief "Kami"" of the Shintoists. There is no real English translation for kami. Some define it as a god, others a divine force. Neither is an absolute definition. Kami is something to be respected which provides for all growth and development. Kami is all around in nature. There is no sharp line drawn between man and nature and anything in the environment considered awesome may become a kami. Kami are never visible as such, but the spirits of the kami are thought to reside at various times in different objects or animals. An object which is thought to hold the spirit of a kami is called a "Go-shintai". Common examples of Go-shintai are polished stones, swords, mirrors, serpents, wolves, tigers, hares, white wild boars, white deer, crows and foxes. Each follower of Shinto worships as he or she pleases. They have no central doctrine or creed except a profound reverence for nature. Shinto does not include the concept of an afterlife which is inherent in many other religions.

Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century and rapidly gained converts. In general, Buddhists follow concepts of self meditation, simple living and physical discipline which they believe will insure rebirth at a higher level after death. Japanese Buddhists find no conflict in embracing Shinto principles along with Buddhism. The two religions often share common shrines or objects of worship.

Christianity was introduced in 1549, but has not enjoyed widespread practice among the Japanese, though some Christian principles have been taken and used by Japanese who do not consider themselves to be Christians. About 1 percent Japanese today consider themselves to be Christians.

In general, the ethics practiced by any one Japanese person tend to be a combination of Shinto, Buddhism and Christian principles.