Okinawan food is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a good balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Although rice is a staple food, pork, seaweed, rich miso (fermented soybean) pastes, and black sugar all feature prominently in native cuisine. Most famous to tourists is the bitter melon, gōya, which is often mixed into a rice dish called gōya champurū. The taste of goya can best be described as an acquired taste by some, but others will describe its unique flavor as one that is approximated by no other vegetable, as it has the taste of "a demon's bitter toenails".
Native Uchinā religion places strong emphasis upon the role of the women in the community, with women holding positions as shamans and guardians of the home and hearth. Shi-shi lion dog statues can often be seen on or in front of houses—this relates to the ancient Uchina belief that the male spirit is the spirit of the outside and the female spirit is the spirit of the inside. To prevent the negative interaction or conquering of the inside spirit by the outside, the male spirits will go into the shi-shi statues while the man is inside and enter him again when he leaves. Most Okinawans are not serious adherents to this religion anymore, but many older Uchinanchu try to teach about the old ways, including dances and the language.
Uchinānchu are known as a peaceful people and have always considered the arts and music as more honorable than combat skills, but if need be they will defend their honour. This can be evidenced by the revelation that, in feudal Japan, it was almost mandatory to show martial awareness by keeping a daishō (matched pair of large and small swords) in the tokonoma (living room alcove), but Uchinanchu always had a sanshin (a sort of Asian guitar or lute) in their tokonoma.
In modern times, the old dances and songs are making a resurgence as young Uchinanchu and even foreigners with mixed blood get more into their unique culture. Once again the sanshin and chants can be heard over fires at the festivals.
During the occupation by Japan in the mid-15th–16th centuries, the Uchinanchu were completely disarmed of all bladed weapons by the Japanese (who feared revolt). The techniques of self-defense and using farm tools as weapons against armed opponents—called Karate by today's martial artists—was created totally by Uchinanchu who probably incorporated some gong fu and native techniques from China into a complete system of attack and defense known simply as Te (literally meaning "hand(s)," but with a strong connotation of "manoeuvre(s)"). These martial arts varied slightly from town to town, and were named for their towns of origin, examples being Naha-te (currently known as Goju-Ryu), Tomari-te and Shuri-te. These martial arts are also making a resurgence in Okinawa as young people once again look to their ancient past for a proud tradition of self-defense and inner calm.
After World War II, the Ryukyus, like the rest of Japan, were occupied by the U.S., but the U.S. maintained control of Okinawa even after the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, which went into effect on April 28, 1952. Many soldiers stationed in the Ryukyu islands during World War II took aboriginal brides with them once the war ended. Twenty years later, in 1972, the Ryukyus were returned to Japan. Perceived discrimination against Ryukyuans by mainland Japanese is the cause of some resentment. Furthermore, due in part to the intense fighting in the islands during World War II, many Ryukyuans are strongly anti-military. Okinawa comprises just 0.6% of Japan's total land mass, yet U.S. military bases use about 10% of all the land in the Ryukyus, including 18.8% of the land on Okinawa Island itself. Many feel that they bear more than their fair share of the U.S.-Japan security alliance, and the presence of the military remains an issue in local politics.
The kinship between the Ryukyuan languages and the Japanese language suggests a common origin in the language of immigrants from continental Asia to the archipelago.. This is however controversial and not widely accepted. See the articles on the Yayoi and Kofun cultures for more.