1. Permanent Exhibitions

Permanent Exhibitions

The Museum’s permanent exhibitions include both general exhibitions and sub-exhibitions on special fields and areas. Together, they offer an introduction to Okinawa’s nature, history and culture viewed from two complementary aspects-the oceanic aspect and the island aspect.
From long ago, the islands of Okinawa have been held in the sea’s embrace, a close embrace, which is at the same time far-reaching. Confined by the sea, Okinawa developed its distinctive history and culture. Yet, using the sea as their highway, Okinawans built close relations with Asia and the Pacific region and these relations provided a wealth of cultural influences.
The islands of the Ryukyu Archipelago all have their own individual natural environments and ways of life. Each one makes its own contribution to Okinawa Prefecture’s special nature, history and culture. Under the general theme, “Sea and Island Life- Seeking Prosperity, Beauty and Peace,” the permanent exhibitions show how people have lived and are living in the embrace of lush nature and surrounded by the oceans. They take you on a tour of Okinawa past and present, from the blossoming of Ryukyu Kingdom culture in the era of relations with Tang China and Yamato (Japan), to the dizzying changes experienced by modern Okinawa and on into the war and postwar eras.

General Exhibitions

The approach to the general exhibitions gives you the sensation of coming ashore onto an island, with the lagoon, or “Ino,” and its fringe of coral reefs, at your feet. The front circular hall features images showing the formation of the Ryukyu Archipelago and the evolution of its living things. Then you meet a model display showing the life of Minatogawa Man, who lived in primitive Okinawa 18,000 years ago together with some of the living things of his time. Under the themes “A People of the Sea,” and “Okinawa Today and Tomorrow,” the general exhibitions continue with examples of Okinawa’s rich nature and the blessings of the sea, and the history and culture that our forbears created in their island home.

In the “Living in Communities and Nature” corner, there is a large-scale diorama offering a splendid panorama of the islands of the Ryukyu Archipelago that stretches 1,000 kilometers east to west and 400 kilometers north to south from Kagoshima to Taiwan, plus computer terminals that put a wealth of information on Okinawa’s unique nature, history and culture at your fingertips.
A series of satellite images offer birds eye views of the islands to complete this exhibition.

Prologue-From the Out Beyond of Nirai Kanai

This is the approach to the museum’s permanent exhibitions. Gazing at the coral reef at your feet, you are caught up in an image of coming ashore on Okinawa.

1.A People Embraced by the Sea

This is the approach to the museum’s permanent exhibitions. Gazing at the coral reef at your feet, you are caught up in an image of coming ashore on Okinawa.

“Bones” in the Rotunda Exhibition
Here is a collection of fossils discovered in “the treasure house of fossils-Okinawa.” A wide array of fossils greets your eyes - whales and ammonites and other creatures that lived in ancient seas, the 18,000-year old Minatogawa Man, precursor of today’s Japanese, along with some animals and birds that lived in his time, including the now-extinct Ryukyu deer and the still-surviving flightless yambaru kuina. The front screen displays images surveying the topographical history of the Ryukyu Archipelago from the Paleozoic Era to the present, and invites you along on a tour of Okinawa’s nature, history and culture.

The Kogachibaru Shell Mound
Working with items recovered from digs at the Kogachibara shell mound in the area of present-day Uruma City, Ishikawa, we have created an exhibition showing the life of Jomon-era people (of approximately 13000-2400 years ago) in Okinawa. They lived in small groups and built their pit dwellings on high ground facing the sea to the east. From what they left in shell mounds or kitchen waste, we can imagine how these Jomon people lived.

2.From the Shell Mound Villages to the Ryukyu Kingdom

The emergence of powerful local chieftains and warlords signals the Gusuku Era. These petty princes built fortifications-Gusuku-to serve as religious, administrative and defensive centers. Some of them entered into tributary relations with Imperial China, which, in turn, brought trade and cultural exchange and laid the basis for rising prosperity.
Repeated wars among local lords ultimately resulted in the consolidation of three principalities, Hokuzan, Chuzan and Nanzan. Then in the early 15th century, Sho Hashi rose to create a single unified kingdom. With this, the 500-year history of the Ryukyu Kingdom begins, with Shuri as its political and cultural center.

3.A Prosperous Kingdom

The Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent nation; however domestic power rivalries brought the replacement of the relatively short-lived First Sho Dynasty by the much more permanent Second Sho Dynasty. By now, Ryukyu was firmly a part of China’s “Sakuhou” tributary orbit, and had established trade relations with China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia as well. With an inscription celebrating an age when Ryukyu was like a bridge across the broad ocean, with its ships calling at ports all over Asia and its lands overflowing with splendid international products, the old Shurijo Castle Bell is a precious reminder of the glory of times gone by.
This exhibition showcases the era when the Ryukyu Kingdom built an ever-firmer national identity based on the prosperity that flowed from its position as a leading East Asian trading nation.

4.The Kingdom Under the Overlordship of the Satsuma Domain

In 1609, troops of Lord Shimazu of the Satsuma domain in southern Kyushu invaded Ryukyu and brought it under the control of Japan’s Tokugawa regime. The long-standing relationship with China, however, was not disturbed. Under the leadership of skilled and powerful politicians like Haneji Choushu and Saion, the kingdom enjoyed good government and the modern culture of Ryukyu was created. Great examples of Ryukyuan craft specialties were developed and perfected in this period under the guidance of the Kaizuri (Craft Work) Office, where lacquer ware, and other government agencies, and historical works such as the Chuuzan Seikan and Kyuuyou were compiled and published.

5.The Kingdom in Decline

Maintenance of its relations with the two powers, China and Japan, sustained the Ryukyu Kingdom as a nominally independent nation, but moving into the 19th century, conflicts and contradictions mounted. Poverty in the farming villages sapped the finances of the Shuri government and brought the administration of the kingdom to a standstill. Foreign pressures compounded domestic difficulties, as Ryukyu fell prey to the ambitions of western powers competing to push into Asia. The kingdom now entered its time of crisis.

6.Modern Okinawa

In 1879, the new Meiji government of Japan formally abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom, putting a final end to its 500-year history, and Ryukyu became a part of modern Japan as Okinawa Prefecture. However, preexisting institutions and social arrangements were left intact for a time in order to maintain social stability. As a result, land reforms and creation of private property rights were significantly delayed, as was participation in the national census. At last, during the Taisho Era of the early 1920’s, a capitalist economy and modern educational system arrived in Okinawa. Then as Japan moved ever closer to war in the Pacific, Okinawa became caught up in wartime preparations. In 1945, the Okinawan people were caught up in the furious land fighting between Japanese and American forces known as the Battle of Okinawa, at the cost of more than 230,000 precious lives. In burned and blasted Okinawa, a great number of valuable cultural treasures were also lost to fires and shelling.

7.Postwar Okinawa

Okinawa suffered terribly, in both human and material terms, in the Battle of Okinawa. The people started from zero after the war. Governmental authority in the prefecture was taken from Japan and transferred to the United States, with American control lasting for 27 years. The American government regarded Okinawa as a valuable strategic base in East Asia but at the same time, made efforts to develop Okinawa’s industry and improve education and social welfare. As the military bases expanded, however, so did the damage and losses imposed on the people, and this dynamic spurred agitation for Okinawa’s return to Japan. Japan regained sovereignty in Okinawa in 1972 but vast stretches of Okinawa’s lands remained behind the barbed wire fences of the American military bases. The belief took root that Okinawa should be brought up to a level of prosperity comparable to mainland Japan, and now in present-day Okinawa, people are striving to realize the idea that Okinawa should stand out.

Epilogue Okinawa Today, And Tomorrow

After reversion to Japan, the landscape of Okinawa was hugely transformed by development of all sorts. In the midst of similarly sweeping changes in society and lifestyle, the leaders of the world’s major industrial countries gathered in Okinawa for the 2000 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. In the same year, a group of historical sites from the Ryukyu Kingdom era were enrolled on the List of World Heritage Sites as “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu,” and today the world recognizes the greatness of Okinawan culture. The number of tourists visiting Okinawa and of people moving to Okinawa has soared and Okinawa is poised to enter a new era.
This epilogue, “Contemporary Okinawan Life” is made up mainly of items contributed by ordinary citizens. It is most emphatically a primary documentary record of “Life in Okinawa Today.”

Sub Exhibitions

The special field exhibitions are presented in the five sub exhibition rooms arranged around the main general exhibition area - natural history, archeology, arts and crafts, history and folk customs. These sub exhibitions draw on the museum’s collection to delve more deeply into the general exhibitions and their respective themes. The topics and themes of the sub exhibitions are continually changed in order to assure variety, spark interest and keep museum visitors coming back for more.

Natural History “Living Things Tell of Okinawa’s 200 million Years.”

This exhibition showcases the formation of the Ryukyu Archipelago and the special adaptations to island environments achieved by its plants and animals. This exhibition also presents the latest research on Okinawa’s world-famous human fossil, Minatogawa Man. A diorama traces the formation of the natural environment of Okinawa Island’s northern territories, Miyako Island, and Iriomote Island with its sweeps of mangrove forest.

Archeology “The World of Okinawan Archeology”

Diorama of the Yambaru Forest at night

With items actually excavated from archeological digs around the prefecture, this exhibition introduces the ancient Okinawan ways of living and local peculiarities, as well as the changes that have happened over time, in an easy to understand way.

History “History Read Through Objects”

From the time of the Independent Ryukyu Kingdom to the modern era, Okinawa has undergone vast changes as a result of trends in the policies of Japan, America and other actors on the international stage. Visitors to the History sub exhibition room can read through history through actual objects in exhibitions with topics and themes that will change several times a year. Could there be a better way to enjoy the flavor of history?

Arts and Crafts “The Beauty of Ryukyu”

Diorama of the Yambaru Forest at night

The people of the islands blended things and cultural influences brought from across the seas on trading vessels with their own individual ways of life and culture to create Okinawa’s unique range of arts and crafts. To bring to you a sense of the exquisite taste of the people of Ryukyu Kingdom times and at the same time to make the exhibition more enjoyable and accessible to us in the present, items are presented under themes that change several times a year. Come and see the beauty of the Ryukyus!

Folk Customs “Okinawa’s Traditions and Life”

An introduction to the folk culture inheritance of these islands of Okinawa. Formation of communities, farming and fishing, food, clothing, lodging, tricks of various trades, life changes – folk culture comes from and in turn affects every aspect of life. Set up to show the full range and richness of folk culture, this exhibition takes you to the heart and soul of every day life in Okinawa. Experience this exhibition with all your senses. Look, listen, touch and study.

Outdoor Display

An exhibition in the museum’s inner courtyard includes restorations of a traditional storehouse and farmhouse. This is an exhibition ideal for field trips and study tours. The adjoining Wakuta-kama kiln exhibition features the actual kiln excavated and moved to the museum from its original location at the center of the 17th century ceramics industry in Okinawa. As a flora exhibition, trees and usable plants of the kind that originally grew in this area have been planted around the periphery of the courtyard.

Touch and Experience Room

The Touch and Experience Room has 27 hands-on activities ready with things that visitors can pick up and handle, reflect on and study, under two themes-”the workings of nature,” and “the wisdom of our ancestors.” The kits are linked to the subjects of the permanent exhibitions, including for example, the fishy denizens of the coral reef, animals of Okinawa’s forests and the piled-stone technique of gusuku building. This room is a great place to start sparking kids’ interest in the museum’s exhibitions.

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