Okinawa info.

Okinawa info.: June 2005

Friday, June 24, 2005

Typhoon alley

Kuroshio Current, warm current in the western Pacific Ocean. It flows northeast from the Philippines along the eastern coast of Japan. Near northern Japan, the Kuroshio merges with a cold, southeastern current. The two currents become the North Pacific Current, which runs east through the Pacific Ocean and brings mild temperatures to the west coast of North America. The Kuroshio Current carries tropical waters and heat energy into the temperate latitudes along the east coast of Asia.

The Kuroshio Current is narrow and fast-moving. It is 80 km (50 mi) wide and reaches speeds of 3.5 knots. Like its equivalent in the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream, the Kuroshio varies in speed and meanders like a giant river, often straying from its normal course. The strength of the current varies with the seasons, reaching its peak between May and August. Its name, which is Japanese for “black stream,” describes its dark appearance in comparison to the surrounding water when viewed from a distance. At closer range, however, the waters of the Kuroshio take on striking blue-green hues. See Ocean and Oceanography.

The Kuroshio Current is sometimes referred to as Typhoon Alley because of the severe tropical storms that follow its warm-water energy path to strike the coasts of the Philippines, China, Japan, and Korea. The Kuroshio region has the world’s highest incidence of severe tropical storms, with most occurring between July and October.

Sato Eisaku (1901-1975)

Sato Eisaku (1901-1975), Japanese statesman and Nobel laureate, born in Tabuse. Sato received a law degree from Tokyo Imperial University in 1924 and joined the ministry of railways. He was elected to the lower house of the Diet in 1948 as a Liberal and later served in several cabinet posts. In 1964 he became prime minister. Under Sato's guidance the country continued to grow as a major power. In 1969 he signed a treaty with the United States for the return of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan and removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the region, but he was forced to resign in 1972 because he had allowed some U.S. forces to remain on Okinawa. He was awarded the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the conclusion of a nuclear nonproliferation pact.

Matthew Calbraith Perry(1794-1858)

Matthew Calbraith Perry(1794-1858), was an American naval officer, who commanded the expedition that established United States relations with Japan. Born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, he began his naval career as midshipman at the age of 15; he advanced to lieutenant in 1813 and to commander in 1826. He supervised the construction of the first naval steamship, the Fulton, and upon its completion in 1837 he took command with the rank of captain. He was promoted to commodore in 1842. In 1846-1847 he commanded the Gulf squadron during the Mexican War.

In 1853 Perry was sent on the mission to Japan, a country that had been closed to outsiders since the 17th century. On July 8, he led a squadron of four ships into Tokyo Bay and presented representatives of the emperor with the text of a proposed commercial and friendship treaty. To give the reluctant Japanese court time to consider the offer, he then sailed for China. With an even more powerful fleet, he returned to Tokyo in February 1854. The treaty, signed on March 31, 1854, provided that humane treatment be extended to sailors shipwrecked in Japanese territory, that U.S. ships be permitted to buy coal in Japan, and that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate be opened to U.S. commerce. Perry's mission ended Japan's isolation, a prerequisite for its subsequent development into a modern nation. Perry died in New York City on March 4, 1858.


In 1870 the yen was designed as a coin similar to the U.S. silver dollar and was minted in gold until 1888, and then in silver until 1914. Multiple-yen coins continued to be minted in gold until 1932. The yen was divided into 100 sen and into 1,000 rin. In 1949 the yen was assigned a fixed value of 360 to one U.S. dollar, and the sen and rin subsequently dropped out of usage, although they continue to be employed in financial calculations. The yen began to float in value in 1971; the exchange rate fell below 120 to the dollar for the first time in 1992. Today coins are minted in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 yen, along with banknotes of 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 yen. Notes of 500 yen are being phased out. The yen is one of the strongest currencies in the world.


Japanese writing uses two principal systems of orthography: Chinese characters and syllabaries, a system in which each written character represents a syllable. Japanese was strictly a spoken language before the introduction of Chinese characters, or kanji, in the late 5th century. The system of Chinese characters is generally considered the more difficult system to learn and use because of the large number of characters and the complexity involved both in writing and in reading each character. Each character has an associated meaning, as opposed to letters in alphabets, which individually have no meaning. There are tens of thousands of characters attested in the Japanese language, but in 1946 the Japanese government identified 1850 characters for daily use. In 1981 the government increased the list to 1945 characters and gave it the name Joyo Kanji List (kanji for daily use.) The characters in the Joyo Kanji List must be learned in primary and secondary schools, and newspapers generally limit the use of characters to this list. Most characters have at least two readings: the native Japanese reading and the reading that simulates the original Chinese pronunciation of the same character. If the same character came into the Japanese language at different periods or from different Chinese dialects, the character may have several Chinese readings that represent different historical periods and dialectal differences.

The second writing system consists of syllabaries, or kana, which the Japanese developed about 1000 years ago from certain Chinese characters. Each syllabary is a character that represents a syllable in the language, and, unlike a Chinese character, it represents a sound but not a meaning. There are two types of syllabaries, hiragana and katakana, each containing the same set of sounds. For example, the sound ka in Japanese may be represented by the hiragana or the katakana , both of which evolved from the Chinese character . Hiragana is often used in combination with a Chinese character. Katakana is used to write words borrowed from Western languages such as the French language, the German language, and the English language. Kanji, hiragana, and katakana frequently appear in the same sentence. Along with Chinese characters and syllabaries, the Latin alphabet is sometimes employed for such elements as names of organizations.

Ryukyu islands

Ryukyu Islands, chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of mainland Japan, between Kyushu Island and the northern tip of Taiwan.

The Ryukyus consist of three major groups: the Amami Islands in the north, the Okinawa Islands in the central area, and the Sakishima Group to the south. The larger islands are volcanic with mountainous terrain, and most of the smaller islands are flat coral formations. The principal agricultural products are sugarcane and sweet potatoes, and manufactures include Panama hats, textiles, and pottery. The leading exports are black sugar and canned pineapples. Naha, on Okinawa, is the principal city. Okinawa, Kokusai, and the Ryukyus universities are located on the island of Okinawa.

Before the conclusion of World War II, the islands formed the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan. During the postwar period the United States occupied and administered the islands, declaring the residual sovereignty of Japan over the islands in 1951. In 1953 the Amami Islands were returned to Japan and incorporated into Kagoshima Prefecture. Under an agreement reached in 1971, the remaining U.S.-occupied islands were returned to Japan in 1972; they now form Okinawa Prefecture.

The people of the Ryukyu Islands are related to the Japanese racially, culturally, and linguistically, and their history has been strongly influenced by both China and Japan. The Chinese first invaded the islands in the 7th century, and in the 14th century China established a supremacy that lasted for five centuries. Japan invaded the Ryukyus in 1609 and joined China in requiring tribute money. In 1879 Japan dethroned the ruler of the islands and annexed the Ryukyus as the Okinawa Prefecture; China protested, but the Japanese remained in control of the entire chain. In April 1945 the island of Okinawa was the site of a famous World War II victory of United States forces over the Japanese.

Human beings may have inhabited the Japanese island chain as early as 200,000 years ago. Very little is known about where these people came from or how they arrived on the islands. However, during the ice ages of the Pleistocene Epoch (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago) sea levels were much lower than they are today, and a land bridge temporarily linked the Japanese islands to the Korea Peninsula and eastern Siberia on the Asian continent. Historians theorize that successive waves of Paleolithic hunters from the Asian mainland may have followed herds of animals across these land routes. The Paleolithic culture of Japan’s earliest inhabitants produced rough stone tools and articles of bone, bamboo, and wood.