The Ryukyu Islands include more than 200 islands and islets-- some little more than coral outcrops--of which less than half are populated. They extend in a chain generally southwestward from the Tokara Strait, which separates them from the outlying islands of Kyushu, to within 120 kilometers of Taiwan. The Ryukyus are considered part of the Ryushu region but historically have been quite distinctively separate from the rest of the region.
The islands are the tops of mountain ranges along the outer edge of the continental shelf. They are generally hilly or mountainous, with active volcanos occurring mainly in the northern part of the archipelago. Okinawa is the largest and economically the most important of the Ryukyus. There is little industry, and the economy relies heavily on tourism. Northern Okinawa is quite rugged and forested, while the southern part consists of rolling hills. Although agriculture and fishing remained the occupations of most of the population in the Ryukyus, the region experienced considerable industrial expansion during the period of United States occupation from 1945 to 1972.
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