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Posts Tagged ‘沖縄’


Following up on my recent post on the relatively current controversy over a new director of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, I’ve just come across and begun reading an article from several years ago, discussing the planning and proposals that went into organizing and establishing this new Okinawa Prefectural Museum back in 2007.

Left: The opening page of the section of the Jan 2008 issue of Bijutsu Techô, including several very brief articles on various aspects of the Okinawa art scene.

I’m sure there is still a great deal to the narrative that I am missing, but thought I would share just an overview/summary of what I’ve found from this article, entitled 「紆余曲折の果てに」 (uyokyokusetsu no hate ni, “At the End of Twists and Turns”), written by Prof. Kobayashi Junko of the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, and published in the prominent arts periodical Bijutsu Techô (vol 60, issue 903), January 2008.

In my original research about the museum a year and a half ago, I searched for news articles or other materials that might provide insights into any kind of controversies or conflicts that might have occurred surrounding the planning and design of the museum. Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard, or very widely or deeply, but the places I did look – mainly the Okinawan newspapers Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times – I didn’t find anything. Why I didn’t read this Bijutsu Techô article earlier, even though I had it in hand, I don’t know. … Of course, I should have expected that museum would not discuss such things in its own publications, but only put a positive PR spin on everything, hiding any controversies or conflicts and pretending everything is sunny all the time always. But what I didn’t know, or think to investigate, and am just learning now, is that the private company Okinawa Bunka no Mori (lit. “Okinawa Forest of Culture”) which was appointed to administer and operate the museum is a sister company, or otherwise closely related somehow, to the Okinawa Times newspaper. As the Bijutsu Techô article reveals, “the Okinawa Times newspaper, from that point on, did not report problems as problems, but was intent on fanning a celebratory mood…” (「沖縄タイムス紙はこの時期から問題を問題として報じることなく、ひたすら祝祭ムードを煽るだけ。。。」)。

As it turns out, there was some controversy involved in the planning stages of the museum’s (re-)organization, as one would expect there to be when such things are organized by a government bureaucracy, and not by arts/museum people. I don’t know when or where things started, or what might have happened in earlier stages, but in May 2006, about a year and a half before the museum would open, the prefectural government organized a “committee to discuss how the New Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum* should be” (沖縄県立博物館新館・美術館のあり方を語る会), without a single arts/museum specialist on the committee. The director of the museum had already been chosen at this point, and would, in the end, be Makino Hirotaka, a banker and former Okinawa Lt. Governor.

It was at this time that certain decisions were made regarding the name of the museum, which in the end dropped the “contemporary” (現代) from “contemporary art museum” (現代美術館), and which decided to connect the words hakubutsukan and bijutsukan with a nakakuro, or floating black dot, like so: 博物館・美術館。 As we don’t use this particular mark in English, I can’t really say what kinds of pros or cons might have come up, or what sort of meanings the use of this instead of some other phrasing implies.

Indeed, outside of conflict over whether the museum would be administered by a private firm created for the purpose, or by an already existing private firm (they eventually went with the latter), the article, sadly, does not address any specifics at all as to what the content of any other conflicts or controversy may have been.

To summarize what is discussed in the article, arts organizations petitioned for more direct control of the museum, i.e. that it should be controlled directly by the prefectural government as it had been before, and not by a private company, going so far as to organize a symposium, attended by roughly 200 citizens, “to discuss the art museum problem.” Still, the prefecture showed no interest at all in compromise, and shut down, or ignored, the curators’ objections and differing opinions, putting forth the proposal, as it stood, to the prefectural legislature. The majority party, which supported the proposal, including the scheme to incorporate the museum’s administration under the private firm Bunka no Mori, and the opposition party, which opposed it, confronted one another head-on, but in the end, it ended without any real debate occurring, and the proposal passed.

Eventually, in November 2007, the new Okinawa Prefectural Museum opened. Kobayashi concludes the article criticizing those who run the museum (i.e. the prefectural gov’t and Bunka no Mori, i.e. not museum professionals) for not running the opening at it should have been done. She writes that it “went as expected” (「予想されたとはいえ」), i.e. “as planned”, and describes it as “chaos” (「大混乱である。」). I am not sure what this opening consisted of, but Kobayashi lists out the things that it did not consist of – things that would happen at any other museum opening, and with good reason; things that ought to have happened here and didn’t. There was no private viewing or reception for people involved in the planning, funding, organization, or production of the new museum & its exhibits. There was no press conference. And, so, “a voice of protest rose up from those related to [the project].” While the permanent exhibits were ready to go, the special exhibition planned specifically for the opening did not open on time, a failure which was blamed on “Okinawa Time” or “teegee” (テーゲー); by chance, I have a copy of the catalog for that exhibition in front of me, and though it says in it that the exhibition opened November 1, a date presumably put in there, and the catalogs printed long before whatever delays actually set in, I am pretty sure that when I visited five months later, yes, a full five months later, the exhibition was not there. Oh, wait, never mind. It was scheduled to close at the end of February and I got there in March. So, in the end, actually, I don’t know how late it opened.

In any case, one would think that Japanese government and private corporations would have their act together when it comes to bureaucratic pomp & circumstance such as an opening – organizing press conferences, receptions, and the like should be what they do best. Yet, somehow, they completely failed to do it at all.

It is interesting, and somewhat disappointing, to learn of these kinds of administrative controversies and failures. But, ultimately, what I am actually interested in remains the question of what curators and other museum professionals, professional historians, and art world people think (or thought) of the *content* of the exhibitions, and the way Okinawan history is portrayed, especially vis-a-vis Japan and the United States. Though I know that getting anyone to speak purely openly and frankly about this directly to me, in an interview, is pretty much a pipe dream, I continue to keep my eyes open and my hopes up for an article that addresses *those* potential controversies.

The article chiefly discussed in this post can be found on pp108-109 of Bijutsu Techô 美術手帖. vol 60, issue 903, Jan 2008. However, the same issue of Bijutsu Techô includes a number of other articles also discussing the museum and the art scene in Okinawa more broadly, as well as including a number of wonderful full-color images. If you are interested in the current art scene in Okinawa, and issues pertaining to the museum, I would recommend getting your hands on this issue.

*The English phrase “Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum” sounds really awkward, and even the Japanese-language publication Bijutsu Techô acknowledges this. Yet, because of the way the Japanese language words for types of museums work, with the word bijutsukan (美術館) meaning “art museum,” and the word hakubutsukan (博物館) referring to pretty much any other kind of museum, e.g. folk culture museum, history museum, natural history museum, science museum, but not including the meaning of “art museum,” in Japanese, this is pretty much how the institution has to be named. It is the Okinawa Hakubutsukan *and* Art Museum. … Now, the nuance of difference of meaning between the ‘native’ Japanese word hakubutsukan and the borrowed word myuujiamu (ミュージアム), i.e. just the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “museum”, is another story altogether, and I don’t really know how that fits or works.

(Hmm. My next post will be my 400th one. I ought to come up with something good, and special…)

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I regret that I have forgotten already where I got the link from (sorry!), but I was pointed today to a wonderful set of short documentary videos created by the Washington Post and available on the paper’s website, addressing a number of challenges and issues currently facing Okinawa. Outside of the military bases issue, which only garners extensive coverage on rare occasions, the American media seems to almost never discuss Okinawa at all. It remains quite obscure, and even among graduate students specializing in East Asia, I am often asked where Okinawa is, and other basic questions about the place. So, it is a true treat to see such documentary treatment, on a variety of issues, and handled extremely well, with high production values and such.

The videos also address various issues pertaining to Okinawan-Americans in Hawaii, which, while of course important in their own right, are really local Hawaiian issues and not specifically Okinawan-American (Okinawan-Hawaiian) issues at all. I personally must admit I have little interest in this, just as I have little interest in local issues from Michigan, Nevada, South Florida, or most other parts of our country. My interest is in Okinawa – its history and culture – and not in local, provincial, small town issues faced by Americans who happen to be of Okinawan descent. But, that’s just me, and I do not mean to disparage anyone else’s interests…

I wish there were a way to embed any of these videos, or any of the content from that page, so as to make the link seem more eye-catching and attractive. Do take a moment and give it a chance; you won’t be sorry.

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The new banner image (like it? don’t like it? comments, please) is from a photo I took on Kokusai-dôri (国際通り, International Avenue), the main shopping street in Naha, Okinawa. I don’t know exactly why, but I just really really love this sculpture. It suggests a feeling that anime is everyday, that you just might find an anime-style person in your everyday life on the streets in Japan.

It caught my eye, of course, such a colorful bench, and such an interesting-looking person sitting on it… and a moment later I realized of course that he’s not a real person, but a life-size anime-style fellow, everything about him so perfectly smooth, clean, and vividly colored. His hair is a bit unreal, his pose certainly on the dramatic side, not what one sees everyday. Not to mention the fact that he’s shirtless in public, something rarer in Japan, I’d venture, than in the US.

Even having looked at this picture numerous times, it never occurred to me until just now that I made no attempt to look at him from another angle, in particular from below. Though you can get a hint of it in the one photo I took, his eyes, his expression remain a mystery to me. One can assume from his body language a sense of defeat, of sadness, loneliness. The fact that it was raining, and here he is sitting, shirtless, adds to this feeling. His boots and wrapped hands give the impression he’s a boxer who’s just lost a match, or perhaps his entire career.

Looking at the photo now, I wonder if I can’t detect something of a smirk, a content happiness, on his face, like he’s just won the match, and is exhausted, but doesn’t mind the rain one bit, perhaps even likes it as it cools him off after the fight. This adds a whole other dimension to it, and actually makes me a bit happier for associating with it, for using it as my Facebook profile photo, as it is perhaps not so depressing after all.

I wish I knew more about it. The title of the piece, the artist, when it was made… maybe it was only temporary, or maybe it’s a more permanent fixture. That something so simple can be seen to have such a complex emotional meaning or feeling is really something special. The bright colors of the bench, and the smooth, clean lines of the figure are juxtaposed with his depressed, defeated body language, making it a more complex and interesting piece than it may look on first glance… and the very fact that it’s located where it is, on a real street amidst reallife, makes it a completely different thing from what it would be in a museum gallery. What would I think about this piece if I saw it in a different context? What would it say?

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Journeyed to Books Kinokuniya, at their new location just off Bryant Park, having moved within the last year from their Rockefeller Center location. The new shop is gorgeous – a very open, airy feeling, with large glass windows facing the street and the park, and a café upstairs that I’ve yet to take a look at (I’m presuming it’s expensive, and how good could the food possibly be?).
I do wonder about their assertion that they’re “by far” the largest Japanese bookstore in the US. After all, only one of the three floors is devoted to Japanese language books, the rest to English language books about Japan and further afield (i.e. Asia), English-language manga, English-language art books and the like, DVDs, CDs, and the café.
In any case, here are my acquisitions:

Okinawa: The History of an Island People by George Kerr.

Surely the most extensive, definitive English-language survey text of Okinawan history, from prehistory to the present. Kerr’s writing style is pleasant and informative, and he does not allow pet theories or his “argument” to get in the way of conveying the facts of the historical narrative. This is the kind of history I enjoy reading, where you’re not poking around trying to extract the objective historical facts and narrative from a text written with the intent of arguing a subjective theory or point.

Originally published in 1958, Kerr also provides an interesting perspective, writing at a time when Okinawa remained under US military occupation, the Occupation in Japan having ended only six years previous. Kerr passionately and eloquently expresses concerns about the unknown future – when will Okinawa return to Japanese sovereignty, if ever? Will it instead become a US territory or protectorate? How long will this military occupation continue?

While one must certainly be careful about reading this book, now exactly 50 years old and outdated, patently incorrect on some points, I find Kerr’s approach, his writing style, quite refreshing, as he basically says it how it is, and is not tripped up by conceptions of political correctness or (what’s that term?) cultural equivalence. He goes a bit overboard in his inaccurate depiction of the Okinawans as being purely peaceful, innocent people, just as writers of the past romanticized the peacefulness and innocence of the Native Americans, Hawaiians, pretty much every other Native group the world over. But in any case, the Afterword by Sakihara Mitsugu written in 2003 clarifies Kerr’s mistakes and offers an updated view.


Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan by Mark Ravina

I have not yet begun reading this, but I get the impression that it’s a fairly essential text for the kind of research I might end up doing in my PhD. I am currently thinking along the lines of two or three different possible threads – (1) studying one particular domain across the Edo period, and hopefully finding one particularly interesting aspect, such as the narrative of economic development, or the efforts of a single given daimyo to focus on, (2) building upon my MA dissertation to do something with maritime trade in the Edo period and Japan’s relations with SE Asia, probably focusing upon southern Vietnam, (3) working Okinawa into the mix somehow. If I go with (1), “Land and Lordship”, which deals with political structures and processes in three particular domains of Edo period Japan would be somewhat essential I think. I’m looking forward to reading it.


Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype by David Goodman and Miyazawa Masanori.

Not even vaguely related to any research I might ever do. And I generally avoid sociology/anthropology topics, particularly those related to discrimination or race. Too touchy. But as a Jew interested in Japan, I simply cannot avoid this topic. People are constantly asking me what the Japanese think about Jews; particularly older members of my congregation who have some fairly racist views of the Japanese, who believe the Japanese in turn to be quite racist. So I get asked a lot, and would like to have a more informed answer. It’s an interesting topic in any case.


Finally, the catalog for the Japan Society exhibit Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York

I think I may have to return this, or resell it on eBay or something. It seems an interesting topic for an art catalog, and some of the essays inside about what Japanese artists think about living in New York, how NY influences their art, etc could be quite interesting. But as I realized too late (after buying it and bringing it home) the profiles on each individual artist are far too short to really be worthwhile. I hate artist profiles that make reference to works without describing what those works are. Why bother spending so much money on this book if all it’s going to be is a pile of keywords that I need to search online (or in other books) to get anything more about?

Art books are damn expensive. I think I would very much like to get my money back for this somehow, and to buy something else, maybe a catalog of Chinese contemporary artists. One that gives deeper profiles of the artists and their work, while still offering a good number of different artists.

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I suppose I ought to perhaps do a post introducing Okinawan Pop, and my love of it, before delving into this one aspect, but I figure I’ll get around to that intro post fairly soon anyway, and this subject is on my mind right now.

When in Okinawa a few weeks ago, I happened upon the official live house (not a real English word, I know) of Kina Shoukichi and Champloose (喜納昌吉&チャンプルーズ), one of the top acts in the Okinawan pop boom of the 1970s, and ended up with a free DVD, a 20 min video documentary about Shoukichi’s political activism. Elected a member of the Diet back in 2004, he was a very active activist before then, and remains so today I believe.

His message, like that of many other activists the world over, is simple: Peace. He expresses this in a number of slogans, chief among which is 「すべての武器を楽器に」 (“All weapons into musical instruments”), and has taken part in a number of Marches for Justice and the like, various activities throughout the world, performing in UN Plaza in NY, in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in a town on the border of North and South Korea, and in Baghdad in 2003, as well as at one point apparently running a “peace boat” sporting his slogan on its sail from Yonaguni (the westernmost point in Japan) up to the main islands.

It’s very easy to get caught up in his music, in his message, and I do love the idea that people all around the world do enjoy such exotic and obscure music – most people probably don’t even know where Okinawa is, let alone anything about its history or culture. The music is moving, loud, and energetic, the costumes bright and colorful.

But ultimately, when I turn off the DVD, and really think about it, his message is just like that of countless other protest groups around the world – he professes a desire for peace, without showing that he understands the complexities of the political and historical situations that have led to conflict, and more importantly, without providing an answer. “Peace” by itself is not that answer.

You can sing and chant, shout and orate, march and parade around Baghdad and New York and Tokyo all you like, but a message of “War Bad Peace Good” or “All Weapons into Musical Instruments” does not address the need for Coalition forces to remain in Iraq until order is restored and the insurgency eliminated, nor does it address the feeling on the part of the insurgents that they need to keep fighting until the invaders, the occupiers, have left. What, is everyone supposed to just throw down their weapons in an instant and embrace and stop fighting? Is a ten-character slogan supposed to make the Israelis and Palestinians put aside all their hatred, all their differences, all their problems, and embrace and make peace just because you’ve played some music and waved some banners?

Okinawa suffered terribly in the war, losing according to some sources 1/4 of its population in the Battle of Okinawa alone, along with countless traditional buildings, cultural artifacts, and historical records. The postwar American Occupation in Okinawa lasted twenty years longer than in the rest of Japan, ending finally in 1972. During those twenty years, as one might expect, strong movements arose demanding Okinawa’s independence, or Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty… and much of this is said to be embodied in the Okinawan Pop movement which arose in the early 1970s. However, the music is not overtly political like anti-Vietnam War music; rather, it speaks to a very generalized message of peace, and evokes the spirit, the feel, the culture of Okinawa through use of traditional music – shimauta (島唄, “island songs”) or min’you (民謡, “folk songs”).

Why this music, along with what little Okinawan contemporary art I have looked at, focuses on this very general message of peace without engaging with any issues, I have no idea. But I find it very interesting, and I feel it sets Okinawa apart in a special way. I hope to look into this more…

I wish I could post that 20 min documentary for you all. I may at some point rip it off the DVD and put it up on YouTube so that it can be shared. I was given it for free, and I do believe these guys want it to be shared in any case.

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