From The Ryukyuanist: A Newsletter on Ryukyuan/Okinawan Studies, No. 61, Autumn 2003

By Kozy Amemiya

Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity
Edited by Glenn D. Hook and Richard Siddle
Sheffield Centre for Japanese Studies
London; New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003, 255 pp.

Looking back at the 1960s when I spent my formative years growing up in Japan as an ordinary mainland Japanese, I remember Okinawa as a peculiar place in my view of the world. Okinawa then was too exotic for me to think of it as part of Japan, and yet not exotic enough as one of “others” in Asia. Thus Okinawa had fallen through the cracks of my consciousness between Japan and Asia, between us and them. Although I was aware of the Okinawa Reversion Movement within Japan at the time, neither the movement nor Okinawa really spoke to me then because I thought the movement was being taken up mostly by left-wing political parties for their own political agenda. Not knowing where to place Okinawa in my worldview, I simply put it away from my consciousness—until 1995.

In 1995 the abduction and rape of a 12-year old girl by US servicemen and the subsequent uproar of the Okinawan people drew the attention for the first time of many ordinary mainland Japanese, Americans and other peoples in the world to the plight of Okinawa and the Okinawans. I realized then that what forty years ago appeared to me as “peculiar” about Okinawa—neither completely part of Japan nor really outside it—was actually the heart of the matter regarding Okinawa. Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity explores this core issue of Okinawa with vigorous analysis and utmost sensitivity.

The purpose of this volume is twofold. One is to situate Okinawa’s political economy in the global, regional and national order and examine the structural constraints they impose upon Okinawa. Throughout modern history, Okinawa has been pushed into a marginal existence in the realm of Japanese imperialism and subordinated to Japan’s needs. The other is to explore how the Okinawans have responded, coped with, or resisted these structural constraints and what strategies they have taken as their relationships with external forces evolved. The chapters in this volume, contributed by twelve authors, divided into two parts, focusing on structure and subjectivity, respectively, cover a wide spectrum of external constraints placed upon Okinawa in the modern and contemporary eras and shed light on a remarkable range of aspects inside and outside of Okinawa. Taken as a whole, the collection of thoughtful discussions presents a dynamic picture of the interplay between the structures of constraint and the ways in which the Okinawans think under these constraints who they are, how they want to live, and what they want for their children. The picture presented here conveys the complexity of the situations of Okinawa, through which the Okinawans have lived and struggled to create their own identity and their own strategies to take control of their lives.

In the first chapter following the Introduction, Furuki Toshiaki sets the frame of discussions in this volume. He examines the historical transformation of Okinawa’s place in a “world system” that would encompass East Asia, by expanding Immanuel Wallerstein’s “world system” theory, and finds Okinawa currently in the US-centric system. In order to envision a new system to overcome the current situation, Furuki suggests a system based on the notion of Okinawa as a frontier full of vitality and significance, rather than a marginal region of little relevance to the central government. An idea of turning Okinawa into a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) is one possibility of applying the frontier notion in practice. Analyzing the intertwining of globalization and regionalization processes and Okinawa’s responses, Glenn Hook discusses the difficulties Okinawa faces, with the bureaucracy of the national government with their resistance to Okinawa becoming a fully fledged FTZ, together with some within Okinawa whose interests are at risk with the central government.

The focal point of the structure of Okinawa’s subordination is the U.S. military, which has occupied Okinawa from after World War II through the Cold War into the current post-reversion eras. The continuing concentration of the U.S. bases is an outcome of what Gabe Masaaki terms in Chapter 4 the triangular relationship of Okinawa with the United States and Japan, in which the two giants at the top are looming over Okinawa. Okinawa is held down under the mutually beneficial relationship between the United States that militarily dominates East Asia, or the world for that matter, and Japan that shoulders the financial cost of maintaining the U.S. bases. Payoff for Okinawa is public works. But public works have not helped Okinawa achieve self-reliance nor healthy development. Most of the public works in Okinawa are closely aligned with military operations. Without a viable alternative to the FTZ plan and with the stiff resistance of the central government to any plan to turn Okinawa self-reliant, Okinawa’s economy has been made more and more dependent on the national government’s public works, which have had a devastating impact on Okinawa’s pristine environment. At the end, as Gavan McCormack argues in Chapter 6, Okinawa has ended up with all the problems associated with Japan’s development in the modern era. These chapters demonstrate that Okinawa’s subordinate relationship is perpetuated in Japan’s national structure.

The terrorist incident of September 11, 2001, has exacerbated Okinawa’s situation. As several contributors (Gabe, Hook and Siddle) point out, the 9/11 incident reinforced for the U.S. military strategists the importance of keeping the U.S. bases in Okinawa, thus making it harder to realize Okinawans’ demand to reduce the size of the U.S. presence. Both governments of the United States and Japan are now pulling Okinawa in a direction opposite to Okinawans’ wishes. Under these circumstances, Chalmers Johnson points out in one of the latest articles elsewhere that even conservative governor Inamine Keiichi is showing his frustration in recent months. Former Governor Ota Masahide fought hard for getting a reduction of the US bases, but he was shunned and his pleas were unheeded by the Japanese government. In the gubernatorial election campaign of 1998, LDP-candidate Inamine advocated a more gradual reduction of the U.S. military bases than Ota’s plan. Backed by the LDP-controlled national government with promises of massive aid money to Okinawa if Inamine were elected, Inamine defeated incumbent Ota. Once elected, Inamine seemed to reciprocate the support he had received from Tokyo and was willing to appease the central government, as discussed by Julia Yonetani in Chapter 11 in the case of the Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum. If Johnson is correct about Inamine’s hardening attitude towards Japan’s central government regarding the US military bases, the shift in the governor’s stance is a sign that the pressure on Okinawa to submit to the global order imposed by the United States and Japan is so intense that even a conservative LDP governor is compelled to move closer to a former governor’s anti-base position. It also indicates, as this book strives to show, an evolutionary process of interaction between such external forces and Okinawans’ subjectivity.

Women in Okinawa are forced to pay a particularly high price for the dependent nature of Okinawa’s relationship to the US military. However, they are not passive victims. Rather, they are actors vital to the dynamic anti-base movement, as Miyume Tanji illustrates in Chapter 9. Since 1995, women’s political activism has been integrated into the “Okinawa Struggle,” which had been dominated by male activists and participants. Women’s participation has widened the support base for the anti-base movement inside and outside Okinawa and transformed the nature of the anti-base movement. Now, male activists comment that women are “the most ‘energetic’ forces of today’s Okinawan anti-base movement” (p.183). At the same time, Tanji points out that women are still subjected to a patriarchal order in many local communities of Okinawa, which compels women activists in Okinawa to employ certain strategies using the notions associated with “Okinawan women.” Tanji’s discussion of women’s political participation presents a picture of Okinawan women that is more profound than the commonly held but little examined one that Okinawan women are strong. It also sheds light on another aspect of Okinawans’ struggle against the condition to which Okinawa is subjugated and on how it permeates the subjectivity of Okinawans and brings about strategies to resist and overcome the imposition of the status as a marginal people.

Out of the continuous resistance to their forced integration to Japan’s national order, a Uchinânchu identity has emerged. It overlaps with the national identity (Nihonjin), but symbolizes “a separate ‘people’ or ‘nation’ (minzoku), or, at the very least, an ethnic minority” and thus can be a political tool towards the acquisition of ethnic self-determination (Siddle, 133). It is by no means monolithic, and Richard Siddle discusses its multiplicity. He also demonstrates, based on the premise that ethnicity is socially and culturally constructed, not inherent in a people, that the Uchinânchu identity is constantly evolving both in time and in application. The Uchinânchu identity also helps the Okinawans build their global network of Okinawans at home and as emigrants, as Yoko Sellek notes in her discussion of Okinawan emigration. In another attempt to show the diversity of the Okinawans, Christopher Aldous examines the Koza Uprising of 1970, and Michael Molasky analyzes Arakawa Akira, poet and social critic, both breaking down the stereotype of the Okinawan as gentle, friendly, passive, and compliant—in short, “the ideal colonial subject” (Molasky, 225).

The editors of this volume conclude that many of the chapters “provide deep insight into the complex, overlapping and entangled ways in which Okinawans have refused and resisted these impositions, or accepted and complied with them on their own terms” (p.241). The complexity and the diversity of the Okinawan responses to the external and internal constraints depicted and analyzed in this volume avoid reifying Okinawa and the Okinawans. Overall, this book succeeds in presenting dynamic pictures of Okinawans in various spheres in pursuit of their self-reliance and self-determination.

Lastly, I must confess I am puzzled by the title, Japan and Okinawa. After all, this volume is about Okinawa and the Okinawans, focusing on Okinawa’s subordinate relationship with Japan, and so why not Okinawa and Japan, instead? The title Japan and Okinawa implies a study of the relationship between Japan and Okinawa with analysis of both in equal weight or at least more analysis of Japan than provided by this volume. Perhaps the title has some deep significance I failed to grasp. If so, a brief explanation in the Introduction would have helped me understand it.

At the same time, the title made me realize how little Japan and the Japanese in the relationship with Okinawa have been taken up and analyzed. Study of Japan and the Japanese that would mirror the discussions in this volume—that is, analyses of how Japan’s political economy is structured to inhibit Okinawa’s development for self-reliance, and how such structure interacts with the views and attitudes of the mainland Japanese towards Okinawa and Okinawans—is much wanted. Particularly Japanese consciousness of Okinawa awaits vigorous analysis. Even when the Japanese identity is examined, it is often vis-à-vis the West. Rarely do the Japanese look at themselves vis-à-vis ethnic minorities inside Japan. It appears that Okinawan identity is forged vis-à-vis the Japanese through the Okinawan struggles while Japanese identity is being shaped vis-à-vis other nationals, ignoring Okinawans. This matter should be scrutinized and analyzed. The utter shortage of such work reflects Japanese indifference to Okinawa and Okinawan experiences. Unfortunately, it appears that Okinawa is still remaining in the cracks of consciousness of the Yamatonchu.


Kozy Amemiya is a member of the JPRI Board of Advisors and the author of numerous articles on Okinawan immigration in Bolivia. Her work includes “The Bolivian Connection: U.S. Bases and Okinawan Emigration” in Okinawa: Cold War Island (JPRI 1999), “Land, Culture and Power of Money: Assimilation and Resistance of Okinawan Immigrants in Bolivia” in Encounters: Peoples of Asian Descent in the Americas (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), and “The ‘Labor Pains’ of Forging a Nikkei Community: A Study of the Santa Cruz Region in Bolivia” in New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America in Japan (Stanford University Press, 2002).


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