Okinawa Geography and 10 Fast Facts

Okinawa landmass as seen from a distance.


Okinawa, Japan is a prefecture (similar to a state in the United States) that is made up of hundreds of islands in southern Japan. The islands comprise a total of 877 square miles (2,271 square kilometers) and has a population of over 1.3 million. Okinawa Island is the largest of these islands and it's where Naha, capital of Okinawa Prefecture, is located.

Okinawa made headlines around the world when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the prefecture on February 26, 2010. Little damage was reported from the earthquake, but a tsunami warning was issued for the Okinawa Islands, as well as the nearby Amami Islands and the Tokara Islands.

There are ten important facts to know when learning about or traveling to Okinawa, Japan:

  1. The main set of islands making up Okinawa is called the Ryukyu Islands. The islands are then further divided into three regions called the Okinawa Islands, the Miyako Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands.
  2. Most of Okinawa's islands are made up of coral rocks and limestone. Over time, the limestone has eroded in many places throughout the various islands and as a result, many caves have formed. The most famous of these caves is called Gyokusendo.
  3. Because Okinawa has abundant coral reefs, its islands also have a plethora of sea animals. Sea turtles are common in the southernmost islands, while jellyfish, sharks, sea snakes, and several types of venomous fish are widespread.
  4. Okinawa's climate is considered subtropical with an average August high temperature of 87 degrees F (30.5 degrees C). Much of the year can also be rainy and humid. The average low temperature for January, Okinawa's coldest month, is 56 degrees F (13 degrees C).
  5. Because of its climate, Okinawa produces sugar cane, pineapple, papaya, and has many botanical gardens.
  6. Historically, Okinawa was a separate kingdom from Japan and was controlled by the Chinese Qing Dynasty after the area was annexed in 1868. At that time, the islands were called Ryukyu in native Japanese and Liuqiu by the Chinese. In 1872, Ryukyu was annexed by Japan and in 1879, it was renamed the Okinawa Prefecture.
  7. During World War II, there was a Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which led to Okinawa being controlled by the United States. In 1972, the United States returned control to Japan with the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Despite giving the islands back to Japan, the U.S. still maintains a large military presence in Okinawa.
  8. Today, the United States currently has 14 military bases on the Okinawa Islands, most of which are on Okinawa's largest main island.
  9. Because Okinawa was a separate nation from Japan for much of its history, its people speak various languages that differ from traditional Japanese.
  10. Okinawa is known for its unique architecture that developed as a result of frequent tropical storms and typhoons in the region. Most of Okinawa's buildings are made of concrete, cement roof tiles and covered windows.


Mishima, Shizuko. "The Okinawa Islands, Mapped Out." Trip Savvy, March 26, 2019. 

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Briney, Amanda. "Okinawa Geography and 10 Fast Facts." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, February 16). Okinawa Geography and 10 Fast Facts. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Okinawa Geography and 10 Fast Facts." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 10, 2022).