The Ryukyu Islands are a subtropical Japanese island chain in the East China Sea, running southwesterly for about 700 miles (1,127 kilometres) between Kyushu, one of the main Japanese islands, towards Taiwan. The more northerly islands are part of Kyushu's Kagoshima prefecture, while the others form Okinawa prefecture. The largest is Okinawa Island.
The equivalent of 'Ryukyu Islands' is not often used in Japanese to refer to the entire chain of islands. Ryuukyuu Shotoo (琉球諸島) means the islands in Okinawa prefecture, while those of Kagoshima are called the Satsunan Islands (薩南諸島 Satsunan Shotoo). Okinawa, meanwhile, is also used to refer to all the islands of the prefecture, or just the main Okinawa island. The complete chain of islands is called Nansei Shotoo (南西諸島 'Southwest Islands') in Japanese.
The Ryukyu Islands are linked to other parts of Japan and international ports by ferries and regular flights; the islands are a popular tourist destination, particular for visitors from more northerly islands of Japan.
The islands are also home to the speakers of the Ryukyuan languages (琉球語 Ryuukyugo), part of the Japonic language family; these eleven languages are related to Japanese, and some Japanese people may consider them Japanese dialects, but they are not mutually comprehensible with modern Japanese. The Ryukyuans, or Uchinanchu (ウチナンチュ in the Japanese script), are a separate ethnic group within Japan.