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Posts Tagged ‘Okinawa’

Six Months in Okinawa

Sunset over Senbaru Pond, on the Ryûdai campus.

I have been very fortunate to be a Japan Foundation Fellow this year, generously granted an 11-month fellowship to come to Japan to continue my dissertation research. While most people spend such fellowship years in a single place, I decided to split my time between Okinawa and Tokyo. The first half is now coming to an end.

I feel like I’m leaving Okinawa just as I’ve finally started to get to feel really situated and comfortable here. Which isn’t to say that I’ve only just first started to learn my way around the library, or that I’ve only just first found a good café to work at, or certain various other things. I have been using the library, and working in local cafés, and making use of the cafeteria and school convenience store, and I have been attending seminar. And I already knew my way around the monorail and the basic layout of Naha, and of various museums, shopping centers, and key districts, to a considerable extent from previous trips. But it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve first started attending a kuzushiji (manuscript documents) reading group that I never knew about until just now, and it’s in these last few weeks that I’ve felt more comfortable than ever with many of the grad students and undergrads in the Ryukyu History circles here on campus. It’s in these last few weeks that (in part because of the impetus inspired by knowing I’m leaving soon) I’ve started making more serious and intensive use of several of the museums, libraries, and archives on the island that I previously had only sort of dabbled in and left for investigating more seriously later.

I’ve finally started to feel I’m recognized, or known, as a semi-regular, or at least a repeat customer, at a handful of local establishments in Naha. I’ve gotten to know my way around the maze-like corridors of the Heiwa-dôri covered market district – and become familiar with a great many of the individual shops – to a far greater extent than ever before, though I imagine I will never completely stop getting lost. I’ve been taken around to more parts of the island, and more specific individual historic sites than I might have ever imagined I’d get to see yet.

As I prepare to leave, I realize I’ve only studied at the Kokusai-dôri Starbucks twice, and never at the one at Naha Main Place, and while I don’t mean to be some cheerleader for multi-national mega-corporation Starbucks, in actual practical truth, I do find it a rather productive environment to work in – perhaps some of my most relaxed, enjoyable, and productive work times these last six months have taken place in a Starbuck’s. And I’ve only just first gotten introduced to this and that restaurant (I’m thinking in particular of a Nago soba diner I was just very recently introduced to), and to the realization that the highway express bus actually isn’t that much more expensive than taking the regular bus to the monorail, though I suppose that works chiefly only if one is going all the way to the airport, and not just into town.

There are, admittedly, a handful of restaurants I’ve now been to enough times – chiefly by way of going there with friends or family when they’ve been visiting from out of town – that I feel I’ve pretty much gotten my experience of them; that I’m satisfied with how often I’ve visited. But, even so, nevertheless, to have gotten to know them so well, and to now not be going back for years, most likely, perhaps ever, is a weird feeling. To have finally learned which places I really like, and would want to introduce others to, over and over again (it’s new to them), and to have finally gotten to be recognized and welcomed back by the owners, is a pretty great feeling – and to not be living here more permanently to take advantage of that new achievement, is a shame.

On Ryûdai campus.

Perhaps most significantly, most importantly, I feel I am leaving just as I’m being told more openly, more freely, about more seminars, classes, events, that I now won’t be able to attend because I’m leaving. And, as I prepare to leave, I realize I’m not sure I ever got nearly as much of a deep or strong sense of the Okinawan perspective – whether scholarly or more personal/general – as I had hoped. Further, I never did develop any sort of regular pattern of working closely with any of the professors at all. I’m quite grateful for all that Tomiyama-sensei, Asô-sensei, Higa Etsuko-sensei and others have done for me, but compared to students who have been here for years (even though, yes, I know it’s an unfair comparison), I really don’t think I could even say word one about Tomiyama-sensei’s perspective, his particular teachings, his particular attitude or guidance or views on any of this. Should not one come out of a research year having gained some stronger sense of the overall field, the various perspectives and disagreements within the field, from the perspective of the particular professor you worked under or the particular research group or department you worked in? … But, I suppose this last one is really primarily my own fault, for not reaching out more, for not more directly, more avidly, seeking such engagement. Besides, while I do regret this and feel bad for it and see it as a real loss, at least, on the positive side, I still have a whole next five months in Tokyo. So, if I never quite got the perspective of Tomiyama’s “Ryukyu shi” research group, at least I can hopefully absorb something of the perspectives of that of Watanabe Miki or other Tokyo-based sensei.

Research, academia, is about people. And there are some great people here. I really regret not getting to know some of them better.

Tomiyama-sensei, when it does come out, when it does come through, seems like a pretty wonderful guy. He says History is not just about sitting in a room looking at documents – it’s an outdoor activity, it’s about walking, seeing, looking, listening, as well as eating and drinking. Experiencing history. I love it. I really wish I had gotten over myself – gotten over being intimidated by the idea of trying to talk to an important and busy sensei; gotten over my worries about doing it the right way, politely, according to proper Japanese modes of etiquette and respect, and just gotten over it and talked to him more. Akamine-sensei, is basically the same situation. I came here explicitly to work with these giants of the field, and they are nice people, not inapproachable I don’t think to their own minds, though I do feel somewhat reassured that several US-based professors have now told me they had similar intimidation experiences, and difficulties, at my age – that it’s normal and not something to worry about, and that I’ll get more out of those relationships later, over the years.

One of his more senior grad students, Maeda-san, has been wonderful to me, inviting me along to lots of seminar-group dinners and parties, and just chatting and talking with me, making me feel included, making me feel like I’ve really made a friend.

Some of the other grads and undergrads, including Higa Yoshiyuki, Uchima Yasurô, I don’t feel I know as well, and Heshikiya, Sakiyama Takuma, and half a dozen others whose names I don’t even know, all seem like pretty cool people. Genuinely, truly, I regret not getting to know them better. And it felt so warm, so great, to have them say they remember me, at all, after meeting them only a handful of times over these six months, and that they’re eager to meet again sometime. I mean, maybe that’s just the polite thing to say, but I think maybe they really meant it. And I genuinely look forward to maybe seeing some of them again someday. I’ll be honest, even if we do run into one another, it may be difficult to realize it – to actually remember one another – especially since I’m not FB friends with any of them, or otherwise in some more ongoing contact; but, here’s hoping.

Watching these profs & grads at work, there’s a wonderful feeling of these people recovering the history of their people, and sharing it both with their own people, and with the world. Makes me feel like my work is noble, in a sense, as I contribute in my own tiny, humble, peripheral way to bringing this people, their history, and their culture, to the attention of the world. To make it known, to make it appreciated. (And just to be clear, I am very conscious of the pitfalls of white savior syndrome, and Orientalist tropes and so forth, and am constantly trying my best to be wary to avoid them. I don’t see myself as doing this for them, or even that I’m doing anything truly original in terms of my research, that would result in me making up my own version of what Okinawa is, or what Okinawa means – that would be the very essence of what Said calls “Orientalism” – rather, I genuinely do see myself as simply working out of what local native Okinawan scholars like Tomiyama and Akamine have said, and bringing their perspectives and understandings of their own history back to my English-language community.)

A plane passing overhead as we watch sabani (traditional sailing canoe) races at Itoman.

Anyway, I suppose this is inevitable. No matter when you leave, you’re going to think it too soon. I was in Hawaii for three years, and as I left I felt then too that I was only just then starting to really get into a new phase of being more settled, more situated, more comfortable there. A new phase of knowing the city and the campus and the people even better than ever before. And, looking back on these last six months in Okinawa, while I do have my regrets, I am kind of amazed too to realize just how much I’ve accomplished. I’ve scanned or photocopied an incredible amount of documents, and with luck (fingers crossed) by the time I actually leave for Tokyo I will have photographed pretty much all the museum objects (paintings, etc.) currently on my list. (Which isn’t to say of course that this is anywhere nearly all the documents I might ever ever want to look at, but only those I happen to know about as of right now, and happen to have in my sights at the moment. But, it’s more than enough at the moment.)

And, oh my god have I visited so many more historical sites than I ever thought I would – not that that’s essential to the research at all, but I count it as valuable towards experiencing Okinawa, and being able to tell others – friends, students, colleagues, professors – about places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, things I’ve learned, about Okinawa more broadly, beyond my specific research topic; this is essential to my more general growth as the resident Okinawa expert in almost any room I expect I’ll most of the time ever be in. Plus, not just historical sites and such, but streets, markets, shops, restaurants. In some respects, of course, I remain very much a newbie, but in other respects I am so much more knowledgeable about the city (Naha) than I have ever been before.

The Naha skyline as seen from one of the monorail stations.

But, you know, it’s funny. When I first started thinking about drafting this post, many weeks ago, before I ever actually set down a single word on the virtual page, I had all kinds of ideas for this post in terms of how to talk about Okinawa, how I’ve learned to see it differently. How I’m going to miss the particular energy, the particular pattern of life here, when I go to Tokyo. And I didn’t write any of it down because I felt it so strongly at that time and felt I’d surely still remember exactly what I wanted to say. But, of course, as always happens, I don’t remember. … At least not quite as clearly, quite as strongly. But, there are certainly elements.

One, I’m going to miss being in the place where Okinawa is the chief central thing, and not something marginal or just partial. Both in terms of the Okinawan life, culture, everything going on all around (by definition), by virtue of the fact that this is Okinawa, but also in terms of the people around me all being Okinawa specialists. In Tokyo, my Okinawan history may be appreciated and recognized as interesting and as a valid part of Japanese Studies (putting aside the political issue of the ways in which Okinawa is not just a part of Japan, but that’s really a matter for another time) – it won’t be as marginal as it is back home in the US – but even so, I’ll be in the minority again, surrounded by a whole different culture, a whole different energy, both within the research institute and out on the streets of Tokyo more generally. And that sort of connects into my next point, which is closely related to what I’ve been saying in many of the preceding paragraphs – as an Okinawa specialist, anything and everything I do in Okinawa is part of deepening my experience and specialist expertise in Okinawan knowledge/experience. Whereas in Tokyo, you’re deepening your familiarity with something entirely different.

Plus, there’s something to be said for just the feeling of being in that special place. I don’t know how to articulate it, really. It goes beyond the very practical matter of personal professional networking, in terms of getting to know the very people who will be useful to me in the future – it goes beyond that to something else, that I should be at *the* University of the Ryukyus, studying with *the* students of *the* University of the Ryukyus. I can study kuzushiji, for example, almost anywhere, but even truly putting aside completely the matter of what little I might learn of actual historical content by practicing on Ryukyuan records rather than Japanese records from some totally other topic, there’s something really special, something I can’t quite articulate, about doing it in this small, friendly, group of Okinawan students who are just sort of trying their best at it, best as they can (and doing an amazing job!), as compared to being yet another foreign researcher through the revolving door of what’s of course the most standard, central, mainstream, presumably high-quality, kuzushiji groups at the University of Tokyo. There’s something special about being able to walk around Tokyo, or Santa Barbara, or New York, with a “University of the Ryukyus” T-shirt, and to have that experience under my belt of knowing that research group, that class, that room, on that campus, so many hundreds or thousands of miles away from what most other researchers – even within the field of Early Modern Japanese Studies – have seen or known. And not just in a practical way, nor only in a superficial hipstery “I bet you haven’t even heard of Ryûdai” kind of way, but hopefully something deeper than that, even if I can’t quite articulate why or how…

Members of Ryûdai’s Traditional Ryukyuan Arts Club (琉球伝統芸能研究クラブ) rehearsing.

And there truly is something about the culture and the pace of life. I haven’t heard nearly as much Okinawan accents as I’d expected, let alone picked one up myself at all, nor have I learned very much Okinawan language at all, nor have I gotten any better at sanshin. Nor am I going to say anything about over-generalizing broad cultural attributes – which I honestly don’t believe in – about how Okinawans, like Hawaiians, are generally a more laid-back people, or anything like that. I really just don’t like such generalizations. Even when there is a seed of truth to it – of course every place, every people, every culture *is* more X than another, or less Y than another; that’s a key part of the very fact that difference and diversity do exist in our world. Even on a very practical level, taking “essential” “culture” out of it, Naha is a smaller, quieter, less dense city than New York or Tokyo; that’s just a fact. And Los Angeles or Santa Barbara are (for the most part – I suppose it depends on what part of town, and/or what business field you’re in) less formal, less buttoned-up-suit-and-tie than Tokyo or New York. But when I say I’m going to miss the feel of Okinawa, and that Tokyo is indeed going to come as a shock, I mean it mainly in terms of two things:

(1) practicalities, like the actual pace of life, the actual density of people on the street, etc., and

(2) concrete, specific, cultural elements, like having certain foods be the more standard dominant food available,

far more so than (3) any sort of hand-wavey over-generalizing, hard-to-articulate-without-being-essentializing-or-just-grossly-inaccurate notions about what Okinawa as a place or Okinawans as a people are like, overall.

Okinawa soba at Ishigufu in Shintoshin Park.

Kokusai-dôri – Naha’s Main Street, Naha’s Times Square – is, at its busiest, absolutely nowhere near even a normal average day in Shibuya; as someone who absolutely loves New York and Tokyo, I was surprised to feel myself having these thoughts, but it really is quite relaxing to have that kind of space on the sidewalk, and it really is going to be a shock to have to deal with real crowds again. Okinawa soba, and numerous other Okinawan foods that I’ve grown quite fond of, are not going to be nearly as accessible in Tokyo; yes, there are plenty of Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo, just as there are plenty of restaurants of just about every cuisine, but I’m not going to be going out of my way to eat there all the time unless I want to become some kind of weirdo. And, besides, they’re going to serve only some more touristy, standard, version of the menu. Yes, I’ll be able to go to an Okinawan-theme restaurant and get all the standard basics – peanut tofu, tofu champuru, sea grapes, hopefully if I’m lucky shima-rakkyô (shallots) – but no matter what they have, it will never compare to the fuller range available here. I’ve really kind of grown to love in the last few weeks the Okinawan “diner” (shokudô), which I’m going to have to hunt one down in Tokyo; not a fancy “try an exotic regional style of cuisine” sort of restaurant, but just a real basics, cooked by your grandma, sort of version of the food. I’ve grown to love the Taste of Okinawa craft beer hall, where they always have plenty of different Okinawan craft beers on tap or in bottles. I love the shima-yasai (island vegetables) tempura place in the yatai-mura (market of small food stalls), and the kushi-age (deep fried various things on sticks) place in Heiwa-dôri; whether this is Okinawan-style kushi-age I’m not sure, but it is amazingly delicious.

I love Tokyo, and there are a great many things about living there that I am extremely excited about. And I like who I am when I’m there (or, who I’ve been when I’ve been there in the past). But, like the version of me who wrote that post about Hawaii five years ago, I rather like who I was then (in Hawaii), and who I am now (in Okinawa), and who I might become were I to be staying in Okinawa longer, and part of me is just a bit sad, and concerned, about the “opportunity cost,” so to speak, of not remaining or becoming that version of me…

Minamoto Kichôan – a very mainstream, big-chain, wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop in San Francisco. Amazingly difficult to find a good picture of their Naha shop online; seems I forgot to take a photo when I was last there.

Another thought that struck me recently: Going to a department store like Palette Kumoji Ryûbo, and seeing alongside (presumably locally owned) Okinawan companies, also branches of places based in Kyoto or Nihonbashi, it’s not for me a feeling of the colonial presence per se, as something dark and violently imposed, but rather just a feeling of the juxtaposition of the metropolitan into the provincial. It’s weird, funny, to see something so utterly mainstream Japanese here in Okinawa. I can’t quite put words to it. If it were anywhere else, any other provincial part of mainland Japan, I don’t think it would feel this way. Having a piece of Tokyo or Kyoto in a city like Nagoya just means you’re urban, cosmopolitan. Connected into national culture. That your city is big enough to have access to the biggest and/or most elite companies or goods from the big cities. Like living anywhere in the US and still having … Oh, I don’t know, what’s a good example? Something you could normally only get in The Big City, otherwise.

But, here in Okinawa, there’s a sort of cultural juxtaposition, that makes it feel amusingly out of place. Like a piece of New York in California, or vice versa. Or anything that makes pretend Honolulu is just another part of mainstream America. … Hm. I dunno. I don’t mean to say it’s 100% definitively /not/ a colonial sort of situation, but rather simply to say that it’s not the point I’m trying to make – that the feel or flavor, the fun’iki 雰囲気 of the situation doesn’t strike me as dark or violent on the surface, in the experience in itself – only, perhaps, on the level of some kind of deep analysis. What I feel, rather, in the moment, as I experience it, is that Okinawa lies in an interesting dual position – being, yes, a region of Japan, and as such, why wouldn’t it have branches of these shops, and aspects all around of standard mainstream Japanese aesthetics and forms, but at the same time not just, not simply, another region of Japan – it is a special case, and should be seen as such. Actually, maybe it reminds me more like having these shops – Minamoto Kichoan, other Nihonbashi based stores – in Hong Kong or Singapore or something. Places where it’s definitely foreign, but still Asian – still close enough that it fits in to a certain extent, more than it would, for example, if we had a Minamoto Kichôan inside the 7th Avenue Macy’s. I think maybe that’s the more relevant comparison. Because in some ways, it really is just as foreign here in Okinawa, and yet not…

Sai On Square, at Makishi Station.

Walking around Kokusai-dori & Heiwa-dori the other day (Saturday, March 11) for what’s likely to be the last time for quite a while, it’s an interesting feeling. Somehow I hadn’t really thought about it. Hadn’t made any big deal of it to myself, that I should feel any need to visit anywhere (or everywhere) one more time. In actually doing so, there’s a quiet sort of happiness at having gotten to know all of these places so well, and of course a tinge of sadness, but actually I know I’m coming back again, sometime, and I know I’ve gotten to see and gotten to know these places so many times, I feel quite comfortable with it all. Yesterday was quite good in a way – even though I didn’t directly see the guest house one more time, or the Yatai-mura, or the calzone place (to name just a few random places that I had frequented on multiple occasions), I did walk almost right past them, at the other end of a street or alleyway that would have led there. And I passed by the one end of Yachimun-dôri. And walked up from Kokusai-dori to Miebashi, a walk I made numerous times on my 2013 visit to Okinawa, but only once I think ever since. So, a sense of nostalgia for that previous time, too, mixed in. I guess, at this point, it’s looking / feeling like I’m probably not going to make it to the Naha City Museum, or the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, or a half dozen other places again before I leave for Tokyo… and I’m alright with that. At least I am for now. We’ll see how I feel when I actually get to Tokyo, and my time in Okinawa is truly over and done with.

All photos my own.

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“What’s Going On in Okinawa,” located at whatsokinawa.wordpress.com, has emerged in the last few months as a go-to site publishing English translations of Okinawan news. Run by a US-based MA student in Japanese-to-English translation, the blog provides a most valuable service, making Japanese-language news articles from the Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa Times, and other papers available to the English-reading audience.

While there is no shortage of English-language material on the ongoing military base conflict, written from an Okinawa-sympathetic point of view, and thoroughly well-informed on Okinawan history and conditions, if you know where to look for it – the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is one such place – the average reader who knows about Okinawan matters only from the Economist, ABC News, Foreign Policy, and so forth, is going to get a very different impression. The major mainland Japanese papers, such as the Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun, also convey a rather different impression of what’s going on in Okinawa than the Okinawan newspapers. And while all of these different perspectives are valuable for having a fuller understanding of the situation, the Okinawan papers are, I would imagine, for most policy wonks and so forth who read only the policy-driven media, a crucial missing link in understanding both the Okinawan perspective on these matters, and what is going on on a day-to-day basis.

(In searching around for links with which to populate the above paragraph, I actually found that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, and quite a few other papers are actually quite balanced, or Okinawa-sympathetic. Which is certainly encouraging, though it does weaken my argument for the importance of this new blog. Nevertheless, I think the blog provides an extremely valuable service.)

To summarize what has been going on lately:

First, some background: The US military controlled all of Okinawa under martial law from 1945-1972, twenty years after the rest of Japan regained its sovereignty following the Allied Occupation. Though Okinawa has been restored to Japanese sovereignty, and to equal participation in Japanese electoral/representative democracy, the US military continues to control about 20% of the tiny island of Okinawa, and Okinawa accounts for something like 75% of the total US military presence in Japan. The US has been saying since 1996 – nearly twenty years ago – that they are going to close the noisome Futenma Air Base. However, the military (backed by Washington and Tokyo) have responded to Okinawan protesters not by closing the base any faster, but quite to the contrary by delaying and delaying, saying that Futenma will be closed when a new base is completed to replace it. Okinawans have shown their collective will, through democratic elections, through protests, and through news coverage and editorials, among other means, that no new bases be built /and/ that Futenma be closed. But, again, rather than take the blame themselves, the US military, and Tokyo, have placed the blame on the Okinawans, for delaying construction at Henoko.

Henoko is a site in northern Okinawa, more remote to be sure than Futenma, which sits right in the middle of the city of Ginowan like an off-limits militarized Central Park, but for most Okinawans, who live on an island smaller and more densely populated than Oahu, this is hardly remote enough. They want to see the bases – or at least some of them – removed from Okinawa Prefecture entirely. And, with Okinawa representing less than 1% of Japan’s land area, is that really so much to ask? There’s plenty of space elsewhere. Maybe on Tsushima, which, though smaller, is far less densely populated, and has none of the exploitative colonialist history that Okinawa does. Henoko is also home to the second most bio-diverse coral reef ecosystem in the Pacific, after the Great Barrier Reef – or at least it was up until construction started, last year – and marks the northernmost portions of the range of the rare Okinawan dugong.

Protest posters hung on the fences of Camp Schwab, at Henoko, Dec 2013. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In a recent round of elections (in 2014), Okinawans elected an anti-base governor, in Onaga Takeshi, an anti-base mayor of Nago (the city where Henoko is located), and all anti-base representatives to the National Diet (Japan’s national parliament). I think the Okinawan will is clear. Out-voted and unheard in their own national political organs (much as Hawaii’s delegates are, on similar issues, in our own Congress), the Okinawan prefectural government has issued support for the establishment of a new think-tank and lobby group based in Washington, to make Okinawa’s voice heard. I find the organization’s name wonderfully snarky: New Democracy Initiative. The US claims that its military presence in Okinawa, and indeed around the world, is there to defend “freedom and democracy.” And yet, as we continue to squash the democracy and freedom of the Okinawan people, we really have to ask, “Security for whom?

While the US Marines have executed a variety of tactics to ensure that construction goes forward – such as bringing in trucks overnight when fewer protesters are around to block the streets – protestors have been demonstrating outside the gates to Henoko almost continuously since construction began last August (if not earlier). Despite freedom of speech and of assembly (i.e. peaceful protest) being enshrined in both the American and Japanese Constitutions, protesters at Henoko have been harassed, assaulted, and arrested, and both high-ranking American military officers and Japanese officials have laughed off accusations of such harsh treatment, going so far as to question the authenticity of the protests (suggesting many protesters may be plants hired by the Chinese Communist Party to cause trouble for the Japanese government), and to characterize the anti-military protests as anti-American “hate speech.” On February 22, just a few weeks ago, protestor Yamashiro Hiroji was physically grabbed and dragged across the pavement, off of Japanese land and onto base property, so he could be charged with criminal trespassing and arrested by security guards in the employ of the US Marines.

Protestors playing sanshin outside Camp Schwab at Henoko, March 4, 2015. Photo copyright Ryukyu Shimpo.

On March 4, “Sanshin Day,”1 protesters – including Living National Treasure Shimabukuro Eiji – played Okinawan folk songs, and protest songs, and managed to maintain their composure, playing peacefully even as police got “very worked up,” and forcibly removed the tarps protecting the protestors from the rain.

And, all the while, PM Abe Shinzo’s administration has been wholly unsympathetic, even willfully ignorant of the reasons behind the Okinawans’ demands or desires, painting them on occasion as petulant children, or even politically ignorant masses. (I have no idea if the term gumin 愚民 has actually been used, but as one of the standard terms used over 120 years ago when ex-samurai elites were arguing that the ignorant masses were incapable of self-rule, it would certainly bear some powerful resonances to imperialist and colonialist rhetoric of that time) Or, to make another comparison the Abe government should hopefully find embarrassing, they have been treating Okinawa like a “rogue province” which must be punished for its insolence – a rhetoric and policy stance not so different from Beijing’s treatment of Taiwan, at times.

Finally, the US military & Japanese government have hidden from the public the extent of the planned construction, sometimes lying about it outright. Concrete blocks have begun to be dropped into the ocean outside of the permitted area, damaging coral in violation of the permits, and while I can’t seem to find the article again at the moment, various blog posts and the like have expressed that the presence of the USS Bonhomme Richard would seem to suggest much larger or more extensive port facilities than the military had said they were going to be building.

Even as Nago city mayor Inamine Susumu and Okinawa governor Onaga Takeshi continue to work to find ways to repeal the permits granted by their predecessors – thus denying the national government and/or the US military use of Nago roads to bring in the construction trucks and materials – along with other legal and bureaucratic tactics, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying:

“Our country is governed by the rule of law and our procedures are based on law. The permission for the landfill work has no legal problems at all, so our position to proceed with the work remains unchanged.”

thus showing, once again, the completely dismissive attitude and willful cluelessness of the national government when it comes to the issues most important to its citizens.

Much thanks to What’s Going on In Okinawa, for keeping us informed!!

1) The sanshin is a three-stringed banjo-like instrument which forms the core of most Okinawan music. “Sanshin” literally means “three strings,” and the development of the Japanese shamisen, essential to kabuki and Japanese puppet theatre, and to geisha & courtesan music, owes its origins to the introduction of this Okinawan instrument into Japan in the late 16th century. “Sanshin Day” is a rather unofficial holiday, but widely acknowledged or celebrated in Okinawa, as a result of the coincidence of 3/4 (i.e. March 4th), san shi in Japanese, sounding like sanshin.

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The University of Hawaii Press had a crazy massive clearance sale a month or so ago. I bought a bunch of books for super cheap that I would normally never be able to justify paying full price for (upwards of $50 each). I also bought some other books for my collection; who knows if I’ll ever find the time to read them, but somehow it just feels good to have them.


*Okinawa Prismed (沖縄・プリズム) is a catalog from a Museum of Modern Art Tokyo exhibit, covering Okinawan art from 1872-2008. (Not a U Hawaii Press book)

Somehow, I had never come across this catalog before in my research. I’m really glad I found it. The book divides Okinawa’s modern history into three periods: 1872-1945, when Okinawa was incorporated into the Japanese Empire; 1945-1975, when Okinawa was under US Military Occupation (which actually ended in ’72); and 1975-2008, when there was a resurgence in Okinawan culture and identity. The majority of the book is taken up by 1-4 page sections on each of a great many artists, both Okinawan and (mainland) Japanese, including both text and images. There are also a number of brief essays on each period of history, and on various themes within those periods. Being a Japanese publication, the vast majority of the book is in Japanese; however, the list of images, and Introduction essay are provided in English in the back. There are a lot of excellent pictures in here, both photos of Okinawa at various times in its history, and images, of course, of artworks; I look forward to reading about certain artists about whom I have heard of before, including mainland Japanese artists Yamamoto Hôsui and Tômatsu Shômei, but am also excited for the possibility of discovering native Okinawan artists about whom I might want to investigate further.


*The Man Who Saved Kabuki is a book about Faubion Bowers, translated and adapted by Samuel Leiter from a book by Okamoto Shiro. Bowers (1917-1999) was apparently Japanese-language interpreter and “aide-de-camp,” as Wikipedia puts it, to Gen. MacArthur during the Occupation of Japan. Having spent time in Japan in 1940-41 and been exposed to kabuki previously, Bowers fought to rescue kabuki, and to see it continue, when Occupation authorities pushed for it to be banned for its display of feudal values.

The history of kabuki in the modern period is something I know extremely little about, but as a fan of kabuki, I suppose I owe a great debt to Bowers; I look forward to someday finding the time to read this book, and learn a bit more about kabuki history beyond the “core” periods of its high points, i.e. in the Edo period.

*Which brings us to the four volume set Kabuki Plays on Stage, which I absolutely cannot believe I was able to get for so cheap. Each of these hardcover volumes normally goes for around $50 cover price, so to get them for literally 95% off was an absolute windfall victory. Books I never thought I’d own now sit prettily on my shelf.

The four volumes, edited by James Brandon and Samuel Leiter, consist primarily of translations of kabuki plays by Brandon, Leiter, and others, 51 plays in total. In this alone, they are an unbelievable resource, since the majority of other translations out there are scattered between books with titles like “Five Classic Plays” and “[Overview of] Traditional Japanese Theatre.” These are, of course, excellent books as well, but when one is looking for the translation of a particular play, or is just skimming through to find a variety of different plays, a selection of 51 cannot be beat. Of course, some of the longer jidaimono plays, long enough to take up over 250 pages in their own separate publication, are not included. Each play translation includes pictures of performances, ukiyo-e prints, and the like, providing a visual element to help bring the play to life in the mind of the reader; introductions before each play explain literary references, historical origins of the play, and other interesting and important aspects. Lengthy introductions in each volume provide detailed overviews of the history of kabuki, and I expect will serve as an extremely useful basis for if/when I ever write out a summary of kabuki history for the Samurai-Archives Wiki – these could also serve as excellent readings to assign to students, I expect.

The only thing I have noticed in these volumes that I think stares out at me as a strong potential negative is that the translations are not annotated. I appreciate that these are meant to be clean and easy to read, and I am sure there are some very valid arguments for keeping them clean this way. However, kabuki plays make countless references to historical figures, historical events, and famous poems, as well as featuring, contemporaneous for their original writers/actors and audiences but not for us, countless elements of traditional/historical Japanese architecture, objects, garments, and the like. I’m not saying that we need to have a full paragraph on the history of the kiseru taking up a good 1/5th of the page, but a sentence or two the first time it appears, explaining that when the translation refers to a “smoking pipe,” they are talking about a long, thin, piece of bamboo with metal ends, used to smoke tobacco, and introduced around the late 16th or early 17th century by the Dutch. That said, on the positive side, the explanations and translations include a lot of specialty theatre terminology, such as keren and tachimawari, and a glossary in the back, not obscuring meaning through over-translation or through omitting terms such as hanamichi that very directly and clearly refer to what they refer to. I am glancing through the book, flipping pages, trying to see if the translations tend to use words like geta, kiseru, and noren instead of clogs, pipe, and curtain, conveying directly the Japanese flavor (and more specific referents to specific objects), but I can’t seem to find it…

I cannot wait to delve into these books.


*Southern Exposure, edited by Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson, is a collection of Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa. It includes a number of poems, and 12 short stories, in translation into English, ranging from 1922 to 1998. Having not yet read any of them, I cannot say for sure, but I would think it a safe bet that none of these pieces (with the exception of a single verse from a set of translations of Old Poems) describe or refer back to the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and that all of them address more modern issues.

There is certainly a certain appeal to be found in the complexities of Okinawa’s modern history, political issues, and identity politics. From the overthrow of the kingdom, assimilation policies, and suffering under the control of the Japanese in the 1870s to 1940s, to the devastation of the Battle of Okinawa, 27 years of American Occupation, the continued American military presence today, and issues of identity, diaspora, and cultural decline or revival, there are certainly a lot of touching, powerful, complex, issues to be addressed. I, personally, am still sort of coming around to any interest in these sorts of things. I think being in Hawaii was good for me, surrounding and immersing me in those kinds of politics; now that I’ve been removed from it once again, perhaps I’ll go back to feeling distanced from it. Or perhaps I will continue to sort of grow into being interested in such issues.

For one reason or another, literature has never really interested me, even as my interests in art, music, theatre, and various other fields have grown. But, as an Okinawan Studies scholar, it certainly never hurts to have more Okinawa-related books on my shelf. There are so few in English that to avoid buying something like this feels like it would have to be a very conscious, intentional, and obvious choice; an obvious gap in my collection to anyone who skimmed my shelves and knew what they were looking at/for.


*Prisoners from Nambu is a book I have seen countless times before, on shelves, and have always passed up. It explores a very particular incident in Japanese history, involving the capture of a number of Dutch seamen by people of Nambu (in the far north of Honshû). Being that it is such a specific incident, and not one that I am myself researching, I never gave this book much thought. But, then, after glimpsing over the ideas behind Luke Roberts’ new book “Performing the Great Peace,” and struggling with the issues of secrecy and deception in the Satsuma-Ryûkyû-shogunate relationship, I realized that, given the subtitle of this book, “Prisoners from Nambu: Reality and Make-Believe in 17th century Japanese Diplomacy,” it could be of some interest and some use. We’ll see if I ever get around to actually reading it at all.


*Flowering in the Shadows is a collection of essays on “women in the history of Chinese and Japanese painting.” Not exactly a topic particularly related to my research, but certainly of interest, at least to the extent that it might cover female ukiyo-e artists such as Katsushika Oi. In the end, it doesn’t. One brief chapter addresses “women in traditional Japan” in general, speaking mainly of the Edo period; another, by Stephen Addiss, focuses specifically on Ike Gyokuran, her mother, and her grandmother. To those who are interested in Gyokuran, you’ll have to pardon me for feeling like I’ve heard/read about this before, as if she seems the only woman artist everyone immediately leaps to mention & discuss. Personally, and this is just personal preference I suppose, I’m much more interested in female ukiyo-e artists, and women Nihonga painters. After so many centuries of art production being dominated almost exclusively by men, Kyoto Nihonga (and in Tokyo, too?) suddenly saw numerous very prominent women artists. I wonder how that happened, what challenges they faced, or how easily they were welcomed into artists’ social circles. How were their perspectives or messages about women in society perceived and received? I’m sure there are good essays on this out there somewhere – but not in this book. Still, of course, I’m sure it’s still a very interesting and useful book for those with a slightly different focus…


*Shelley Fenno Quinn’s Developing Zeami seems to be a somewhat more practical guide to the use of Zeami’s writings as guidance for one’s performance of Noh – as compared to some of her other work I have read which seems to focus more on Zeami’s writings as writings, as literature, as historical documents useful for us scholars in understanding and interpreting Noh.

This is still a very dense, serious book, not light-reading by any means. But, judging from chapter titles like “Developing Zeami’s Representational Style,” “Zeami’s Theory in Practice,” “Actor and Audience,” and “Mind and Technique: the Two Modes in Training,” it would seem that the book could be useful for the serious, philosophical, aspiring practitioner of Noh. One day I hope to teach a course on Traditional Japanese Theatre – maybe some selections from this book will prove useful. Or maybe I’ll skip this dense conceptual stuff and stick to things we find in slightly more survey-oriented books like Brazell’s “Traditional Japanese Theater.”


*Critical Perspectives on Classicism in Japanese Painting is an edited volume which came to my attention because of my use of essays by Elizabeth Lillehoj in attempting to understand how paintings might have served as visual records of official ritual events. Her essay in this volume focuses on a series of fusuma-e (paintings on sliding doors) in the palace of Tôfukumon’in, depicting the Gion Matsuri. Much of Lillehoj’s work focuses on Tôfukumon’in, on issues of patronage, and on fusuma-e and the like in the empress’ palaces.

Other essays in the book discuss different aspects of the phenomenon of the use of classic themes – e.g. references to the Tale of Genji, or Heian period poetry – in early Tokugawa era painting. There are, as to be expected, several essays on Sôtatsu and Kôrin – interesting artists who produced beautiful works.


*Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan is another book that’s not from UH Press, but which I recently obtained. The idea of approaching Tokugawa Japan as an antecedent, and not as a subject worthy of attention in its own right, is troublesome, I think; but, at the same time, the idea of Tokugawa Japan as a vibrant, active, complex society with its own “traditional” equivalents to banks, mass media, postal service, highways & tourism, etc. is a valuable one, highlighting what makes Tokugawa Japan so exciting.

This is an edited volume of essays by Japanese scholars, translated by a number of scholars overseen (“edited”) by Conrad Totman. In my MA thesis, I made use of an essay from this book on “Urban Networks and Information Networks” by Katsuhisa Moriya. The article focuses chiefly on the hikyaku (飛脚) couriers who transported messages and packages along the major highways between the major cities of Tokugawa Japan; but what was most important for my purposes was simply to have something to cite to support the idea that Tokugawa Japan was well-interconnected, and that provincial towns would not have been totally disconnected from a sort of collective cultural consciousness. In any case, the book also contains essays on the bakuhan (shogunate + domains) system, on rural industry, the spatial structure of Edo, and the structures of Edo period society. Combined with certain other essays, I can see this being a good core for readings for a course on Edo period Japan as “early modern.”


*Finally, we have Challenging Past and Present, a volume edited by Ellen Conant, which, like Lillehoj’s “Classicism” volume, focuses on a specific period and set of themes within Japanese art history, in this case, the “metamorphosis of 19th century Japanese art” as Western influences poured in, and as societal pressures pushed artists to explore ways of being more “modern” in their art-making.

Though I should like to see more essays more explicitly addressing the origins and development of Nihonga, the volume focuses more on topics such as Yokohama-e prints, Meiji tourism & photography, the Rokumeikan, and “Imperial” architecture. Fortunately, all of these are plenty interesting topics as well. Prior to going to Hawaii, I had little interest in the Meiji period, thinking of the Tokugawa period as the real “height” of “traditional” Japan – by Meiji, everything from kabuki to ukiyo-e, to the worlds of the geisha, the samurai, etc. were in decline. And why should I want to study something in decline? But. Having now studied the issues of modernity more extensively, with a professor who specializes in this period, and these topics, I have come to see Meiji not as a period of decline, but one of interesting and exciting cultural clashes and cultural meldings. People negotiated with their past, with their identity, struggling to advance face-forward into modernity, without losing their distinctive Japanese identity. Besides, the further we get from that period ourselves, the more this world of 100+ years ago resembles its own “tradition,” its own distinctive romantic(ized) aesthetic. So, whether it’s the Rokumeikan, or Japan at the World’s Fairs, it’s not a Japan that’s in decline, but rather simply another Japan, a different Japan, with its own separate appeal.

A few of the early essays in the book address the historical background and historical development of Japanese art at this time in a broader sense, and could hopefully be interesting and useful for understanding these shifts in a broad, overall sort of way. One of the later articles I am particularly interested to read is by Martin Collcutt, and discusses “the image of Kannon as compassionate mother,” the subject of a pair of oft-cited and very interesting paintings by Kanô Hôgai (as well as one later copy by Okakura Shusui). I’ve been fortunate to see the Smithsonian’s copy of the painting in person, as well as the Okakura copy at the MFA, and the one in Tokyo virtually/digitally, and would be interested to see what Collcutt has to say about the differences between the copies, and the prominence of this particular composition; other scholars, including Chelsea Foxwell, have written about the same set of paintings, so it would be interesting to see how their approaches or conclusions compare.

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This is a rather more personal post, so I was hesitant at first to post it here. But, I feel the need to post it somewhere, to get these thoughts down on “paper.” And, since it’s relevant to Hawaii, to graduate school adventures, and to cultural experiences, I figure it’s perhaps not too personal to be put here. In other words, could be quite relevant to others’ experiences.

After three years in Hawaii, I feel like I am just now really starting to get really settled and established here. Up until the beginning of this school year (last August/September), I never really considered trying to organize an event on my own on campus – I didn’t feel it was my place, or I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my position, or with my relationships with faculty/staff to take that initiative. Up until this past year, I wouldn’t have thought of trying to organize something off-campus, either, as I felt that I scarcely knew anyone who could provide a venue, and perhaps didn’t really think about knowing anyone well enough to ask them to perform at my hypothetical event.

That’s just one aspect, but I think it says a lot. I cannot believe that in a little over two weeks time, I will be flying out of here, more or less permanently. Oh, sure, I tell myself that I’ll be back for research, or for conferences or something. But will that really happen? And even if it does, will it ever be the same? (No.) It’s one thing to leave for the summer, but to leave entirely? I am, strangely enough, having a very difficult time wrapping my head around this idea. When I first came here, I had little interest in staying. I had a lot of culture shock issues, and I just sort of felt like I would do my thing and then get out of here. Honolulu is way too small, too isolated, not only geographically, but perhaps more importantly, it’s small and isolated in people’s minds. People here have little desire to think globally, to think of themselves as part of an active, vibrant network of international travel, communication, and exchange. They’re much more interested in the local – who and what is important here, not who or what is prominent in the outside world. And that really rubbed me the wrong way when I first got here.

But after three years here, I have not only turned over a new leaf, coming to see things in a different light, but I have also found a community here that, sure, it’s not nearly as Japanese as Japan, not by a long shot, but it really is far more Japanese than anywhere I’ve experienced on the mainland. Now, of course, “more Japanese” is not really the phrase I mean to use. But, living here, one not only has extremely easy access to Japanese (and other East Asian) culture, but one is also surrounded and immersed in it, albeit in a rather uniquely Hawaiian local version of Japanese culture. It’s not just a matter of having Japanese grocery stores. We have those in NY, too. And in Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere. In fact, you might have better luck looking for certain things (e.g. Japanese books) in New York than here – the BookOff’s selection is terrible here. And, sure, New York has plenty of izakaya and Japanese restaurants. But there’s something special about the izakaya and Japanese restaurants here. Well, three things. One, they’re more ubiquitous, more ever-present. They’re not just one option among myriad cultural options as they are in NY; they’re one of the main things here. Two, they’re as often as not operated by locals, which is something that really turned me off at first, since it felt far less authentic. But what’s “authenticity” anyway? When I came here, I had no interest in this bastardized local Hawaiian version of Japanese culture; I wanted the real thing, imported directly from Japan, an experience as close as I could get to as if I were in Japan for real. But I gradually came to appreciate local Hawaiian Japanese culture for its own thing. And the people are, in their own way, all the more genuine since there’s an air of the family-run, mom & pop sort of establishment, connected to the history of the place, the history of their family, and of Japanese in Hawaii, whereas the more “authentic” Japanese places are just chain stores, corporate things brought over here, with a sense of plasticness to it, lacking that friendly, local, family-run sort of feeling. Three, is the availability of Okinawan cuisine here. There are only a handful of places I know of on the island that specialize in Okinawan food, but that’s a handful more than I know of in New York.

Whereas there are many aspects of Japanese culture quite available in New York, it’s the fact that you don’t have to go and seek them out here, or feel like you’re occupying some remote niche of the city’s society/culture in doing so. Just being here, without having to really hunt it down at all, I have seen or been involved in numerous Asian theatre performances, Asian dance and music performances, Asian Art events, and the like. We have kabuki on-campus. We have a gazillion Bon Dancing events all summer (I’ve never actually managed to go to any). We have not one, but something like ten or fifteen Okinawan Lunar New Year celebrations; and that’s just the Okinawans. I wonder how many Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean Lunar New Year events there are on the island. We have Okinawa Festival, we have KZOO Japanese-language Radio station. We have Shirokiya Japanese department store, and we have andagi (Okinawan donuts) at the coffee shop on campus.

I have made tons of friends here, and a few who have become truly among my closest and dearest friends, and I will miss them very much. But many of them are leaving anyway, and so the idea of “I don’t want to leave because I’m leaving my friends” is sort of a moot point. More to the point, then, I guess, is that I’ll really miss all the opportunities to continue being involved in Japanese & Okinawan Studies and Japanese & Okinawan local communities, especially where the performing arts come into play. I have a sanshin teacher here now, and not only that, but I have started to get to know many people in the local Okinawan community. I regret not getting to know them better, both the local community, and the on-campus Okinawan students’ community. These are two places I could really have networked and made connections.

I am going to miss the wonderfully strong Asian Theatre program here, and the impact it has upon so many things that go on in the Theatre. I’m not saying that their productions of Hamlet and Oklahoma! were Asian-influenced, but I’m saying that no other school in the country so far as I am aware has so many smaller performances such as the scenes my friends will be organizing next week as the final projects for their Asian Directing class. No other school in the country has full-on Kabuki productions, or Randai. And I am most definitely going to miss that. But it’s not the productions themselves. It’s the attitudes, the interest. The presence of so many likeminded Asian Studies people, in Theatre, in Dance, in Music, in Art History, in Anthropology…. the very strong Asia-Pacific focus here, and the relative absence of any overpowering, dominating Western Studies-by-default sensibility. The ability to feel like Asian Studies is not a niche, off in the corner, but is the main event; and the ability to meet people, and talk to people, in all different departments, and find common interests, and common knowledge. How many Theatre students am I going to find at Santa Barbara who are interested in Kabuki? How am I even going to meet these people and get involved in getting to know anyone in the department, when there’s basically no Asian Theatre at all going on?

This post is really rambly, and I apologize for that.

One thing I realized today. I went to a talk about rhetorical sovereignty and the rhetoric conveyed by the newly renovated Hawaii Hall at Bishop Museum. First, as a total sidenote, I think it really interesting that this word “rhetoric” has never before come up in my studies. Perhaps it’s something worth looking into as an alternative to the discourses on, achem, “discourse.” But, anyway, when I first came to Hawaii, I was very much put off by post-colonial attitudes and post-colonial theory. I came into the Museum Studies class, and said that I was taking the class in order to learn how to design and execute Metropolitan Museum-style exhibitions of 13th century ink paintings, and people looked at me like I had three heads. The entire course was about how to represent indigenous peoples in a culturally sensitive way, how to give them “voice,” how to deal with post-colonial issues. And, at first, I was not only disinterested – I was downright opposed to it. It made me angry, and I rebelled. But, you know what, in the end, once I got over that anger and found the way to discuss these issues on a more removed, objective, “isn’t that interesting” sort of level, I found it all not only fascinating, but really relevant to and inspiring of topics I might want to look into with Okinawa.

I can’t even find a way to describe it without it sounding like the very thing I was opposed to to begin with. But, there is something in the academic approaches, or scholarly theories, about rhetoric and discourses, about the symbolism of a colonized place as deployed by the colonizer, that’s really interesting. The multiple meanings of a place, or an object, or an image, a symbol… I have no interest in being anti-American, or anti-Japanese, or anything like that. My interest in Hawaii, and in Ryukyu, is more or less apolitical, and almost entirely non-activist. I just find it interesting. And I think that being surrounded by discussion of these issues has been really interesting for me, really inspiring, and I wonder what I could come up with if I were encouraged to continue in this vein. But, since I’m leaving, not having that Hawaiian environment, I don’t think I’ll really find myself doing that sort of thing any more. I am so influenced by the topics around me – I get so interested in whatever it is I’m being taught at the moment – this is part of why I have so much trouble deciding on a field or a discipline, because wherever I am, it either feels really attractive, or makes the opposite option really attractive, but either way is extremely influential. … Hearing talks about the discursive or symbolic meaning of ‘Iolani Palace makes me think about how these same exact issues might apply to Okinawa’s Shuri Palace. Talks about how Bishop Museum is seen by many/most native Hawaiians as a colonial institution, as a creation of the oppressors, and not as a place that genuinely represents their voice – and also about what the museum is doing to try to rectify past wrongs and to represent the Hawaiian people, their history and culture, in the most culturally sensitive way – these kinds of talks make me really want to go investigate the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, and the internal politics, and discursive or rhetorical impacts of the gallery exhibitions there.

I don’t know that I’m really interested in indigenous movements, per se, and I’m not looking to become activist. I’m still often very annoyed at comments people make, such as suggesting that a museum in Massachusetts has no right to a Hawaiian statue. (Wait, that’s actually a really nice museum, and it has its own story to tell, an interesting and exciting and romantic story about cultural explorers from New England who were some of the first to introduce the US to Asian and Pacific culture, and to advocate for Asians & Pacific peoples, and for the beauty and value of their culture, etc…. not to mention the whole issue of if we repatriate everything then what is left in the museum, and if we repatriate everything, then how is anyone supposed to learn about, or be inspired by, another culture, without traveling halfway around the world? But I don’t want to get into that now. That’s not at all what this post is about right now.) … But I do think that, resistant as I was at first, having learned about all these indigenous and post-colonial issues has been extremely good for me as a person. A real learning, growing experience, making me into a better person. I hope that I might continue to be exposed to these issues, so that I can continue to engage with them, to figure out my stance as a result of talking it through more with others…. Controversy can be a turn-off, but it can also give a place so much more character, and make it so much more intriguing. ‘Iolani Palace and Bishop Museum are key examples. Sometimes I may feel personally attacked, or I may get angry about certain points, but for the most part, it’s really just about taking an objective, secular, stand-back, removed view, and thinking it interesting and fascinating. As if it were a really intricate and interesting fantasy story. No personal investment in who the good guys are or anything, just a really engaging and twisted network of rhetorical/discursive/political phenomena.

Part of me was, and I guess still is, really psyched to go back to the mainland and to experience a more intensively scholarly, academic, rigorous, History-oriented program. And, to interact with historians of Europe, and otherwise with a scholarly community that can present me with a new and different environment or set of approaches. Part of me imagines that the experience on the mainland will be more rigorous in precisely the sort of way of training me to be a proper scholar in the way that mainland scholars are, essentially, retraining the “local Hawaiian” or the “uniquely Hawaiian” methodologies or approaches out of me, and preparing me for actually getting ahead in the field, by becoming the kind of scholar who everyone is looking for me to be. Or something like that. Of course, I have no idea what the program is actually going to be like. But, part of me really wants now to stay here, to do the sort of thing we’ve been doing so much of here, sitting around, calmly and engagedly talking about discourses, rhetoric, and symbolism, about cultural impacts. I feel comfortable here, not in a bad way, not in a “you’re too comfortable, it’s time to move on, there’s no new challenges for you here” kind of way, and certainly not in the way I imagine most people get too comfortable in Hawaii. I love the weather, how could you not? But I’m no surfer, or beach bum. I scarcely ever get out to the beach, or hiking in the mountains, let alone regularly doing anything like surfing or canoeing or paddleboarding or anything. But I know people here, and I find connections, interesting topics of research, interesting approaches, among so many people I meet for the first time. It feels like there are so many more people to meet, and conversations to have, and people I’ve already met who I’d want to talk to more, as we have such great common interests. Why am I leaving such a fruitful and vibrant and productive and inspiring academic environment? … Maybe it’ll be just as good at Santa Barbara. Maybe even better. Who knows?

But I do know that I have a very long list of things I’m going to miss.
*Leis – It’s so wonderful to go to an art opening, or other event, and know who the artists or speakers are, because they’re wearing leis. And it’s so wonderful to receive a lei. It goes far beyond the stereotype of being given a lei by a hula girl as you step off the plane. I’ve certainly never been given one in that context. It’s about honoring you that you’ve accomplished something, or that you’re someone special, a special guest, for the day.
*Japanese connection – Again, the fact that Japanese culture seeps into everything. The fact that you can go to the thrift shop, and find more Japanese dishes and furniture than Western ones.
*Community arts, esp. the Asian-American community – I wrote a whole post about this at one point; I’ve really turned around and come to appreciate the beauty, and authenticness, of arts performed in/by a community. Playing sanshin not only in class, but for the Okinawan Lunar New Year dinner, was fantastic. And there’s Bon Dance. And there’s this community of people who you get to know, who you see at all the events, who you see perform (or get to perform with). And I really do wish I could continue my sanshin, and maybe Okinawan dance, if only I had a teacher.
*Language – When I first got here, I was disgusted by the idea that pidgin should deserve any respect at all. And to a large extent I still feel that way. It’s just bad English, is all it is. But, when native Hawaiian words, or other local words, are thrown into everyday language, it makes you feel like you’re a part of something special. Drawing upon a special, unique identity, upon a beautiful culture. That you’re connecting to the local culture, and also becoming more global/cultural in the process. I love that we have Aloha and Mahalo to use in our emails, and I really struggle to write emails without them now, sometimes. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, what do you use? “Greetings,”? Bah. “Aloha,” is so much smoother and nicer. And we’ve got words like kokua, kuleana, ‘aina, kapu, mana, pau and puka, that add flavor to everything.
*There is also a profound feeling here of being somewhere special, somewhere unique and spiritually or culturally just very special. It’s because of the friction about the overthrow and colonization and all that, yes. But, people make sure to have you be aware of the history, and of the culture, and even pushy political stuff aside, we all know we’re in Hawaii. We all know at least something, at least some very little something, about the heritage of this place. In New York, or Chicago, or Santa Barbara (I’m presuming) we more or less go about our business and it all feels quite normal and everyday. Sure, New York and Boston have their own individual cultural character, their own energy. But in terms of magical, spiritual, ancient, cultural heritage, in terms of having something like what England or Wales has, or what Vietnam or China or Japan has, I don’t feel that the mainland US really compares. Maybe in some parts where the Native American presence is more felt, as it is here. But, whether thinking about it secularly, from a cultural/historical point of view, or from a slightly more spiritual point of view, in terms of Hawaii being a special place, a sacred place, either way, it definitely has an energy that distinguishes it from nearly anywhere else. And as exciting as New York may be in its own way, it will always feel like going home, like something boring and ordinary, for me.
*Which brings us to oli and hula. I really will miss the Hawaiian chants, known as oli and mele, and the hula. If the me from a few years ago were reading myself writing this, he’d think I was crazy. But I really have grown to appreciate these things over the last few years. The infusion of traditional culture, the maintenance of traditional performing arts traditions, is something we really just don’t have so much in the West. Perhaps partially because the line between traditional & modern is so much blurrier in Western culture, and because we see something very different in non-Western arts that we can’t necessarily appreciate in our own arts. But it really is something, and I really will miss it.
*I met a girl recently from New Zealand, who has been studying in Australia, and who says that acknowledging the indigenous peoples when beginning a talk is disgustingly politically correct, and just meaningless, and ultimately colonialistic. I guess her argument is that we do it just to make ourselves feel better, or something. Or that we say it and yet still go on dominating and controlling and occupying these lands. I don’t know what exactly her argument is, but when people come here from New Zealand or Fiji or from Native American communities, or wherever, and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I feel there is a cultural exchange, an acknowledgement, that I am denied a part of. No one goes to Israel and acknowledges the traditional owners of that land (i.e. us, the Jews). You don’t see Frenchmen or Irishmen going to one another’s country and acknowledging the deep cultural significance, and long histories, of that land. PC or no, I think it’s a beautiful practice, and I think that we in the Western world do far too little everyday to acknowledge and remember culture, history, and heritage. We think of our land as purely modern, as purely utilitarian to our everyday life in the now, in the today, and we just don’t have the same respect for the land, for culture and heritage, and for history as embedded in the land and in ourselves as these indigenous peoples do.
*FOOD. You can get almost anything in New York. And there are tons of things, tons, that you cannot get here. But, while much of the food here may simply be East Asian food (e.g. sushi), or Western/mainland food (e.g. burgers), I was kind of surprised, actually, at how many things there are that are more or less unique to this place. Poké (chunks of raw fish, with soy sauce or sesame oil, and a few other mix-ins/toppings). Manapuas (a uniquely local Hawaiian word for steamed buns such as exist in exactly the same form in Japan, China, and elsewhere). Malasadas (a Portuguese fried dough sort of thing that I certainly had never heard of before coming here). Andagi (an Okinawan thing, not a Hawaiian thing, but definitely much easier to come by than anywhere on the mainland in my experience, or even for that matter in the Japanese mainland, outside of specifically Okinawan specialty restaurants). And Shave Ice, which, yes, is done in a different way than on the mainland or in Japan.
*Finally, I may have railed against the small community when I first got here, thinking it terribly quiet and boring, looking at everything as a sort of third-string knockoff of the real thing going on on Broadway, or in the galleries of Chelsea, or whatever. But there are advantages to being in a small community. It blocks out a lot of pretentiousness, because people know one another, and are comfortable with one another, and you can get to be known far more quickly and more easily, without having to work so hard to pretend to be more professional, or more experienced, or more intelligent. You can just be, and people will welcome and appreciate you. Being here, I have truly lost patience with the idea of dressing up and playing at being professional. Fuck it. Once, I would have wanted nothing more than to be invited to a private party at the posh private apartment of a Guggenheim curator. But now, what the hell do I care? Everyone there is fake, and constantly working to keep up the fakeness. Or maybe it comes easy to them. I dunno. It doesn’t come easy to me, and I don’t have the energy to not be genuine. I don’t want to sit around in seminar constantly locked in a mental battle to prove I’m intelligent enough, or intellectual enough, and I don’t want to show up to art gallery shows constantly feeling like I have to work so hard for people to know who I am, to think that I belong there, to think that I’m someone worth talking to, or worth inviting back. I’d rather just go to my friends’ shows, and know nearly everyone, and get introduced around, and be someone with little to no effort. I’d rather have intelligent, intellectual, engaging discussions with people feeling like we are already, just by being, members of the same community, and thus already ‘ohana (family) to some small extent. No pretentiousness, no competitiveness, no going out there to prove anything, but just relaxed, engaged, fun, interesting, friendly discussion with one another about interesting academic topics.

This is far too long already, so I won’t pretty it up with pictures or anything (that’ll just make it longer). It’s terribly rambling, but I feel like I want to just leave it be. Here are my thoughts. I’m still working them out, so please don’t attack me for anything I’ve said. But I’d be more than happy to have a further discussion about any of this, if you find it interesting and having some reactions or thoughts you’d like to share.

Lots of good posts on the backburner, up and coming, if and when I get around to it. Stay tuned!

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A continuation from my last post – today, a quick rundown of some of the many things I would love to see and do on Okinawa Island and its small neighboring islands; I hope that some of you might share similar interests, or might, after visiting Okinawa yourself, develop an interest.

(Click map to embiggen.)

*Okinawa Island
I went to Okinawa once before, just for a few days, exploring the capital city of Naha, which has grown to contain the historical capital of Shuri. The city is as modern as any provincial city in Japan, and parts of it in fact feel not all that different. There are apartment buildings, shopping malls, all the things you’d expect to find in a modern city.

The Okinawa Monorail, or Yui Rail, runs from Naha Airport to Shuri, and there are plans underway to extend it further; in my limited experience, I think it should be able to take you to pretty much anywhere in Naha City that you’d want to go.

The main attraction in Shuri, not immediately outside the last stop on the monorail, but a short walk away, is Shuri Castle, the former royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, utterly destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in the post-war. The famous Shureimon, one of the most famous symbols of Okinawa, is part of the palace complex. Perhaps not as extensive as some Japanese castles, Shuri castle is nevertheless a fairly large set of grounds, with many baileys or sections, as well as several halls you can enter and walk through, plus the Engakuji, Benten-dô, Ryûtan Pond, and a few other historical sites and the like in the immediate vicinity. Tamaudun, the royal mausoleum, is a short walk to the west.

The Kinjô-machi Stone “Tatami” Road is a cobblestone walking path with leads from the area around the castle, through a residential neighborhood with a somewhat more quaint, traditional sort of feeling, down to the Shikina-en Royal Gardens. The gardens were closed the day I went, so watch out for that, but the walk was still quite enjoyable.

In contrast to the historical adventures of Shuri, Kokusai-dôri, the main road running through the center of town, is the chief place for shopping and nightlife. Starting at Kenchômae Station, and walking east, this is where you’ll find aloha shirts and all sorts of other tourist goods (souvenirs), and shimauta (lit. “island songs”) live bars. Kokusai-dôri also connects into the Heiwa-dôri and Makishi Markets, a huge sprawl of alleys and lanes lined with street stalls selling fresh fruits & veges, fish, meat, noodles, etc., as well as saké & awamori, and other goods, along with some noodle shops & other small “luncheonette” style restaurants and the like.

Walk north from Kenchômae Station, and you’ll be moving towards Kume and Naha Port. As you get closer, it’ll start to seem even more and more like a beach town sort of neighborhood. Kume was, historically, the center of Classical Chinese learning in the Ryukyu Kingdom, and the home of the aristocrat-scholar-bureaucrat class from which most government officials came. Today, a beautiful Chinese garden called Fukushûen (built in the 1990s) reminds us of the neighborhood’s historical cultural identity. Keep moving towards the beach, and you’ll find Naminoue (lit. “Above-the-Waves”) Shrine, perched atop a cliff overlooking the only public beach in Naha City. (Maybe it was a bad day, but I was severely underwhelmed by Naminoue Beach.) A small handful of other temples and such can be found in the area here, along with, somewhere, a plaque that I never managed to find, commemorating Commodore Perry’s time in Ryukyu.

Finally, one more neighborhood of Naha worth mentioning is Omoromachi, also known as Shintoshin (lit. “new city center”), an area which has recently come to be developed, with high-class shopping malls, a very nice public park, and most importantly the new prefectural museum which opened in 2007.

I’m sure there is plenty more to see and do in Naha, but I think it’s about time we moved on to talking about the rest of the island, which I myself have yet to visit, but would very much like to.


The main sites in Southern Okinawa seem to be Sefa-Utaki, the most sacred place in the traditional indigenous Ryukyuan religion, and a variety of sites associated with the Battle of Okinawa. You can visit an underground Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters, as well as several memorials, including the chief Battle of Okinawa Memorial & Peace Park & Memorial Hall. The Navy HQ is apparently only a five-minute taxi ride from the Onoyama-kôen monorail stop; the Peace Park / Memorial Hall, and the Himeyuri Monument & Museum, in Itoman City, are a bit more difficult to get to, but it seems the public buses will get you there. The public buses can also take you to Sefa-Utaki.

Good to know – when I went to Okinawa, I was given the impression (I don’t really remember where, or by whom) that the public buses didn’t really go to most of the sites I’d want to visit, and that really the only way to see Okinawa is by taxi or rental car. Since I don’t drive, it’s good news to read that the buses, in fact, can take you to many of the major sites. Though, considering my more obscure historical interests, I’m sure there’s still plenty I won’t be able to get to so easily.

The main attractions in Central Okinawa, judging from the Tourist Bureau pamphlets, seem to be the gusuku. Gusuku are Okinawa’s distinctive form of castle or fortress; the only one in any state close to being intact is the rebuilt Shuri Castle I mentioned above; all that remains of the rest, so far as I know, is the winding stone walls, although given that these castles would have been built in wood, with tile roofs, and given the extent of the shelling and battle on Okinawa in 1945, this comes as no surprise. Three of the more famous/major gusuku sites – Nakagusuku, Katsuren, and Zakimi – can be found in Central Okinawa. The latter two seem to be accessible by bus, but the pamphlet suggests taking a taxi to Nakagusuku from the bus stop. The Nakamura House, a traditional 18th century nobleman’s house (seemingly intact, having survived 1945?) is quite near to Nakagusuku castle.

The other Central Okinawan site highlighted in the pamphlet is Ryukyumura, a sort of theme park of traditional Ryukyu culture. Could be pretty cool, especially if you don’t have the time or money to visit the other islands, but I wonder if the experience at Ryukyumura isn’t something that can be had on some of the more remote Sakishima Islands. I’d be interested to check this out, for sure, if I happen to be in that part of the island; but I think I’d be more inclined to visit a historical theme park in mainland Japan, where I think it’s valid to make the blanket statement that there are likely extremely few neighborhoods or towns that are really as traditional as the experience of the theme park; by contrast, while I’m sure that even the most remote of the Ryukyuan Islands have modernized to an extent, I imagine that a relatively “authentic” “traditional” experience can still be had.

Northern Okinawa has the Churaumi Aquarium – one of the largest aquariums (aquaria?) in the world, and a definite must-see. The pamphlet doesn’t list it, but Nakijin gusuku is up here in the north, too. It was once the “capital”, so to speak, of the kingdom of Hokuzan, before the central Okinawan kingdom of Chûzan conquered it. Which reminds me, somewhere further south, maybe just north of Naha, in the city of Urasoe, is Urasoe yodore, a site where several Ryukyuan kings (prior to the construction of the mausoleum at Tamaudun) are buried. Northern Okinawa is also the home to America-mura, a USA-themed theme park, which I’d love to check out just for yuks.

I’d be remiss if I did like the pamphlets and just ignored the US military bases which occupy something like 20% of the land area of the island. Having only stayed in Naha during my one visit, I have no experience with how difficult it is to get around the bases in traveling to other parts of the island, or how much certain neighborhoods may be really dominated by the military (or anti-military) atmosphere… In my three days in Naha, I didn’t run into any of it. But, it’s something to be aware of when visiting. I really hate the idea of equating Okinawa with the military, as I am sure so many do, and I really want to push the idea that there is so much else to Okinawa other than the US military presence – namely, the local contemporary and traditional Okinawan culture – but, it does have to be acknowledged. Can’t just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m sure the Okinawans have tried that already, and it didn’t make the bases go away.

Tonaki Island

The Outer Islands immediately surrounding Okinawa Island have plenty to see as well. Izena and Iheya, in particular, two small islands off the northwest coast of Okinawa, are the birthplaces of the founders of Ryukyuan dynasties, and feature statues or steles, at the very least, which I’d love to see.

Iejima, or Ie Island, boasts the tallest mountain in the prefecture, though it’s not much taller, I’m sure, than most of the most humble mountains in mainland Japan. Because of its geological origins as coral (limestone) islands, the Ryukyus are, on average, far closer to sea level than Taiwan or Japan, which boast actual mountains born of tectonic activity. Iejima also features a memorial to Ernie Pyle, the famous American wartime journalist who died there.

Aguni Island, 2hrs by boat from Naha, and one of the more distant islands in the “Okinawa Islands” vicinity, was the filming location for “Nabbie no koi“, a very touching Okinawan film directed by Nakae Yuji.

Tonaki Island, a similar distance from Naha, is known for its traditional architecture, according to the pamphlet. Makes me wonder what kind of architecture we would find on Aguni or Iejima or any of these other remote islands, or the extent to which those islands are more “traditional” or not, if this one is selected out as being especially known for this.

And that is that for the pamphlets. As I come across references to other historical sites, or other places of interest, in the islands, if I remember, I may come back here and edit these entries to turn them into more complete compilations of what to see in each area / each island.

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I went last night to a presentation from the Okinawa Tourism Board. Granted, it was really plastic-y, like the kind of presentation you’d expect from Tourism Board people, the kind of presentation you expect from people trying to sell you something, advertising how nice their beach resorts are, like they’re trying to sell you on a cruise or ski getaway or a timeshare. But, of course, I needed no convincing, and I should hope that the same goes for the rest of the audience (which was something like 99% ethnic Okinawan).

Now, I don’t exactly have the money to be going on a vacation, but this presentation sure got me revved up to go on one. And I certainly would not be staying at any stupid beach resorts. I love Okinawa for its culture, not for the beaches and nonsense which I can get elsewhere (e.g. here, in Hawaii).

I especially appreciated that the materials they handed out included lots of information about the outer islands. I’ve of course known for a while that I’d love to visit some of these places – Yonaguni, Hateruma (southernmost point in Japan), Taketomi (known for its traditional culture experience), Ishigaki, Iriomote, etc. – but I never really took the time to look too deeply into what each of these islands had to offer. Now, thanks to these pamphlets, I have a bit of a better idea.

So, I thought I might share some of my thoughts with you all. Not many people know very much about Okinawa – even amongst Japan Studies people – and, I’m sure, people know even less about the other islands. So, in my next post, I’ll provide a quick rundown of some of the cool things I’d love to go see/do in the Ryukyus, which will hopefully prove entertaining, interesting, and/or informative.

In the meantime, I found out about a great special deal that seems to be a major savings off of regular fares. I just popped over to Kayak, Orbitz, and a couple other sites, and found fares from Haneda (Tokyo) to Naha (Okinawa) in the range of US$540.

But, apparently, there’s this thing called the Welcome to Japan Fare” that’s only 13,000 yen, or 10,000 yen if you fly JAL or a oneworld partner to Japan. To be clear, that means you’re paying normal full price (or whatever kind of deal you can find) to get to Japan, and then from there, you’re paying something around $125-160 for the flight to Okinawa from the Japanese “mainland.”

Okinawa’s obviously the best “bang for your buck” destination, in terms of sheer distance from Tokyo, but it seems like this same special deal is valid for domestic travel between any of 30 Japanese cities. No need to go to Okinawa at all.

Then, you pay 9000 yen for a “Okinawa Island Pass” to go from Okinawa to Kumejima, Miyakojima, or Ishigaki-jima; and then another 9000 yen to go from one of those islands to another one, or from Ishigaki to Yonaguni.

So, in short, you can pay $540 on a discount deals site like Travelocity just to go from Tokyo to Okinawa, or you can pay 28,000 yen ($350 at the current exchange rate) to go from Tokyo to Okinawa, to Miyako, and then to Yonaguni, spending time on each of those islands in between, spending a relative pittance (I would assume) to take ferries to other smaller islands that don’t have airports, spend time there, in between…

Sounds like a pretty damn good deal to me. Now we just need to find a way to afford the airfare to get to Japan to begin with…

All photos my own, from my one brief trip to Naha in 2008; I have yet to visit anywhere else on Okinawa Island, or other islands in the prefecture, but I sure would love to.

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Once again, the open tabs in my browser have piled up, and it is time to write a bit about each, sharing them with you. Today, I’d like to share with you two blogs I strongly suggest and recommend, and which I’ll add to my Blogroll.

*Steffen Remvik, a recent graduate from a Masters program at the University of Oslo, has begun posting a wonderful blog entitled “Naruhodo,” in which he writes chiefly about Edo period visual culture and popular publications. The subjects he chooses to address – from setsuyôshû to the Kidai Shôran scroll – are so wonderfully niche, truly informative and intriguing for someone like myself with a background in Japanese art and history, but who is only just starting to really delve more deeply into the realms of Edo period publishing. His writing is clear and accessible, but detailed and informative, including the kanji for Japanese terms, beautiful pictures or videos, and thorough historical detail. I envy his professionalism and knowledge, and eagerly look forward to his future posts.

*The next blog I’d like to share with you is called Grits and Sushi.” It is written by Mitzi Carter, a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, whose research (and my sincere apologies if I mischaracterize it) focuses, in part at least, on perceptions of Okinawa among members of the US military, and conceptual/discursive interactions otherwise between the US military and the Okinawan people, on a level of personal interactions, perceptions and conceptions of one another, etc.

To take just one example, in her latest post, she explains that “A large part of my academic work on Okinawa is “social/cultural mapping.”” She then goes on to talk about how foreigners in certain parts of the island might be automatically assumed to be associated with the military, while elsewhere on the tiny island of Okinawa, the possibilities are more open. What particularly intrigues me is perceptions, conceptions, and memories of a place, and the way that a single place can take on so many different identities for different people. Many (some? most?) Okinawans will apparently use the phrase honma Okinawa, or something like it, meaning “real” Okinawa, or “authentic” Okinawa, differentiating it from the military bases, which are not honma Okinawa. And I can certainly understand why; yet, for many members of the military, their experiences on base define for them what is Okinawa. And especially (I get the impression) for those who served in the US Occupation of Okinawa from 1945-1972, the whole island was essentially theirs (ours) – one single military-occupied place known as “The Rock.”

I could go on and on, just regurgitating the impressions and ideas I’ve gotten from “Grits and Sushi” and elsewhere.. I find it really kind of fascinating. But at the same time, this is hardly my specialty, and I fear that the more I write, the more I risk mischaracterizing or misrepresenting something. So, I invite you to read the blog, and see for yourself what it is Mitzi is talking about.

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