Although the Japanese government was hesitant to claim Yaeyama as an integral part of the Japanese territory, a significant number of settlers had been arriving on the islands since the 1880s. Many of these new immigrants began their own businesses, but some Japanese entrepreneurs rose to the challenge of undertaking land reclamation in Yaeyama. Among these endeavors, Nakagawa Toranosuke's project was the first and foremost development project conducted in the region.
Nakagawa Toranosuke was born into a well-established sugar manufacturing family in Tokushima Prefecture. The prefecture had been famous for its sugar during the Edo period, and Nakagawa's family was also celebrated for its traditional technology of producing quality white sugar. However, since a large quantity of good but cheaper sugar was imported from overseas in the 1860s, the domestic sugar industry, including Tokushima's manufactures, fell into decline. Nakagawa attempted to get through the crisis by developing modern agriculture and industry in Japan's new frontier. In March 1881, Nakagawa attended the Second Industrial Promotion Exhibition in Tokyo and noticed the good quality of Okinawan sugarcane. Attracted by the bigger sugarcane, Nakagawa visited the main island of Okinawa and Ishigaki Island with a plan to develop a sugar industry in Yaeyama in 1882 (Hattori 1963, 112-118).
After his visit to the main island of Okinawa and Ishigaki Island in 1882, Nakagawa made a request to the Okinawa prefectural government to reclaim land on Ishigaki Island. But the government rejected his request, claiming that it was too early for the Japanese Main Islanders to reclaim land on Yaeyama. This implied that the government was cautious about promoting the social integration of Yaeyama into the Main Islands because they were concerned about the existing local authorities as well as China’s reaction towards the government’s active involvement in reclamation. Nakagawa made another application to reclaim land on Ishigaki Island with nine colleagues in 1891, and this was immediately accepted by the local government of Yaeyama (Nakagawa 1896).
After the Okinawa prefectural government established the Regulations for Reclamation in Yaeyama (Yaeyama kaikon kisoku 八重山開墾規則) in 1891, not only Nakagawa but also other settlers from both the main island of Okinawa and the Japanese Main Islands applied for the official lease of the land in Ishigaki Island. Between 1891 and 1893, eighteen projects with 81 Okinawan and Japanese settlers were allowed to take approximately 385 hectares for reclamation. Some of them, however, did not start reclamation, and others gave up their projects at an early stage (Ichiki 1965, 599).