Okinawa Prefecture (Japanese: 沖縄県 Hepburn: Okinawa-ken, Okinawan: ウチナーチン Uchinaa-chin) is the southernmost prefecture of West Japan. It comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 620 miles (997.79 kilometers) long. The Ryukyus extend southwest from Kyushu (the southwesternmost of Japan's main four islands) to Taiwan. The Okinawa Prefecture encompasses the southern two thirds of that chain. Naha, Okinawa's capital, is located in the southern part of Okinawa Island.
The islands comprising the prefecture are the southern two thirds of the archipelago of the Ryūkyū Islands (琉球諸島 Ryūkyū-shotō). Okinawa's inhabited islands are typically divided into three geographical archipelagos. From northeast to southwest:
- Okinawa Islands (沖縄諸島 Okinawa Shotō)
- Okinawa Island
- Kerama Islands
- Miyako Islands
- Yaeyama Islands
- Ishigaki Island
The dugong is an endangered marine mammal related to the manatee. Iriomote is home to one of the world's rarest and most endangered cat species, the Iriomote cat. The region is also home to at least one endemic pit viper, Trimeresurus elegans. Coral reefs found in this region of Japan provide an environment for a diverse marine fauna. The sea turtles return yearly to the southern islands of Okinawa to lay their eggs. The summer months carry warnings to swimmers regarding venomous jellyfish and other dangerous sea creatures.
Okinawa is a major producer of sugar cane, pineapple, papaya, and other tropical fruit, and the Southeast Botanical Gardens represent tropical plant species.
The island is largely composed of coral, and rainwater filtering through that coral has given the island many caves, which played an important role in the Battle of Okinawa. Gyokusendo is an extensive limestone cave in the southern part of Okinawa's main island.
The island experiences temperatures above 20 °C (68 °F) for most of the year. Okinawa and the many islands that make up the prefecture contains some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world. Rare blue corals are found off of Ishigaki and Miyako islands as are numerous species throughout the chain. Snowfall is unheard of at sea level. However, in January 2016, a mixture of sleet and snow was reported in Okinawa for the first time on record.
As of March 31st, 2008, 19% of the total land area of the prefecture was designated as Natural Parks, namely the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park; Okinawa Kaigan and Okinawa Senseki Quasi-National Parks; and Irabu, Kumejima, and Tonaki Prefectural Natural Parks.
Cities and TownsEdit