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geographical name\rē-ˈyü-(ˌ)kyü, -(ˌ)kü\
Definition of RYUKYU ISLANDS
islands W Pacific extending between Kyushu, Japan, & Taiwan; belonged to Japan 1895–1945; occupied by United States 1945; returned to Japan in 1953 (N islands) and 1972 (S islands) area ab 850 square miles (2202 square kilometers), pop 1,222,458 — see amami, okinawa, osumi islands, sakishima islands, tokara islands
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.