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The approximately 60 islands of the Ryūkyū archipelago, centering on the island of Okinawa, constitute Okinawa Prefecture. Being geographically separated from the rest of Japan, Okinawans developed their own distinct dialect and cultural traditions. Until the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, the Ryūkyū archipelago was the domain of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Okinawans suffered greatly in the Pacific War, especially in the defense of Okinawa against the full onslaught of the Allied invasion, which began April 1, 1945. From the end of the war until 1972, the United States wielded official control over Okinawa, and during that time the US built the majority of its Japanese military bases in Okinawa. Though the islands were officially reunited with Japan in 1972, the continuing presence of American bases still represents a source of tension between Okinawans, the Japanese government, and the United States. Capital: Naha. Major economic activities: farming, service industries related to the US military presence, and tourism. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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