When the Japanese government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom, absorbing it into Japan as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, most Okinawans on the mainland were merchants of locally grown and handcrafted goods. Large-scale migration began around 1900 with the development of Japan’s modern textile industry, centered in Greater Osaka. Thousands came from the nation’s poorest prefecture, mostly young women and teenage girls from farming villages, to work under contract in factories. Most stayed temporarily, typically for three years, often working and living in oppressive conditions, and sending a portion of their wages back to help support their families.
Okinawan migration to the mainland increased rapidly with the outbreak of World War I which boosted demand for Japanese products, enormously benefiting the economy. What was known as the “World War I boom” shook the nation’s industries out of their recession doldrums. With Japan on their side in that war, the Allies deluged Japanese manufacturers with orders for munitions and supplies. Furthermore, with industries in America and Europe on wartime production regimens, Japanese manufacturers were able to displace them in large sectors of the consumer market in Japan and in other Asian countries.
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