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Island chain, extreme southern Japan. It extends in an arc 700 mi (1,100 km) long from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu to the northern tip of Taiwan island. The 55 islands and islets have a total land area of 1,193 sq mi (3,090 sq km). In ancient times it was an independent kingdom, but Chinese and Japanese sovereignty were successively imposed on the archipelago from the 14th to the 19th century. In 1879 the Ryukyus became an integral part of Japan. After Japan's defeat in World War II, the U.S. took control of the islands; it returned them all by 1972. The U.S. maintains military bases on Okinawa. The islands are primarily rural, and agriculture is the dominant occupation; tourism has grown in importance.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Ryukyu Islands, visit Britannica.com.