Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Okinawan Sugar

The land resources of the Ryukyus is extremely limited. Agricultural production has always been severely hampered by the restricted water supply, severe typhoons, and other climatic factors in Okinawa. In the golden era, and even in the period of Satsuma domination, the islands agricultural resources needed to be supplemented by profits from maritime commerce. After formal annexation by Japan, the steadily increasing population became entirely dependent on their meager domestic resources. The Japanese government established several programs as a result to meet this critical economic problem.

One of the most extensive of all the economic programs undertaken by the government was the intensive development and conservation of natural resources on Okinawa. Their greatest progress was made in the development of the sugar industry. Sugar cane in fact, was the farmers only significant cash crop and after 1920 nearly twenty five percent of all cultivated land was planted in sugar cane. Sugar cane accounted for sixty five percent of the total value of Ryukyuan industrial production and exports.

Noren Daiichi Sugar Mill

The Ryukyuan Sugar Industry has a history dating back three hundred years and was a major source of revenue to Ryukyuan farmers in the prewar years. The first centrifugal sugar mill began operating in the Ryukyu Islands in 1908 in Nishihara-ken. The original plant was called the Noren Daiichi Sugar Mill. Subsequently, additional plants would be built at Kadena, Ie Shima, and Minami Daito. All were completely demolished during the battle for Okinawa and for sometime after the war the farmers paid little attention to the cultivation of sugar cane. This was primarily because every one was busy increasing production of foods to sustain life and not concentrating on sugar. In 1947 though the Government, as well as the inhabitants of the southern municipalities on the island began to realize that complete rural rehabilitation could only be achieved through the development of the sugar industry.
At first the military government took a negative attitude toward the resumption of sugar cane cultivation because of its policy to accelerate production of other foods. However it finally concurred in resuming sugar cane cultivation in Minami-Daito and issued a license to Daito Sugar Manufacturing Company to begin operation in January 1948. In 1951, the Ryukyu Sugar Manufacturing Company was established in Haebaru with modern equipment imported from Hawaii. Since that time the military government has invited experts from Hawaii and the United States mainland to survey the Ryukyu Islands regarding the acceleration of the sugar industry. Because of these efforts, sugar cane cultivation has flourished.
From Nakijin at the northern extremity of the Motobu peninsula, to Gushikami at the southern tip of Okinawa, the canes in the fields stand three meters tall in the many areas during the month of November. At that time they are heavy and damp with the sweet fluid from which sugar is made. The flower a top the long stalks has turned from green to yellow as the sugar content approaches its maximum. Soon the flowers will turn from yellow to white to signal the end of another 18 month cycle. In a matter of days the cane will be fully ripened and the sugar harvest will begin.
More than seventy five percent of the seasons (November through April) total harvest will go to the Ryukyu Islands ten centrifugal mills which produce white sugar. Miyako has two centrifugal mills. Ishigaki and Daito have one each. On Okinawa there are two mills at Nishihara-son, and one each at Haebaru-son, Itoman, Gushikawa-son and Nakijin-son.
Since the manufacture of sugar is such an important industry in the Ryukyus, it is advisable to visit more than one plant during the season in order to grasp the volume of production and employment. On this tour we will visit the sugar mill which is located in Nishihara-son on highway 13. The mill was established in 1959. It is owned and operated by the Ryukyu Federation of Agricultural Cooperative. On this tour we will follow 80 metric tons of cane being processed through the mill.
A giant iron claw, operated from an overhead crane, picks up the cane, a metric ton at a time, and drops it into a hopper. The cane falls from the hopper onto cutters which cut it into 15 centimeter lengths. Then it automatically passes to a second cutter and then through a shredder which tears the cane into smaller frayed particles. The shredded cane then moves rapidly through a series of four “mill rolls’ each of which squeezes the cane between heavy rollers. Beneath the mill rolls is a tank which receives the juice from the shredded cane as it is compressed between the rollers. After the cane leaves the first, second, and third mill rolls, it is saturated with water to assist in extracting all possible sugar content from the cane. It then passes through a fourth mill roll. By this point it has by then become thoroughly pulverized and a dry residue remains on the fourth roll. This is utilized as fuel for the furnaces which produce the steam to operate the mill.
The tank beneath the mill rolls has now accumulated 80 metric tons of juice from the cane. This includes the added water which amounts to about 15 per cent of the total solution. The juice is heated and piped into another tank where a lime solution is added which changes the juice from an acid to a slightly alkali solution. Then, to neutralize the alkali, a small amount of sulfur dioxide is introduced into the tank, it is desirable that the juice be as neutral as possible. If it is allowed to remain slightly acid or slightly alkali, the ultimate quality of the sugar would be adversely affected.
Next the juice flows from the neutralizing tank into vats where it sets while impurities settle to the bottom. The clear fluid then flows to a clarified juice tank while the impure “mud” juice from the bottom of the vats flows through a filter and then back into the clarified juice tank. The clarified juice then flows to a series of evaporating tanks where it is heated and allowed to evaporate until it becomes heavy, thick syrup containing very little water. What was previously 80 kilos of juice and water is now 8.24 kilos of syrup.
Finally, the heavy syrup flows into the centrifugal vats which spin at a rate of 1,200 revolutions per minute. As the vats spin centrifugal action forces the last bit of moisture out of the syrup, which, minus its moisture content, becomes dry, white sugar crystals. The moisture that is thus extracted drips from the bottom of the centrifugal vats while the white sugar is conveyed up to a storage bin. What was once 8.24 kilos of syrup is now 1.84 kilos of white sugar. Or, by weight, 2.4 metric tons of exhaust molasses and 916 metric tons of white sugar.
The sugar pours from the storage bin into clean, white sacks of 8 kilogram net capacity. Exactly 320 sacks are filled, sewn shut and stacked in the packing room to await shipment to market.

The preceding information was taken from a book I purchased called Okinawa at work. The book is from 1965 so a lot of the information is out dated and reflects the views of the Gaijin's who wrote it but I felt it a worthy resource for accomplishing my goal here with this blog of providing historical information about the islands and people of Okinawa. What I remember most about Okinawan sugar is the sweet smell of what I would describe as carmel corn in the air whe the mills were operating. The two I remember most were near Katsuren and in Nishihara. The viewpoint of the american who wrote the book focused on the production of white sugar but obviously there is more benefit in using the so called Black sugar with all its nutrients and vitamin properties. The Okinawans have always known this and Black sugar is a staple in Okinawan cookery. White sugar however was one of the resources that helped the Okinawan economy recover after the war and proves the fortitude of the Okinawan people in being able to sucessfully farm it.

It was one of the toughest days I can remember the day my father in law asked me to come help with the harvest of his sugarcane. Al I did was carry tied bundles of cane from the field to the street where we stacked it in anticipation of a huge dump truck showing up with a claw that would lift the cane bundles up into the truck. I was never so tried in all my life as after that day.


  1. As a sugar historian it is obscure information such as what you posted that brings a large smile to our face.
    A South Texas sugarcane agriculturalist

    1. Your comment put a smile on my face too! Didn't know they were growing cane in south Texas either.

  2. You might enjoy my new book then, Life Is Sweet: The Story of a Sugarcane Field on Ishigaki Island!