Okinawa, Japan's southern most prefecture, consists of 50 inhabited and 110 uninhabited islands scattered over an area 1,000 km from east to west and 400 km from north to south. Known as the Ryukyu Island Chain the islands are divided into three major groups; the Okinawa island group, the Myako island group, and the Yaeyama Island group. Okinawa is by far the largest of the islands, followed in turn by Iriomote, Ishigaki, and Miyako. Okinawa prefecture is located between Kyushyu and Taiwan. Major Asian cities such as Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila and Tokyo are all located within a 1,500 km radius of Okinawa. Because of its close proximity to the major Asian cities, Okinawa represents the southern gateway to China, Southeast Asia and Oceania.
With this geographic advantage, Okinawa engaged in a prosperous overseas trade with China and Southeast Asian countries during the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Okinawa established its unique cultural identity through overseas trade, and these characteristics can be seen in its textiles, lacquerware, performing arts and customs.