This chapter acts as a general overview to the Okinawa Prefecture—its history, geographical quirks, demographics, climate, wildlife, migration patterns, and so on. What the Japanese government designated as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879 encompasses most of the islands in the Ryukyu chain. First recorded in China, the place-name Liu Ch'iu (Ryūkyū in Japanese) means “circle of jewels.” The boundaries of the Japanese prefecture today include the island groups of Okinawa, Yaeyama, and Miyako, but not the northernmost Amami group, which is administered separately by Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu. Patterns of migration from the prefecture's earlier days indicate that, in the centuries that followed, the cultures of Japan and the Ryukyus diverged in dwelling construction, clothing, diet, language, religion, and burial customs—differences that are still clearly evident in Okinawa today amid the ubiquitous influences of mainland Japanese culture.
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