A Basic Guide to Resources on Okinawan and Ryukyuan History

By Dennis Frost
December, 2000


I. Introduction
II. Dictionaries
III. Multi-volume Series
IV. Bibliographies
V. Compilations
VI. Pictorial Resources
VII. Web Resources


In recent years Ryukyu and Okinawa have become topics of interest for a growing number of scholars.  A few years ago, when I first became interested in Okinawa, I was uncertain where to begin looking for information, and after only a few searches using online library catalogues and Internet search engines, I soon found an overwhelming array of materials.  With my own experiences in mind, I decided to compile an annotated bibliography that would provide those who are less familiar with Okinawa and Ryukyu with information on a better, more organized way to begin researching Okinawan and Ryukyuan history.  But rather than compiling a comprehensive bibliography of works related to the history of Ryukyu and Okinawa, I have sought to provide a basic guide to the most significant and/or helpful Okinawa-related reference materials, bibliographies, and compilations found in Columbia’s libraries (with one exception).  I also surveyed a number of websites and selected and described five that I found particularly useful.  I was aided in the compilation process by two scholars familiar with Okinawan/Ryukyuan resources, Prof. Amanda Stinchecum and Stan Meyer, who both offered a number of helpful recommendations.


Kadokawa Nihon chimei daijiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1978-90. 47 vols.

Call no.: DS 805. K27
M/S: VIII-5; IHJ: 2680

Volume 47 in the Kadokawa series, covering Okinawa prefecture, is a good place to turn for geographic references and basic historic summaries of particular places in Okinawa.  As Okinawan place names can be particularly difficult to read, the section that lists place names by the stroke count of their first kanji can also be of great use.  For a detailed explanation on the arrangements, merits, and drawbacks of this series and another like it (Heibonsha’s Nihon rekishi chimei taikei), see the Bibliography ’95 chapter on geography and place names.  At the present time Columbia does not have an Okinawa volume in the Heibonsha series, perhaps because it has not yet been published.

Ryûkyû shi jiten. Ed. Nakayama Morishige. Naha-shi: Ryûkyû bunkyô tosho, 1969.
Call no: DS 895.R9 N287 1969

The 1800 entries listed in gojûon order in this historical dictionary cover a broad range of events and figures from pre-modern Ryukyuan history through 1965.  The bulk of the entries, however, seem to address pre-modern Ryukyu.  The dictionary includes a table of contents listing every single entry, a number of maps and monochrome pictures, an appendix with a nenpyô, and a topical index, which unfortunately does not provide kana readings.  Each entry includes a kana reading, an explanation, and bibliographic citations.  In most entries only Western calendar years are used and cross-references are indicated by asterisks.

Okinawa kenshi bekkan: Okinawa kindaishi jiten. <Naha-shi>: Okinawa ken, 1977.
Call no: 216.9 R99 Supp.

This is the supplement to the Okinawa kenshi multi-volume series listed below.  Most of the 742 entries in this dictionary cover modern Okinawan history from the mid-19th century up to the end of WW II, but some entries on early-modern Ryukyu and postwar Okinawa have also been included.  Although there is no index, all entries are listed in the table of contents.  Entries are arranged in gojûon order, are signed, and provide bibliographic citations and cross-references to related entries.  The appendix contains a number of useful charts related to modern Okinawa, offering information on governors, diet members, National Treasures, newspapers, magazines, schools, emigration, and other important statistics.


Okinawa dai hyakka jiten. Naha-shi: Okinawa taimususha, 1983. 4 vols.

Not available at Columbia, but according to Eureka, a number of universities appear to have circulating copies of this encyclopedia.  The New York Public Library also has a non-circulating set, Call no: OSD 85-817

Even though this encyclopedia is more than 15 years old, many of the entries have not yet been superceded by newer scholarship, and the nenpyô found in the supplement is said to be very reliable.  However, the encyclopedia is reported to be somewhat weak on issues related to the American occupation.  Both of the specialists I spoke with described the Okinawa dai hyakka jiten as an indispensable resource that they use frequently.

Okinawa kenshi. <Naha-shi>: Ryukyu seifu/Okinawa ken, 1965-77. 23 vols. and 1 suppl.
Call no: Prentis 216.9 R99 v.1-23

This series is another key resource on modern Okinawan history, with “modern” in most of the series’ 23 volumes covering the period from the mid-19th century up to the end of WW II.  With the exception of the first volume, which provides a historical overview, and the supplement mentioned above, most of the volumes focus on specific topics, such as economics or politics, and consist mainly of lengthy essays on those topics.  Several volumes also include collections or samples of primary documents like newspapers.  The appendix in volume 1 provides a nenpyô of Okinawan history from 607 CE to the end of WW II, with extremely detailed entries from 1872 forward.  Authors of particular sections and chapters are usually listed at the end of each volume together with brief bios.  In most instances bibliographic citations appear in the text, but can be difficult to pick out.  The lack of any kind of index is by far the biggest drawback of this series, making it quite cumbersome to use.


Ryukyu: A Bibliographical Guide to Okinawan Studies. Shunzo Sakamaki. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1963.

Call no: Z 3307. R9 S3

This bibliography provides detailed English-language annotations for numerous primary and secondary materials.  The sources listed cover the period from early Ryukyuan history up to 1961 and include early Ryukyuan sources, Chinese, Korean, and Tokugawa-era Japanese writings on Ryukyu, and numerous Japanese-language secondary sources such as books, journal articles, and maps.  However, many newspaper and popular periodical articles and post-1879 government reports have not been included.  Works are categorized and within each category are arranged by date of publication.  The appendix contains a glossary of key Japanese and Ryukyuan terms and their kanji, as well as a list of Ryukyuan rulers and the dates of their reigns.  The kanji for titles and authors are provided in the various indexes.  Although it is rather old, the detailed annotations in this bibliography make it a real treasure.

Ryukyu: An Annotated Bibliography. Masato Matsui, Tomoyoshi Kurokawa, and Minako I. Song. Honolulu: Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, Council for Japanese Studies, University of Hawaii, 1981.
Call no: REF Z 3307. R9 M38 1981

This is an annotated list of the more than 5000 titles related to Ryukyu available in the Thomas Hale Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Part I consists of a lengthy introductory essay by Mitsugu Sakihara on the types of resources in the Library’s collection and the state of Okinawan studies in the United States in the 1970s.  Parts II and III contain bibliographies of books from the Hawley collection and general library collection, respectively.  Entries are in English, grouped by category, and arranged alphabetically by title, with Japanese titles written out in rômaji.  Most of the entries include brief annotations on what the source is and its significance, but annotations are much less detailed than those in Sakamaki’s work.  Both author and title indexes are also provided.  While online catalogues and databases are probably easier to use and perhaps more comprehensive than this bibliography, the annotations and Sakihara’s essay are still extremely useful.

Okinawa: The History of an Island People. George H. Kerr. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1958.
Call no: DS 895. O4 K4
In addition to being one of the first comprehensive studies of Okinawan history in English, this book contains a lengthy bibliography consisting mostly of pre-World War II Western-language sources related to Okinawa, including many in German and French.  It includes monographs, book chapters, journal and magazine articles, editorials, and official publications, but offers only a very limited list of U. S. military publications from the post-war period.  Japanese-language sources are limited to slightly more than a page.  Despite its age and limitations, many of the sources listed in Kerr’s bibliography are unlikely to be listed anywhere else, making it a valuable tool.


Ryukyuan Relations with Korea and South Seas Countries: An Annotated Translation of Documents in the Rekidai Hôan. Trans. Atsushi Kobata and Mitsugu Matsuda. Kyoto: Atsushi Kobata, 1969.

Call no: DS 895. R9 L483

According to Shunzo Sakamaki’s bibliography, the Rekidai Hôan is a compilation of documents related to the foreign relations of the Ryukyu kingdom.  The First Compilation of such documents was completed in 1698 and contained 43 volumes covering the period from 1424 to 1696 and dealing with Ryukyuan relations with China, Korea, and 8 other Southeast Asian countries. Another 6 volumes written about Ryukyu by Chinese envoys traveling to the kingdom were also included in this First Compilation.  Two later compilations followed resulting in a 200-volume Second Compilation (with a 2 volume table of contents) for the years 1697-1858 and a 13-volume Third Compilation covering the period from 1859 to 1867.[1]

The Kobata and Matsuda work available in Starr Library is an annotated translation of 127 documents from the Rekidai Hôan’s First Compilation.  All of the translated documents deal with Ryukyuan relations with Korea and eight other Southeast Asian countries from 1425-1638 and are taken from volumes 39-42 and much of volume 43  Photographs of the original texts, all written in Chinese, are included as an appendix.  This work also includes a bibliography of Ryukyuan, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Arab, and Western materials.  A glossary is also provided and contains kanji and dates for Ryukyuan, Chinese, and Korean rulers, as well as the kanji for several Ryukyuan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean personal names, place names, gifts, weights and measures, and government offices.

Kuwae Katsuhide yakuchû Kyûyô (zen 22-kan fukan 3-kan). Trans. Kuwae Katsuhide.  San’ichi Shobô, 1971.
Call no: Prentis 216.9 K99

This is a version of Kuwae Katsuhide’s annotated Japanese translation of another Ryukyuan compilation of historical documents, the Kyûyô, which according to Sakamaki, was originally begun in 1743 and added to by later historians until 1876.  The complete Kyûyô contains 22 kan, or chapters, and 4 fukan, or supplementary chapters.  The fukan contain information related to Satsuma’s dominant role in the Ryukyu kingdom and were kept separate from the main historical compilations in order to avoid arousing suspicion among Chinese envoys.  Because the Kyûyô, unlike other compilations, focuses mostly on historical chronicles and records from outside the Shuri-Naha metropolitan area, Sakamaki describes it as “a history of the people rather than of the ruling elite of Ryukyu.”[2]


Ryûkyû Okinawa shashin kaiga shûsei. Ed. Arasaki Moriteru et al. Nihon Tosho Sentâ, 1997.

Call no: DS 895.R95 R972 1997 v. 1-5

The five volumes in this series offer compilations of pictures, paintings, and other artwork related to Okinawan and Ryukyuan history.  Volume one covers the period from 607 CE to 1879, and volume 2 deals with the period from 1879 until the beginning of WW II.  Volume 3 addresses the war, focusing especially on the Battle of Okinawa, while volume 4 covers the period of American occupation.  The last volume contains pictures from the 1972 reversion up through the ‘90s.

Each volume is divided topically, with brief essays explaining each specific topic.  The pictures or paintings have captions that provide titles, where applicable, and brief explanations.  Each volume also contains a nenpyô and bibliographical information.


Okinawa Prefecture’s Homepage
URL: http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/index-j.html

This site has been completely reworked since I first visited it a few years ago and is now much more organized and attractive.  This is probably the best site for getting basic information about Okinawa and finding out about current events, as well as governmental plans, reports, and projects.  The prefectural homepage also includes a number of very good links and has an engine for searching within the site.  A much more limited English language homepage is also available.

Okinawa Prefectural Archives
URL: http://archives.pref.okinawa.jp/

The Okinawa Prefectural Archives (OPA) collects and maintains a number of documents and records related to the modern history of Okinawa.  The OPA collection includes administrative documents from the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG), dating from 1879 to WW II and from 1972 to the present; documents related to the Government of the Ryukyu Islands (GRI), dating from 1952 to 1972; documents from the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyus (USCAR), which administered Okinawa following the war; and other US government documents related to Okinawa.  The OPA also holds numerous regional and local materials, AV materials, and other miscellaneous documents.

Although an OPA English homepage is available, it is rather limited, consisting mainly of general information about the OPA itself, such as its history, floor plans, hours, and the types of materials available.  The Japanese homepage contains all of the same information and much more.  The oshirase section, for example, provides a list of videos related to Okinawa and information about current and previous exhibitions organized by the OPA.

The two most useful sections of the home page are the denshi tenjishitsu and the shûzô shiryô kensaku search engine.  The denshi tenjishitsu has two subsections.  The first includes information on the GRI, providing pictures of GRI documents; a nenpyô of events and people associated with the GRI; and articles and charts explaining the structure and background of the GRI.  The second subsection is a collection of photographs taken by American personnel during and after the war, with the various photos divided into numerous topical and time-specific categories.  A thumbnail view of each picture, titled in English, is provided along with Japanese descriptions of location, date, and subject.  Clicking on each thumbnail clip enlarges it to actual size.

The shûzô shiryô kensaku search engine allows you to search the OPA’s database using keywords, author, or year of publication.  Searches can be limited to specific databases, specific types of documents (GRI, U.S. military documents, etc.), or specific medias (books, pictures, microfilm, etc.).  Japanese input capabilities will be most useful when searching, but because OPA maintains a large collection of English language documents, especially those related to the U.S. occupation of Okinawa, English language searches also turn up a number of results.  Entries resulting from searches provide the title, year, author, type of media, and in some cases basic notes about that source.  Although there is no online access to the specific texts, the keyword search function makes this a great tool for finding information on particular topics, especially those related to post-war Okinawa.

Ryukyu Cultural Archives
URL: http://museum.mm.pref.okinawa.jp

This is another amazing site, which provides a number of links to museums in Okinawa and offers an English homepage.  Although there is significant overlap between the two homepages, the Japanese one provides much more information overall.  It is divided into four sections: history, nature, fine arts, and music.

The history section contains a subsection that includes unsigned, somewhat simplistic entries on Okinawan history and a “history tour map” with pictures of historical sites throughout Okinawa.  Both of these features are available in English as well.  Another subsection provides information about the history of USCAR and also displays a collection of USCAR photos.  The final subsection basically serves as a link to the OPA’s page on the GRI.

The nature section includes a guide to bird watching in Okinawa, as well as maps and pictures of Okinawa’s Natural Monuments.  The fine arts section includes a long signed essay on the postwar history of Okinawan art and an index of artists and their works from a 1995 prefectural art exhibition.  The essay and indexes are also available in English.  The Japanese homepage’s fine arts section also includes information, pictures, and indexes related to Ryukyuan lacquer ware.  The music section is identical for both the English and Japanese homepages and contains numerous unsigned articles on Okinawan music, both traditional and modern.  There is also an index and information dealing with several postwar Okinawan musicians.  A number of audio downloads are also available in the music section.  Many of the entries and articles on this site are probably too general and simplistic to be of much scholarly use, but the pictures and examples of Okinawan fine arts make it very useful as a source of visual materials.

Okinawa no rekishi jôhô kenkyû Homepage
URL: http://www.okinawa.oiu.ac.jp/index.html

For some reason I had trouble viewing many of the pages at this website, but it appears to be only a problem with my computer and not the site itself.  Nevertheless, this site has features that made it well worth the annoyance of dealing with unreadable script.  Most of the site’s homepage and a number of linked pages are dedicated to explaining the background, purpose, and activities of the Okinawa no rekishi jôhô kenkyû group.  The most interesting and useful sections on the homepage are located near the bottom under Ryûkyû kankei bunken kensaku and Ryûkyû kankei chizu ezu.

The Ryûkyû kankei bunken kensaku search engine, among its most useful features, allows you to conduct keyword searches in the texts of several pre-modern Ryukyuan documents.  Successful searches direct you to the specific passage in the text where the words appear.  It is then possible to view the whole passage on screen and/or see a photographic image of the original.  The search engine requires Japanese input capabilities and supposedly a password.  However, there did not appear to be anyplace to input a password, and it seemed possible in most cases to conduct searches without one.  But to receive a password, write to one of the representatives at <oketani@oiuw.ac.jp> or <iwasaki@histanth.tsukuba.ac.jp>.

Ryûkyû kankei chizu ezu provides access to online images of maps, painted scrolls, and documents related to pre-modern Ryukyu.  Most of the images are divided into multiple screen-size sections, which are then subdivided into several subsections.  Each screen-size section can be nearly doubled in size by clicking the button at the top of the page.  It is also possible to zoom in on some of the smaller subsections by clicking on them.  Although the search engine is somewhat difficult to figure out, the ability to search and then read on-line texts and to examine online images in the chizu ezu section makes this site a real treasure.

The Contemporary Okinawa Website by John Purves
URL: http://www.niraikanai.wwma.net/index.html

This is one of the best private English-language websites available on Okinawa.  The site is well organized and beautifully designed and includes postings of Purves’ own scholarly work, a number of English-language and translated documents and resources, his reviews of both Japanese and English books, and numerous links, most of which are still active.  The majority of the materials and links on the site relate to postwar and especially contemporary Okinawa.  For anyone interested in these periods, the documents and links make this a key site.

[1]  Shunzo Sakamaki provides a detailed explanation of the Rekidai Hôan and its significance.  See Shunzo Sakamaki, Ryukyu: A Bibliographical Guide to Okinawan Studies (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1963), 40-43.
[2]  Sakamaki also has a long description of the Kyûyô and its fukanIbid., 56-58.