The next time I visit Okinawa, I am taking Robert Walker’s Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands along with me. If anything, because in the back of the book, tucked in a cover, is a large beautiful folded map of the various island groups that make up the Ryukyu islands, including a detailed full map of the main island of Okinawa. On this folded map are also detailed maps of of Naha city, the Motobu peninsula, and the southern part of the main island of Okinawa.
Robert Walker lived in Okinawa for 15 years, and during that time he visited every island from Kyushu to Yonaguni island (Yonagumijima) off the coast of Taiwan. He toured each island to see what the island was like, what life was like, and met many of the people who lived on the island. His observations and experiences are documented in this book. He talks about things that everybody knows about — and things that you may not know about. This is a very comprehensive and interesting book.
For instance, I always thought that Okinawa should look into the possibility of raising cattle to produce premium beef similar to Kobe beef. Via personal correspondence, I shared this thought with Mr. Walker, saying that the islands were perfectly suited for it. Mr. Walker wrote back and said that Okinawa already does that. “Look in my book. It’s called Ishigaki beef.”
Mr. Walker’s book begins with the Osumi Islands up north, just below Kyushu, and works all the way down to Yonaguni Island, Takara Islands, Amami Islands, main island of Okinawa, Miyako Islands (which Ishigaki Island is a part of), Yaeyama Islands (which Yonaguni island is a part of). No island is left out unless it happens to be only as large as your front yard. It even includes the islands east of Okinawa and west of Okinawa, the Kerama Islands and the Daito Islands.
There is a wonderful abundance of beautiful maps inside the book. For instance, in the beginning, there is an overall map of the Satsunan Islands. And then a more localized map of the Osumi Islands with a detailed discussion of each island in the group with beautiful photos accompanying the discussion.
Localized maps of the Tokara Islands and the Amami Islands are followed by discussions of each island in the respective group with many accompanying photos. This goes on for each group mentioned above. There are many maps like these throughout the book and many photos accompanying the discussion of each section.
You can tell that this was indeed Robert Walker’s labor of love. I sincerely believe that anyone who is planning to visit Okinawa should get a copy of his book. It might make you curious enough to go visit an island other than Okinawa and Yaeyama Islands. I found Amami-Oshima and Yakushima to be interesting and might even try to visit them someday.
Here is a very moving video about a giant Japanese cedar tree, the Jomon Sugi, on Yakushima just south of Kyushu.
If you are interested in getting Robert Walker’s Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, I believe it is available in the bookstore at the Okinawan Center in Waipio. If you cannot get there, the book is available on Amazon.com. If you happen to be in the Little Tokyo area of LA, or Japantown in San Francisco, Seattle, or NYC, or Shinjuku, Tokyo, or even Singapore, you might want to check out the Kinokuniya bookstores. Or you can wait for the next Honolulu Okinawan Festival. Robert Walker will surely be there to autograph it.