Geographical review of Japan series A
Online ISSN : 2185-1751
Print ISSN : 1883-4388
Historical and Political Background of Geographic Names in the Nansei Shoto Area
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2009 Volume 82 Issue 4 Pages 300-322


Nansei Shoto is a common geographic name used in maps to refer to the area between Kyushu Island and Formosa Island, while the term Ryukyu Rettou is more often used in scientific papers. In addition to Nansei Shoto, the terms Ryukyu Shoto, Satsunan Shoto, and other geographic names are also used in tiers in this area. This paper describes the development of these tiered geographic names and the process of their establishment in Japanese society. The geographic names in this area were basically given by the Hydrographic Department of the Japanese Navy in the Meiji era and have been used continuously to the present. The name Satsunan Shoto alone comes from the private sector and has taken root. The established geographic names entered common usage through their appearance in geography textbooks and atlases, and a textbook screening system has played an important role in unifying several patterns of use in geography books.
The Amami Shoto area used to belong to the Ryukyu Kingdom before its occupation by the Satsuma domain (one of the most powerful feudal domains in Tokugawa Japan) in the early 17th century. Even after the islands were ceded to the Satsuma domain, they were disguised to other countries as Ryukyu territory and were treated as an ambiguous border area. When a dispute over Ryukyu possession arose between Japan and China around 1880, the Japanese government started using the geographic name Ryukyu Shoto to refer to the area south of the Okinawa Shoto area (not including the Amami Shoto area). After the establishment of the term Satsunan Shoto to refer to the area north of the Amami Shoto area, the concept of dividing the Nansei Shoto area into the two regions of Satsunan Shoto and Ryukyu Shoto became common.
During and after the Second World War, the US military intended to treat the “Ryukyu Islands” as the area south of the Amami Shoto area and to govern them as an area of ethnologic unity independent of the Japanese mainland. Consequently, the geographic name came to be used politically as a device to separate Japan's national lands.
Although the Geographical Survey Institute standardized the geographic names in the Nansei Shoto area in 1954 and those in geography textbooks were also standardized, other geographic names are often used in scientific papers when indicating points common to Amami Shoto and Okinawa Shoto areas.
Geographic names in the Nansei Shoto area should be used after consideration of the historical and political background of each.

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© 2009 The Association of Japanese Geographers
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