Weekly Shiritori #19

Last week’s post was about Randoseru (ランドセル), so this week I need to start with る (ru). I’ve discovered that it’s almost impossible to find a legitimate Japanese word beginning with “ru”, so I’ve really struggled to come up with something this week. In the end, I managed to think of something, though…

Ruuchuu (ルーチュー)

I’m almost cheating by using Ruuchuu as my word this week, but I couldn’t think of anything else. You might remember my recent post about the exhibition LOOCHOO ‘Time’, which showcased art and design pieces from Okinawa. The “LOOCHOO” in that exhibition title is one of the ways to spell Ruuchuu (ルーチュー) using Roman characters.

So, what exactly does Ruuchuu mean?

There is a chain of islands at the bottom of Japan that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan. They are: the Osumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima (Miyako and Yaeyama) islands, with Yonaguni (one of the Yaeyama islands) being the southernmost. The largest of the islands is Okinawa. These islands are collectively known as  the Ryukyu Islands (琉球諸島/Ryukyu-shoto), known in Japanese as the Nansei Islands (南西諸島/Nansei-shoto, literally “Southwest Islands”) and also known as the Ryukyu Arc (琉球弧 Ryukyu-ko). From about 1829 until the mid 20th century, Ryukyu was spelt Luchu, Loochoo, or Lewchew and the spelling in the Okinawan language was Ruuchuu (ルーチュー).


(Image source)

Here’s some more information about the Ryukyu Islands from Wikipedia:

The northern Ryukyus fall under the cultural sphere of Kyushu; the people are ethnically Japanese and speak the Osumi (Kagoshima) dialect of Japanese. The central and southern islands are characterized by coral reefs. The native population are collectively called Ryukyuans, and show a great degree of internal diversity. They speak the Ryukyuan languages, which are native to each island and distinct from one another. The outlying Daito Islands (大東諸島/Daito Shoto) were uninhabited until the 1900s, when their development was started mainly by people from the Izu Islands south of Tokyo, and speak a Hachijo dialect.

Administratively, the islands are divided into Kagoshima Prefecture in the north and Okinawa Prefecture in the south, with the divide between the Amami and Okinawa Islands, with the Daito Islands part of Okinawa Prefecture. The northern (Kagoshima) islands are collectively called the Satsunan Islands, while the southern part of the chain (Okinawa Prefecture) are called the Ryukyu Islands in Japanese.

It’s all a bit complicated, isn’t it? Basically, in English, the whole chain of islands is known as the Ryukyu Islands, but in Japanese the official name for the whole chain of islands is Nansei shoto (南西諸島). The name “Ryukyu” is generally considered to be outdated in Japanese, although it is used sometimes.

According to Wikipedia:

The word Ryukyu first appeared in the Book of Sui (636). Its obscure description of Liuqiu (流求) is the source of a never-ending scholarly debate over what was referred to by the name, Taiwan, Okinawa or both. Nevertheless the Book of Sui shaped perceptions of Ryukyu for a long time. Ryukyu was considered a land of cannibals and aroused a feeling of dread among surrounding people, from Buddhist monk Enchin, who travelled to Tang China in 858, to an informant of the Hyoto Ryukyu-koku ki, who travelled to Song China in 1243. Later, some Chinese sources used Great Ryukyu (大琉球, Da Liuqiu) for Okinawa and Lesser Ryukyu (小琉球, Xiao Liuqiu) for Taiwan. Although some dialectologists managed to find Okinawan forms of “Ryukyu”, Ruuchuu (ルーチュー) or Duuchuu (ドゥーチュー) in the Shuri-Naha dialect and Ruuchuu (ルーちュー) in the Nakijin dialect, it was not used among Okinawans. In English, until well into the late 19th century (Meiji period in Japan), the word “Ryukyu” was spelled Luchu, Loo-choo, or Lewchew. These spellings were based on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters for “Ryukyu”, which in Mandarin is Liúqiú, as well as the Okinawan language’s form of Ruuchuu.

So, as I said, this post is cheating a little bit because it’s actually about the Ryukyu Islands, and the word Ruuchuu isn’t used that much these days. I found it interesting that the people who put together the LOOCHOO ‘Time’ exhibition chose to use the word LOOCHOO. Perhaps they simply thought it would be easier to say in English – and it is!

I’ve never been to any of the Ryukyu Islands, so I did a fair bit of Googling while writing this post. One of my searches brought up Ryukyu Mura – a Ryukyu Kingdom period theme park on Okinawa Island, not far from Naha, and that led me to read more about the Ryukyu Kingdom and its castles.

(Image source)

This castle, above, which looks more like a temple, is Shurijo in Shuri, Okinawa. It was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in 1992. The official Shurijo website has a great page about the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom here. The other Ryukyu castles (Nakagusuku, Katsuren, Zakimi and nakijin) are just ruins now.

I’d love to go to Okinawa and the other Ryukyu islands someday, as the culture there seems quite different from the rest of mainland Japan. I think it would be a very relaxing place to visit, and I imagine it wouldn’t feel much like being in Japan at all.

Marker for Japan’s westernmost point, Cape Irizaki, on Yonaguni Island

(Image source)


Ruuchuu (ルーチュー) ends with チュー (chuu), so next week I can either use a noun beginning with チュ (chu) or ウ (u). The rules of shiritori state that if a word ends in a long vowel, you have the option of ignoring it or using the vowel, so that’s why I have two options next week. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん (or る, as I don’t think there’s anything else I can write about)!  (^_^)v

8 thoughts on “Weekly Shiritori #19

  1. Ah… I’d really like to visit these islands someday! The first thing that came to mind for “u” is unko, lol. Kids at school loved to draw it, you can find cell phone charms of it, etc. Lol.


  2. how about chu-hai! There are so many new flavours every season….or chuuka ryouri – I know it’s Chinese, but dishes like mabo tofu and chahan are so popular in Japan! or chuushoku (lunch) or chuui (caution) – there are so many cute safety signs everywhere!


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