AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 281

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Session 281: Recasting Okinawa: Race, Gender, and Transnationality in the Cold War and Beyond

Organizer: Mire Koikari, University of Hawaii, USA

Discussant: Robert N. Huey, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This interdisciplinary panel explores how postwar Okinawan identities and experiences have been shaped by not only local and national dynamics but more importantly transnational dynamics of Cold War and post-Cold War international relations. Focusing on four different events and practices that highlight Okinawan negotiations vis-a-vis postwar American and Japanese hegemonies, the panel collectively recasts Okinawa as a fluid and permeable space whose boundaries have historically been penetrated by trans-Pacific border-crossing movements of discourses, practices, and people and whose histories and stories have always been shaped at the intersections of gender, race, class, national and global dynamics. More specifically, the panel consists of four presentations that draw on insights from Sociology, Cultural/Media Studies, Gender Studies, and History to illuminate the complex contour and content of postwar politics on the islands. Yokota focuses on a recent major shift in Okinawan identity politics and analyzes Okinawan claim for indigeneity within the postcolonial context of global indigenous rights movements. Maehara-Yamazato examines study abroad programs as a central site of postwar Okinawan leadership formation under American and Japanese hegemonic influences and analyzes its impacts on Okinawan ethnic and national identities. Koikari analyzes postwar domestic reform in Okinawa as part of gendered US strategies of domination and illuminates the discursive and material connections among scientific domesticity, technical training and education, and Cold War militarization. Tanaka focuses on President Clinton's speech at the G-8 Summit and interrogates the complex convergence of Japanese and American hegemonies at the Peace Memorial in Okinawa.

From "Primitive Savages" to Holders of Indigenous Rights: The Reformulation of Okinawan (Uchinanchu) Identity as Indigenous
Ryan M. Yokota, University of Chicago, USA

In 1903, the inclusion of Okinawans in the Jinruikan (Hall of Mankind) in the Fifth Industrial Exposition in Osaka drew severe outrage and protests from the Okinawan community through its depiction of the Okinawan people as “primitive” and “savage,” and through its association of Okinawans with other East Asian groups such as the Ainu, indigenous Taiwanese, and Malays, among others. Nearly a hundred years later, however, in contrast to this early attempt by Okinawans to separate themselves from other indigenous peoples, a nascent movement to embrace an Uchinānchu indigenous identity has begun to take place, as signaled by the participation of Uchinānchu from the Ryūkyūko no Senjū Minzoku Kai (Association of Indigenous Peoples in the Ryūkyūs) in the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations starting from 1996. In many respects, the acceptance by Uchinānchu of an indigenous identity has come about through the recognition of the range of rights now afforded to indigenous people under international law. At the same time, this movement has also signaled a powerful change in the way that Uchinānchu view themselves, a view that has not been without its share of critiques, on both the popular and intellectual level. This presentation will detail these changes and critiques through an analysis of theories of archaeological/anthropological descent, through a revisiting of intellectual figures that have imagined a more expansive sense of Uchinānchu identity, and by describing the role that activists have played in creating greater linkages between Uchinānchu and Ainu, along with other minority groups.

"Leaders for Tomorrow": Identity Formation of Okinawan Students in the United States During the U.S. Occupation of Okinawa
Kinuko Maehara-Yamazato, University of Hawaii, USA

During the United States occupation of Okinawa from 1945 to 1972, the United States government provided approximately 1,200 people in Okinawa with the opportunity, including scholarships, to receive their higher education and professional trainings in the United States. In Okinawa, the study abroad participants came to be known collectively as the Beiryu-gumi, literally meaning “study in the U.S. group.” This presentation first explores how this study abroad program was an integral part of the United States strategy for the occupation of Okinawa. I analyze official statements for the establishment of the scholarship program as well as a promoting documentary film “Leaders for Tomorrow” made by the United State Civil Administration of the Ryukyus. I argue that the program was established to create pro-American leaders and to showcase “democracy” in Okinawa while obscuring violence and disruption of U.S. militarization in Okinawa. Secondary, this presentation explores Okinawan students’ experiences of studying in the United States. Based on interviews conducted with the study abroad participants, it investigates the ways they negotiated their ambiguous status in the United States as American colonials but also as former enemy Japanese. It also demonstrates the impacts of their study abroad experiences on their formation of identities as “Beiryu-gumi,” the “leaders” for the post-WWII Okinawa in their own terms.

Mobilizing Women for Scientific Domesticity: Gender, Technical Education, and the Cold War in US-occupied Okinawa
Mire Koikari, University of Hawaii, USA

During the US occupation of Okinawa (1945 - 1972), the Michigan State University (MSU) became a chief agent in postwar reconstruction of the islands. Led by its legendary president, John Hannah, MSU faculty members were sent on a mission to advise the newly-established University of the Ryukyus in such fields as Agricultural Extension, Home Economics, and Vocational Education. As a result, domestic reform flourished in Okinawa, enlisting home economic specialists and extension agents and advocating the practice of "scientific home management." The network of home economists thus emerged in Okinawa was transnational in its nature, mobilizing human and other resources in not only the US and Japan but also Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and especially Hawaii. While the postwar domestic reformism sustained much of prewar colonial reform rhetoric of civilizing native homes and women, it also contained a new set of discourses and practices that were unique to the Cold War era. This paper explores how the US occupiers' project of domestic reform - a seemingly innocuous and depoliticized endeavor pursued by mostly female educators and reformers - constituted a central site of postwar militarization of Okinawa. As the paper argues, integrating Okinawan homes into a transnational web of experts and expertise of domestic improvement was a crucial component of US Cold War strategies whose political nature continues to be obscured due to its emphasis on modernity, femininity, and science/knowledge and whose legacies remain treated as the "evidence" of American beneficence toward Okinawans.

To Resist Against the Politics of Agreement
Yasuhiro Tanaka, International Christian University, Japan

While attending the G-8 Summit in 2000, President Clinton made a crucial speech at the Peace Memorial in Okinawa. His rhetoric was in many ways a sign of the times. On the one hand, in his short speech he redefined the US-Japan alliance to strengthen the US hegemony in the Far East and beyond. On the other hand, Clinton worked as an agent of the Japanese government in keeping Okinawa within a boundary of the nation-state. The G-8 Summit was in a way the US-Japan joint effort to keep the US bases in Okinawa. Their purpose was to keep ever-existing anti-base and anti-US sentiments in check and re-channel the island’s political energy into depoliticized and therefore harmless outlets. Ten years after the Summit, much to the Okinawans’ great disappointment and sorrow, the US and Japanese governments reached an agreement to build a new base in Henoko, Okinawa. Once again, the Okinawans were kept out of the decision making process. That is precisely why we must take a close look at cultural politics of both the US and Japanese governments.