Amami Islands: Wikis


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Location of Amami Islands
Amami Islands
Coast of Amami City, Amami Ōshima

The Amami Islands (奄美諸島 amami shotō?) are part of the Ryūkyū Archipelago. They consist of:

The islands are part of Kagoshima Prefecture, in the Kyūshū region of Japan. Its name derives from the Amamikiyo (アマミキヨ?) or Amamiko (アマミコ?), a goddess often featured in Ryukyuan legends.



Amami period

Islanders started to produce earthenware from 6000 years ago, affected by the Jōmon culture in Mainland Kyūshū. Initially the styles were similar to those of mainland Japan, but later a style original to Amami known as Usuki Lower Style was developed.

Among Japanese literature, the islands first appeared in the 7th century. Nihon Shoki adverted to Amami-shima (海見嶋?, "Amami Island") in 657, Amami-bito (阿麻弥人?, "Amami people") in 682. Shoku Nihongi adverted to Amami (菴美?) in 699 and Amami (奄美?) in 714. All of these are believed to be the current Amami. The tenth kentō-shi mission (Japanese Imperial embassies to China) went to Tang Dynasty China via Amami Ōshima.

Among locals, this prehistoric period is called Amami period (奄美世 Aman'yu?).

Aji period

Agriculture came to the islands around the 12th century, and the people shifted to farming from hunting. As agriculture caused a divide between the rich and poor, those with power eventually became the ruling class. They were called aji like in Okinawa, residing in castles called gusuku. Famous gusuku included Beru Gusuku in Kasari, Amami City, and Yononushi Gusuku in Wadomari. Stronger aji battled each other to expand their territories. Local folklore states that some of Taira clan members, lost to the battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185, fled to Amami Ōshima. The historical accuracy of this is unknown.

This gusuku period is sometimes called the Aji period (按司世 Ajin'yu?), while others include this time as part of the Amami period as well.

Naha period

When Amami aji became strong enough in the islands, they started to pay tributes to stronger nations around. Okinawan books say Amami aji paid tribute to Eiso, the king of Chūzan in Sanzan period Okinawa. Okinoerabu and Yoron went under Hokuzan's control. However, since Okinawa itself was still unsettled with civil wars, they could not control the northern part of Amami Islands. Tokunoshima and further north island aji just paid tributes to Okinawa, and continued to control the islands by themselves. After 1429, Shō Hashi unified Okinawa Island, founding the Ryukyu Kingdom. Okinoerabu and further south islands were directly controlled by Ryukyu, while northern parts were also treated as the outer territories of the kingdom. The fourth king, Shō Sei, tried to occupy Amami Ōshima in 1537, but failed. The next king, Shō Gen, won the battle in 1571, and the entire group of islands went under Ryukyu's control. According to folklore, 3 gusuku and 4 communities fiercely resisted the invasion, and were all eliminated.

This period is called Naha period (那覇世 Nahan'yu?), after the capital city of Ryukyu.

Edo period

Ryukyu's direct control didn't last long. Japanese Tokugawa shogunate planned to trade with Ming Dynasty China. They allowed Shimazu Tadatsune, a ruler of Satsuma Domain, to invade Ryukyu Kingdom, in order to retain the shipping route between Japan and China. In March 1609, Shimazu attacked the kingdom on Amami Ōshima, then Tokunoshima, Okinoerabu, and Mainland Okinawa. At the time, the king controlled all the guns in Ryukyu, while the Shimazu force survived all the (gun) battles in Sengoku period. Shimazu easily won the battle within a month, and Ryukyu Kingdom made peace with Satsuma Domain.

The Ryukyu Kingdom was troubled by the Amami Islands even before the invasion by Satsuma, as the islanders often demonstrated independence movements from the kingdom. Ryukyu ceded the islands to the Satsuma Domain. Satsuma started to directly rule the islands from 1613, sending a commissioner. However, it was still nominally treated as Ryukyu territory, and bureaucrats from the kingdom were dispatched too.

At first, Satsuma's administration was a mild one, but as the financial deterioration of the domain became worse, the administration changed to one of exploitation. Satsuma let islanders plant sugarcane to make sugar, and sold it to the shogunate or merchants. Because of this monoculture, islanders were struck by severe famines when there were bad harvests.

During these hard times, the Amami people found their joys in local liquors made from sugarcanes, awamori bought from Ryukyu, and folk songs sung with sanshin. Their folk songs evolved to in a style different to that of Ryukyu, and this still remains as a part of their culture today.

In 1879, after Meiji Restoration, Amami Islands were incorporated into Ōsumi Province, and then into Kagoshima Prefecture. At the time of World War II, when there were fierce battles in Mainland Okinawa, more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers guarded the neighboring Amami Islands. Throughout the war, however, Amami Islands experienced only small scale airstrikes.

This period, until 1945, is called Yamato period (大和世 Yamaton'yu?), after Yamato, Amami exonym for Mainland Japanese.

American period

After the Japanese defeat in the war, the islands were divided from mainland Japan, and went under American control. At the signing ceremony of surrender, the Japanese contingent found that the document prepared by the U.S. referred to Amami as "Northern Ryukyu". The Japanese believed this showed the American intention to cede the islands from Japan. In response, the Japanese claimed that the islands belonged to Kagoshima Prefecture.

In February 1946, the Amami Islands were officially separated from Japan. In October, the Provisional Government of Northern Ryukyu Islands was founded, formed by local leaders. It changed its name to the Amami Gunto Government in 1950. However, under a democratic election, the local electorate chose a governor who pledged restoration to Japan. (This also happened in other Gunto Governments of Ryukyu, namely those of Okinawa, Miyakojima, and Yaeyama.) The American administration (United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, USCAR) unhappy with these developments reduced the power of Gunto Governments. In 1952, USCAR founded another governmental body called the Government of the Ryukyu Islands, in which they could choose "local leaders" by themselves.

Amami residents were dissatisfied with these controls by the U.S. Moreover, the Amami economy suffered from their separation from the Mainland Japanese market. Public funds of the U.S. administration were mostly used for heavily damaged Mainland Okinawa. The Amami Islands Homeland Restoration Movement, which had started right after the separation, became stronger. Among locals over 14 years old, 99.8% of them signed in a bid toward restoration. Some municipalities and communities hunger striked after the example of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 put the islands under trusteeship as part of the Ryukyu Islands. The U.S. returned the Tokara Islands in February 1952, and the Amami Islands on December 25, 1953. The U.S. government called it "a Christmas present to Japan". They became part of Kagoshima prefecture.

This period is called American period (アメリカ世 Amerika-yu?).

After the restoration

After the return of the islands to Japan in 1953, Okinawa (then Ryukyu) was still under American control until 1972. Because of this, Amami people who worked in Okinawa suddenly became "foreigners", making their situations difficult.

The Japanese government promulgated the Amami Islands Promotion and Development Special Measures Law. However, the economic gap between the islands and the mainland still exists to this day. The law did help residents by improving the island's infrastructure. However its bureaucratic system has been criticized as causing unnecessary destruction of nature.[citation needed]


In the Amami Islands, Amami language and Kunigami language are the traditional local dialects. Both of them belong to North Ryukyuan group of Ryukyuan languages. Although the Ryukyuan languages belong to Japonic languages group, sharing the same root with Mainland Japanese, they are mutually unintelligible. There is a dispute about the status of these languages, with some thinking that these are different (independent) languages from Japanese, while others think these are merely dialects.

The Amami language has several dialects, the Kikai dialect, North Amami dialect, South Amami dialect, and Tokunoshima dialect. The Kunigami language has the Okinoerabu dialect and the Yoron dialect.

Just as anywhere else in Japan, standard Japanese is used in all the formal situations. The de facto common speech among locals under 60, on the other hand, is Amami-accented Mainland Japanese called Ton-futsūgo (トン普通語?, lit. "Potato standard"). The speech is different from Uchinā-Yamatuguchi (Okinawan Japanese), an Okinawan-accented Mainland Japanese used in Okinawa. Ton-futsūgo is affected not only by standard Japanese, but also by the Satsugū (Mainland Kagoshima) dialect and the Kansai dialect.

Communities on the Amami Islands using sign language as their primary mode of communication have been described.


As a part of Ryukyu cultural sphere, Amami culture is closer to that of Okinawa Prefecture, rather than to that of Mainland Kagoshima. However, the islands' history is different from Okinawa as well. Okinawa, including Sakishima, had strong cultural influences from China, whereas Amami was affected more by Mainland Japan. Because of this, the Amami people themselves believe their culture is distinct from that of Okinawa. The mainland Amami people treat the area between Kikai, Amami Ōshima, and Tokunoshima as the part of their own cultural sphere.

On the other hand, Yoron Islanders, just 22 km away from Mainland Okinawa, have much closer culture ties to Okinawa.


The local folk songs are called shimauta. Although shima means "island" in Japanese, it means "community" in Amami. Thus shimauta literally means "communities' songs". Singers of shimauta are called utasha (lit. "singer"). Some utasha also sing pop songs as well, examples include Chitose Hajime, Kousuke Atari, RIKKI, and Anna Sato.

While Okinawan folk songs use the pentatonic scale of C, Db, Eb, G, Ab, Amami folk songs use the scale of C, D, E, G, A. Singers use a falsetto voice when singing. Amami folk songs are rarely sold outside of the islands, except by mail order or Internet.

Some believe that the word shimauta originally referred to Amami folk songs only, and is therefore now mistakenly used for Okinawan folk songs. The Japanese rock band The Boom's 1992 hit song called Shima Uta, which incorporated some Okinawan styles and thus causes confusion as to the precision of the term. Others argue the word was used for Okinawan folk songs as well even before 1992.


Each community has multiple shrines, while there are not many Buddhist temples. As in Okinawa, female priests called noro exist, and the people worship according to the local religious norms.

The current tomb style is same as those in Mainland Japan, unlike those in Okinawa. However, there are tombs called Shiroma Tofuru Tombs, which were built 400 years ago, showing the style of Okinawan tombs before the current "house" style there.


See also

External links

Coordinates: 28°16′N 129°21′E / 28.267°N 129.35°E / 28.267; 129.35

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Asia : East Asia : Japan : Kyushu : Kagoshima : Amami Islands
Beach on Yoron
Beach on Yoron

The Amami Islands (奄美諸島 Amami-shotō) are a small archipelago south of Kyushu, Japan.

  • Amami Oshima — the largest island in area and population
  • Kikai
  • Kakeroma
  • Yoro
  • Ukeshima
  • Tokunoshima
  • Okinoerabujima
  • Yoron

In addition, the Tokara Islands just to the north of Amami are sometimes lumped in with the Amami Islands.

Map of the Amami Islands
Map of the Amami Islands

By plane

Flights to and around the Amami Islands are the monopoly of Japan Airways (JAL) and its affiliates JTA and RAC. Amami Oshima is the main hub for flights, with direct flights to Tokyo-Haneda, Osaka-Itami, Kagoshima and Naha. Kikai, Okinoerabujima, Tokunoshima and Yoron have small airports with service to Amami and Kagoshima only.

By ferry

The Amami Islands are served the cozy duopoly of A-Line Ferry [1], aka Maru-A (マルエー) and Marix Line [2], both of which run between Kagoshima (Kyushu) and Naha (Okinawa) via the islands on alternating days. Fares on both are identical, with a one-way Kagoshima-Amami Oshima trip (11 hours) costing ¥8,800 in 2nd class (二等), or ¥9300 from Naha (13 hours). The exact schedules are complicated and change from day to day, but the main ports served, from north to south, are:

  • Naze (名瀬) on Amami Oshima, served by all ferries
  • Kitoku (亀徳) on Tokunoshima, served by some ferries
  • Wadomari (和泊) on Okinoerabujima, served by some ferries
  • Yoron (与論), served by almost all ferries

In addition, A-Line runs a service from Kagoshima via Naze that serves one extra island and some additional ports:

  • Kikai (喜界)
  • Koniya (古仁屋) on Amami Oshima
  • Hetono (平土野) on Tokunoshima
  • China (知名) on Okinoerabujima

Finally, there's also a once-a-week service on Ferry Toshima [3] from Kagoshima to Naze via the Tokara Islands, but this is both slower (16 hours) and more expensive (¥11,620) than the direct option.


All roads lead to Yanigawa, a street that runs away from the main port in Naze-shi (Naze City). Like all Japanese small towns it is an irreverant mix of live house (naff attempt at a modern bar), izakaya and snack bars. The mood here is much more reserved than in other larger centres and the younger crowd and salarymen alike enjoy over 100 different hole in the wall venues.

Westerners are a novelty here (still) and you a guaranteed a good night out on the local Shochu (which is made from sugar cane)

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Simple English

Amami Islands

Amami奄美 あまみ)is a group of islands in Kagoshima prefecture in the Kyūshū region of Japan. Amami-Ohshima (main of islands), Kikaijima, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabujima, Yorontou and some small islands make up the Amami Islands. Amami was occupied by the United States from 1945 to 1953.

Amamikiyo(アマミキヨ)who entrance in myth of Ryukyuu is the origin of Amami.

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