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Damaged by a typhoon in 1945
This photo belongs to the Okinawa Prefectural Archives

Okinawa has incredible typhoons. According to Japanese records, the worst ones were the Second Miyako Island typhoon in 1966, with a recorded wind speed of 85.3 m/s, and the Third Miyako Island typhoon two years later at 79.8 m/s. In Naha, the record was 73.6 m/s. In terms of rainfall, the tenth typhoon of 1985 poured up to 510.0 mm of rain onto Miyako Island.

Since the Okinawans have experienced the wrath of these violent storms, it is admirable how they prepare themselves. They are not needlessly intimidated; they know how to gauge the power of a typhoon and act accordingly. Even in old wooden homes, nothing, in particular, has to be done for winds up to 25 m/s. If the winds exceed 30 m/s, you need nails and rope to fasten the sliding storm shutters securely. If the shutters fly off, the wind will blow into the house and take the whole roof away. You also have to cover up the knotholes in the sliding storm shutters. You might dismiss it as nothing but a little hole, but the rain blowing through will unexpectedly cause a lot of damage. The tatami mats near the sliding storm shutters need to be raised and stacked further inside the house. In the fields, sugar cane must be tied together with rope to avoid being knocked down by the wind. In the case of the basho plant, the leaves are cut off and only the trunk is saved. The banana trees are treated the same way, and the fruits will not be as plentiful for some time after the storm. In terms of the vegetables and sweet potatoes, you just have to give up and leave them be. 

Typhoons are not just an annoyance, however. Even with the damage it wreaks all over the Okinawa islands, water shortage1 is even worse as an island. The Okinawans heavily depend on the rains from the typhoons to sustain themselves from the end of the rainy season to the beginning of autumn, so their relationship with these storms is rather complicated. Although it depends on the path of the typhoon, in Naha, it is said that one typhoon will bring an average of 110 mm of rain. 

Once, I happened to be in Naha when a typhoon hit. It was a golden opportunity, so I thought I would watch it from somewhere with a good view. After giving it some thought, I decided to head to Katsuren Castle. From there, you can see the road that stretches over the water to Henza Island. Since it is on higher ground, the winds would probably be strong, so I would have to climb carefully. I didn’t think much of it — if it became too dangerous, I could come back. However, when I called to rent a car, my request was turned down for no other reason than, “no rentals due to the typhoon.” The danger of typhoons is not to be underestimated, and it was clear that the Okinawans’ were absolutely serious in preparing themselves to face the storm. I had no choice but to walk to Shuri, clad in mountain climbing rain gear with rubber sandals on my feet. The storm was incredible.

  1. At the time of the Reversion in 1972, water restriction was conducted almost every year. In 1981~1982, the restriction continued for 326 days which is a national record, and after then as well, crises arrived a few times. However the situation was ameliorated along with the improvement in the exploitation of water resources, hence restrictions have disappeared in recent years.