Ryukyu Islands - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Ryukyu Islands are a group of over 100 islands between Japan and Formosa separating the East China Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The islands stretch southwest from the Japanese island of Kyushu and extend almost to Taiwan. Ryukyu Islands were an independent kingdom until 1372 AD when it became a tributary of the Ming Dynasty. In 1609 AD, Shimazu Tadatsune invaded Ryukyu and from that point on the kings of Ryukyus paid tribute to both the Japanese and Chinese rulers. Tribute relations with China were terminated in 1874. Chinese interest was formally terminated in 1895 with the Treaty of Shimonseki following its defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. Ryukyu Islands were occupied by American forces following World War II and the Americans controlled the island until it was reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972.
Philatelic Profile:
The first stamp issues of Ryukyu Islands were a set of seven stamps issued on July 1, 1948. The set (Scott #1a to #7a) is sought after and catalogs for around $550 MNH and around $425 Used. The designs show Cycad, Lily, Sailing Ship, and Farmer in single color multiple shades. The issue was followed by a by a second printing on July 18, 1949 and that set (Scott #1 to #7) is comparatively affordable at around $25 MNH and a little less for Used. This latter set is distinguished by white gum on white paper compared to yellow gum on grayish paper for the first printing.
Other issues of Ryukyu Islands include:
  1. A set of six stamps released on January 21, 1950. The set (Scott #8 to #13) catalogs for around $70 MNH and around $35 Used. The designs show Tile Rooftop and Shishi, Ryukyu girl, Shuri Castle, Guardian Dragon, Two Women, and Sea Shells. A few overprints from this set appeared during the period till 1952 and many varieties exist. Some of them are very rare and valuable. A First Day Cover was also released soon after on February 12, 1951 to mark the opening of Ryukyu University and that (Scott #14) catalogs for around $60 MNH and around $25 Used. A variety of the cover featuring an imprint block of six is very rare cataloging for around $450.
  2. A set of two stamps released on September 1, 1964 to mark the opening of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan microwave system carrying telephone and telegraph messages. The set (Scott #122 to #123) is inexpensive and catalogs for under $2 MNH or Used. The designs show Shuri Relay Station and Parabolic Antenna and Map. The set is significant in that the issues were released with a ‘1964’ black overprint over 1963 which is struck out – the overprints signify the fact that the station was open in 1964 as opposed to the targeted 1963 date. Missing overprints are known to exist and they are very rare and valuable cataloging in the $3.5K range. Inverted overprints and other overprint shift varieties also exist. Similar overprint errors are also known to exist on a few other issues including Scott #192 (issue to mark the 70th anniversary of Ryukyu-Hawaii emigration led by Kyuzo Toyama) and Scott #190.
  3. A set of three stamps released between 1964 and 1965 in the ‘Karate’ theme. The set (Scott #125 to #127) is also inexpensive cataloging in the dollar range for MNH or Used. The designs show ‘Naihanchi’, ‘Makiwara’, and ‘Kumite’ stances. Karate along with the martial art forms of Tegumi and Okinawan Kobudo originated in the Ryukyu Islands.
Numismatic Profile:
The first coins of Ryukyu Islands date back to 1450 when Akugani (copper) coins were created. Mintages are low for coins of the period. Chinese and Japanese coins were also used in Ryukyu. This included the Bitasen coins of Japan that were re-minted and circulated on a string in quantities of 50 to 100 in Ryukyu. By 1879, following the annexation of the Ryukyus by Japan, Japanese currency replaced local coinage. Following World War II, Ryukyu Islands used a Military Scrip called ‘B yen’. The ‘B’ designation comes from the fact that immediately after WWII, a different scrip called “A type yen” was used exclusively by the US military. The B yen was replaced by the US dollar on September 16, 1958.
Collectible Memorabilia:
Kimonos, Okinawan Koza Yaki and other handmade Pottery, Themed Sake Decanters, etc form some of the collectible memorabilia from the Islands.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

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