- The group of southernmost islands stretching almost to Taiwan and forming the semi-independent old kingdom of Ryukyu, which became fully part of Japan in 1868, though at the same time maintaining tributary links with China. In the resulting dispute the king of Ryukyu was taken captive to Tokyo and the Ryukyus were incorporated into Japan under the name of Okinawa prefecture. The two main islands are Okinawa and Amami-oshima. Surviving folk customs of the Ryukyus including the activities of female shamans (cf. miko) have provided important insights into the development of Japanese religions. It is a local custom that all women of Okinawa who have reached the age of 30 are initiated as nanchu (the equivalent of miko) in a solemn ceremony called izaiho held once every twelve years (November 15-18 by the old lunar calendar). Shrines and other religious organisations in Okinawa were transferred to the status of Religious Juridical persons only in 1971, when Okinawa reverted (from post-1945 United States rule) to Japan.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.