A walk through Itoman's Past


  1. The development of castles and the rise and fall of the Nanzan Kingdom
  2. Itoman's Districts and Villages in Recent Times
  3. Reorganization of the City Area
  4. Administrative Changes
  5. The Development of Itoman Township
  6. The Development of Itoman's Fishing Industry
  7. Munchu - Patrilineal Family Clans and Tombs
  8. The Battle of Okinawa
  9. The Reconstruction of Itoman from Rubble
  10. The Time of One Town and Three Villages
  11. Amalgamation - The Birth of the New Itoman Township
  12. Municipal System in Operation - Reversion to Japan
  13. Reclaimed Land Area 4 & New Development
  14. Looking to the Future

The development of castles and the rise and fall of the Nanzan Kingdom

A walk through Itoman's Past


In Itoman there are 38 confirmed castle sites. Rival local chiefs, including such famous men as Omorosaushi, Kumesuyononushi, Ishiyarayonoushi, Yamakitarasusahe, Yamakusukutammikiyo, Fukushiowaruyononushi, Makahiowaruyononushi and Ahakonnoufuya built castles in various places around Itoman. Amongst these local chiefs was the extremely influential ruler Shimonoyononushi.

At the Nanzan Castle in Aza Ozato the Nanzan royal line ran through Ozato local chiefs beginning with Shou Satto, then O Oso, then Tarumai. Their rule, known as shimoshimashiri (bottom of the southern area of the island), began in the area of Kanegusuku, Ozato and Makabe, and gradually extended across Tomigusuku, Kyan, Mabuni, Kochinda, Gushichan, Tamagusuku, Chinen, Sashiki and Shimazoeozato.

During the Sanzan (three kingdoms) Period, when the Okinawa main island was split into three powerful competing kingdoms called Chuzan (Middle Kingdom), Nanzan (Southern Kingdom) and Hokuzan (Northern Kingdom), Shou Satto began trading with China by way of a tributary shipment in 1380, after the opening of trade with China by the Chuzan Kingdom.

A song about Itoman's Kadishi Spring goes, "Osato wa satokararu, kadeshikawa mizukararu", meaning, "the fields below the Nanzan Castle are moistened by the plentiful water of the Kadishi Spring. Nanzan's prosperity is founded in the Kadishi Spring."

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Itoman's Districts and Villages in Recent Times

Old Ryukyu period district map

Shimashiri-Kanegusuku, Shimashiri-Ozato and Shimashiri-Makabe. In 1667 Shimashiri-Ozato District was renamed Takamine District, Shimashiri-Kanegusuku District was renamed Kanegusuku District and Shimashiri-Makabe District was renamed Makabe District.

These five districts of Kanegusuku, Takamine, Makabe, Kyan and Mabuni still exist today. Each district was appointed a district chief (aji) and general chief who jointly ruled the district and vice-chiefs to rule the villages. These high-ranking officials resided in Shuri and Naha and ruled the districts and villages.The people who actually carried the burden of administering the districts and villages were officials of various ranks who acted as the chiefs' representatives. Administrative duties were divided into categories such as, general affairs, taxation, sugar production, agricultural affairs, timber production and public order.

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Reorganization of the City Area

Illustration: Satsuma Clan adjustments

The villages in the Itoman area changed greatly in the later-half of the 17th century after a review of the district's borders. Taketomi, Namihira and Ahagon were admitted to Kanegusku District from Tomigusuku District. The two villages of Nakagusuku and Sakinakagusuku were admitted to Takamine District. In effect Kanegusuku came to have nine villages: Taketomi, Namihira, Ahagon, Kakazu, Zaha, Shiohira, Kanegusku, Teruya and Itoman. Takamine District ejected Kohagura, Nashiro and Itoshu to Makabe District and admitted Nakagusuku and Sakinakagusuku from Kanegusuku District. The five villages of Watarikina, Geru, Kamizato, Kubiri and Nakama merged with close-by villages, resulting in Takamine District being composed of four villages - Yoza, Yako (later became Ozato), Kuniyoshi and Maezato. Makabe District admitted the two villages of Arakaki and Ishiki from Kanegusku District, from Takamine District it admitted the three villages of Kohagura, Nashiro and Itoshi, it also intergrated the two close-by villages of Kina and Nakama, resulting in it being composed of nine villages - Makabe, Agarui, (later Uegusuku), Maehira, Arakaki, Ishiki, Nashiro, Kohagura, Asato and Itosu. Kyan Village abolished Saki Village and came to be composed of Kyan, Fukuji, Yamagusuku, Tsukahena and Uezato. Mabuni is composed of five villages - Mabuni, Odo, Komesu, Ishihara and Irei.

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Administrative Changes

Bustling Itoman City

On 17th September 1872 (Meiji year 5), the Meiji Government established the Ryukyu Clan as an initial step in their program to abolish feudalism and establish prefectures. Subsequently, on 4th April 1879 (Meiji year 12), the Ryukyu Clan was abolished and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture was proclaimed. However, each of the districts continued to be administered as before. In 1897 (Meiji year 30), district guard houses were renamed district town halls, government officials below local chiefs were done away with, and district chiefs, government treasurers, secretaries and other village leaders were newly appointed in accordance with the proclamation of the district island officials system.

In 1908 (Meiji year 41), in accordance with the introduction of the Okinawa Prefecture and Islands Municipal System, Itoman Village was separated from Kanegusuku District and Okinawa's one and only town was born. Each district introduced the village administration system and Kanegusuku District was renamed Kanegusuku Village, Takamine District Takamine Village, Makabe District Makabe Village, Kyan District Kyan Village, and Mabuni District Mabuni Village.

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The Development of Itoman Township

Kanegusuku Village Hall


Aza Itoman began with three to seven family tombs. Then in the 17th century people from neighboring agricultural communities moved to Itoman to work in the fishing industry and before long the number of family tombs in Itoman increased to thirteen. At the beginning of the Meiji era (around 1868) there were 929 households and the population had grown to over 5,300. Itoman had grown to be Okinawa's next biggest settlement after the Shuri-Naha area.

As Itoman developed administrative offices such as the Itoman Police Station, Itoman Post Office, Naha District Court Itoman Branch Office (registry office) and others were established in the town center. Transport infrastructure such as the Itoman road, horse-drawn coach track and the prefecture managed Itoman railroad line were also completed.

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The Development of Itoman's Fishing Industry

Sabani waiting in front of homes to be taken out fishing


Itoman's traditional fishing industry began with coastal fishing on Itoman's west coast reef using a technique called anbushi - a technique where fish were trapped in erect gill-net enclosures.

Itoman's fishing industry soon expanded to offshore shark and squid fishing and gill net fishing for flying fish. In 1884 (Meiji year 17), types of fishing where divers chase fish into nets called pantataka and agiya were developed and became the main form of fishing after the concept of underwater goggles (miikagan) was conceived. The Itoman fishermen's fishing boats, known as sabani, were reformed from carved wooden boats to boats made from wooden panels to which spurs were added. Fish that were caught were transported to consumption areas such as Naha and sold by a technique called kamiakine, in which people sold fish from baskets carried on their heads. The systematic management of agiya fishing enabled many of Itoman's women to accumulate private property known as watakusa. Marxist economist Hajime Kawakami published a paper about watakusa, titled "The Ryukyu's Itoman's Individualistic Families", leading to many researchers becoming interested in and visiting Itoman.

The growth of agiya fishing lead to the exhaustion of coastal fishing grounds, prompting fishermen to seek new fishing grounds around Miyako and the Yaeyama Islands and then mainland Japan. Later, after WWI, many people went to the South Pacific Islands, the Philippines and Singapore to fish.

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Munchu - Patrilineal Family Clans and Tombs

The Kochi-bara and Akahigi-bara joint-patrilineal family tombs, repaired in 1935.


People who have lived in each of Itoman's villages since long ago are known as jiinchu (founding fathers). Patrilineal family tombs called bara or munchu take the family name of local jinchu, with all patrilineal descendants of that person being buried in the one tomb.

There are many family tombs in Itoman City. The largest known family tomb in Okinawa, the Kochi-bara Akahigi-bara joint-family tombs are exemplary of these tombs. This tomb is a communal tomb that's usage is determined by blood relations. Only the descendants of the brothers and sisters of the tombs founder can be entombed in it. It is written on the 1868 tombstone that the proper use for the tomb is for it to entomb descendents of eight people of the Uehara family and three people of the Kinjo family.

When the tomb was founded in 1868 (the first year of the Meiji era), it was one small tortoise shell-shaped tomb called a tooshi. As the descendants of the tomb's founder multiplied and the yearly number of people dying grew, the one tomb became no longer sufficient to accommodate all the bodies right through to the bone-washing stage. Traditionally, corpses were laid in a drying chamber called shiruhirashi in the front of the tomb. Several years after the internment, after the flesh had decayed, the eldest daughter in the family (or the wife of the eldest son) would remove and wash the bones in a ritual called senkotsu before placing the bones in the main tomb chamber. So the tomb complex gradually began to grow with the addition of shiruhirashi outside the main tomb. The first was added in 1869, followed by others in 1901 and 1911. By 1935 (Showa year 10) the tomb had come to look like the large tomb-complex it is today. Later alterations included the addition of another shiruhirashi and the roof shape was changed from tortoise shell style to gable roof house style.

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The Battle of Okinawa

The area around Santinmo reduced to rubble


On 10th October 1944 (Showa year 19), the US Armed Forces began an air attack focused on Naha. It became more violent in the following year, with a raging bombing campaign on the Okinawa main island commencing on 23rd March 1945. On 26th March, US Armed Forces landed on Kerama Island, then on 1st April US troops landed on the Okinawa main island at Yomitan and Kadena Beaches and in the blink of an eye Okinawa was captured.

During more then 80 days of fighting in the Battle of Okinawa it is estimated that over 10,000 US Armed Forces personnel, approximately 90,000 Japanese Army personnel and as many as 150,000 Okinawan civilians were killed.

The number of Itoman City citizens who died in the war totaled 8,287, with 1,446 dying in Itoman Town, 1,547 in Kanegusuku Village, 1,521 in Takamine Village, 1,979 in Makabe Village, 625 in Kyan Village and 1,169 in Mabuni Village. Just under 40% of Itoman's population at the time lost their precious lives.

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The Reconstruction of Itoman from Rubble

Ishiki cave rescue


Civilians who were extricated from caves and tombs experienced time in concentration camps before being given permission to return to their homes. Sadly, in people's home towns precious lives had been lost and buildings had been reduced to rubble. Before long reconstruction of the old villages began. Reconstruction efforts focused on the Itoman township where Itoman District (Itoman City) was established, Nashiro where the Nanbu District was placed upon the remains of an American camp, and in the Komesu zone where Mawashi Village was placed. On 4th April 1946, the three villages of Makabe, Kyan and Mabuni, which had lost the most civilians, merged to form Miwa Village.

After the war school education was resumed without delay, and sports events that had been ruined by the war, such as track-and-field and baseball games, were enthusiastically held to boost community spirit.

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The Time of One Town and Three Villages

The west-side of the fishing port is reclaimed land made form dredged sand


In the 1950s energy was poured into reconstructing the old settlements in Itoman City region's one town and three villages. During the reconstruction of each settlement, the remains of numerous war dead were gathered and memorial towers were erected in various places.

In 1952 the Ryukyu Government was established and basic living conditions relating to politics, education, agriculture, fisheries, and industry were improved. On the Itoman coast a reclaimed land project began and with the completion of the Itoman Port a sea route to the outer islands was established. Suddenly Itoman stood out as having become the fastest developing area in the prefecture for commerce and industry.

The thatched hay roof school buildings that were erected after the war were one by one rebuilt as new concrete school buildings. In each town and village parent and child radio programs were started and towns, villages and agricultural cooperatives began active public relations campaigns. It was a period where post-war Okinawan society was transformed.

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Amalgamation - The Birth of the New Itoman Township

Ceremony to change the Miwa Village Hall sign to an Itoman Town Hall Miwa Branch Office sign


Itoman Town, Kanegusuku Village, Takamine Village and Miwa Village were all lacking in administrative and economic strength. In terms of area, population, industry and other aspects the self-governing bodies lacked adequate administrative structures. Thus, to make administrative management consistent and effective, and with the aim of creating a cultural industrial city, Itoman Town, Kanegusuku Village, Takamine Village and Miwa Village were abolished and the new Itoman Town was born on 1st October 1961.

The expansion of the Town's land area was planned and began with the first reclaimed land project at the mouth of the river on the north side of the Itoman Fishing Port, followed by the dredging of the Itoman Fishing Port and the second reclaimed land project to the west of the Fire Department.

In the fifth year after amalgamation the Town's budget broke through the US$1,000,000 mark and finally the Town's administration got on track. Also, the consolidation of social capital steadily progressed with the construction of the Ryukyu America Culture Center, and community centers being built in each community with funds from the US military government.

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Municipal System in Operation - Reversion to Japan

Itoman Rotary before traffic law changes


Ten years after amalgamation, on 1st December 1971, the municipal system was put into operation and Itoman had a fresh start as a city. Industry was promoted and various facilities were completed with the aim of improving Itoman's citizen's quality of life.

On 15th May 1972, Okinawa Prefecture was reborn with reversion to Japan after 37 years under US military control. Okinawan citizen's lives changed greatly, with even the currency changing from dollars to yen. Okinawans were overjoyed to host the Special National Wakanatsu Athletic Meet the year after the reversion in 1973, and the International Ocean Expo two years later in 1975.

The citizen's quality of life improved, ambition to produce swelled, industry fairs and other events grew and the first farmers rally regarding the price of sugarcane was held. Construction renovations to the Itoman Fishing Port and the fourth reclaimed land project also steadily progressed.

In 1977, dignified 33rd anniversary Buddhist memorial services for those who died in the Battle of Okinawa were held in Itoman's districts. In the following year, on 30th July 1978 all traffic laws in the prefecture were simultaneously changed. Until this time traffic had driven on the right-side of the road like in the USA. The laws were changed so that all traffic would drive on the left-side like on mainland Japan. The appearance of the streets around the Itoman Rotary also greatly changed.

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Reclaimed Land Area 4 & New Development

Development continues: Nishizaki Town


On 22nd May 1980 a permit for the Shiohira land reclamation project (reclaimed land project 4) was delivered to the Itoman Land Development Public Corporation. After four long years and at a total construction cost of 36,000,000,000 yen (US$ 2.8million), a large 286 hectare reclaimed land area was completed on 19th June 1984. Seafood industries (for instance fish canneries and fish cake factories) and medium-to-small scale factories were invited to set up on this new land. Real estate lots, public housing, education institutions and sports parks were also established on this new land. The new Nishizaki Town was born.

At the 1987 All-Japan National Athletic Meet the Nishizaki baseball stadium and gymnasium were used for the softball and badminton tournaments.

Now that Itoman's citizens were living comfortable lives the opportunity to consider peace, health and environmental problems arose. Itoman adopted the motto of "a town of hope, greenery and peace" and town planning evolved.

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Looking to the Future

Image of the New City Hall once completed


Commercial and cultural activity is growing with the main focus being on the area that was born upon reclaimed land project 4, Nishizaki Town. The Okinawa Senior Fisheries High School baseball team were quasi-champions in the All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Tournament for two consecutive years in 1990 and 1991, realizing a big dream and the hopes of Itoman's citizens.

By 1993 Itoman had recovered its vegetation that had vanished during the war and was once again covered in lush greenery. On 25th April 1993 Itoman, the site of the last confrontations during the Battle of Okinawa, received nationwide attention when their majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan attended the 44th All-Japan tree planting festival in Itoman. Also in that same year, on 1st December, Itoman declared itself a city of peace and a sister city agreement was signed with Tsuno Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu. Itoman and Tsuno have a special connection in that during WWII students from Itoman were evacuated to Tsuno Town by the Japanese Army. On 23rd June 1995 efforts to make Mabuni a base for praying for world eternal peace continued to progress with the erection of the "cornerstones of peace" , black granite pillars upon which the names of all those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, regardless of nationality or military or civilian status, are inscribed.

Itoman continues to develop in the 21st century with the recent completion of the Minamihama reclaimed land project and the new Itoman City Hall. Plans for the construction of a new City Concert Hall and state managed underground dams are progressing.

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