Luchu-pronounced Dūchū by the natives and Ryūkyū by the Japanese-is, in its widest acceptation, the general name of several groups of islands which stretch nearly the whole way between the Southernmost outlying islets of the Japanese archipelago and the North-Eastern extremity of Formosa. But it is usually restricted in practice to the central group, the chief members of which are Amami-Ōshima and Okinawa. This group is of coral formation, and lies between 127° and 130° long. east of Greenwich, and between 26° and 28° 30′ of North lat. To this position it owes a mild climate, marred only by the extreme violence of occasional typhoons during the summer months. The soil is so fertile as to produce two crops of rice yearly.
In race and language the Luchuans are closely allied to the Japanese, but for many centuries the two peoples seem not to have communicated with each other. The veil lifts in A.D. 1187 with the accession of King Shunten, said to have been a son of Tametomo, the famous Japanese archer. It is recorded that the Luchuans first sent an ambassador with presents to the Shōgun of Japan in the year 1451, that they discontinued such presents or tribute at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and were chastised for this neglect by the then Prince of Satsuma.
Luchu continued to be a sub-fief of Satsuma, but with a ruler bearing the title of King, until the time of the Japanese revolution of 1868. Meanwhile the Luchuans, who had obtained their civilisation from China, also paid tribute to the Chinese Court, and received investiture for their kinglets from Peking. The little kingdom thus faced two ways, so that trouble was bound to ensue. An embassy was sent to Tōkyō in 1878, to endeavour to arrange matters in such wise that the double protectorate might be maintained,-China being, as the envoys said, honoured by the Luchuans as their father, and Japan as their mother. But the Japanese Government refused to admit this claim. The Luchuan king was brought captive to Tōkyō in 1879, and the archipelago was organised into a Japanese prefecture under the title of Okinawa-Ken. This change, though intensely disagreeable to the little insular Court and aristocracy, who forfeited most of their privileges, is believed to have been beneficial to the people at large.
The Luchuans-even the men-are distinguished in appearance by a top-knot of hair, through which they pass a large pin or skewer of gold, silver, or copper, according to their rank. Formerly corpses, instead of being interred at once, were left to decay either in a provisional grave or in a stream of water, and it was only after three years that the last funeral rites were performed. This custom has happily fallen into disuse. The capital of Luchu is Shuri, whose port is Nafa, called Okinawa by the Japanese. The chief products are rice and sugar, the latter of which is the main staple of commerce. The area of the islands has been roughly estimated at 1,000 square miles; and the population is 453,000. The Luchus may easily be reached from Kōbe via the Inland Sea and Kagoshima. The steamer first visits the island of Amami-Ōshima, and then proceeds to Nafa, where it stops three days. The round trip from Kōbe and back takes seventeen days.
Books recommended - The Luchu Islands and their Inhabitants, by B. H. Chamberlain , published in "The Geographical Journal" for April, May, and June, 1895.-Essay in Aid of a Grammar and Dictionary of the Luchuan Language, by the same, printed as Supplement to Vol. XXIII. of the "Asiatic Transactions."