AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 745

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Session 745: Re-Thinking Nationhood: Okinawan and Japanese Attitudes to National Identity and Reversion, 1945-1972

Organizer: Satoko Uechi, Waseda University, Japan

Discussant: Wendy Matsumura, Furman University, USA

The “reversion” of Okinawa to Japan in 1972 clearly redefined Japan’s national boundaries in the postwar period. This panel approaches this monumental event from the perspective of mainland Japanese social movements, decolonization struggles in Asia, American Cold War policy, and local political imagination and practice. While approaching reversion from the disciplines of political science, history and education, a question that all panelists seek to explore is why this particular moment – celebrated then and now in dominant narratives that articulate the relationship between Okinawa and Japan – led to a fundamental questioning of seemingly stable notions of “Okinawa(n)-ness” and “Japanese-ness,” and the relationship between the two. This is an important point of inquiry because the uncertainties that arose and were quickly concealed under the veil of rightful return home, sheds light on the complicated past and present of Okinawa’s differentiated status within the Japanese state and efforts to minimize or dismiss these differences. Further, by examining figures who were sympathetic to the treatment of Okinawa and Okinawans under American Occupation – diasporic communities, mainland schoolteachers, and local intellectuals – the panelists reject the notion of a homogeneous Okinawan or Japanese position, and hope to contribute to the nascent but growing scholarship that focuses narrowly but is informed by wider theoretical perspectives. For example, the panelists aim to contribute to literature on the relationship between local and global social movements, resident and diasporic communities, and national and local education. The tensions that emerged reflect the difficulties of reconciling political strategy and everyday practice.

Contextualizing “We, Okinawans” ― Perspectives on the Okinawa Status Issue of 1951 from Okinawa, Tokyo, and Hawaii
Satoko Uechi, Waseda University, Japan

This paper illuminates the complicated power relationships among Okinawans in Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii as they considered the ambiguous future of Okinawa before the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This paper aims to (1) suggest a perspective to reconsider Okinawa’s reversion event in the context of postwar Japan, in which Okinawa is often described as pro-reversion, and (2) to introduce a diasporic political viewpoint into discussion of postwar Okinawa by focusing on the tension among the islands, mainland and oversea communities. When Okinawa started struggling to recover from wartime damage under U.S. military direct occupation, some Okinawan elites in Tokyo began to re-establish relationships with Okinawan immigrant communities overseas. The quickest responses came from Hawaii. When postal service resumed, these three groups began sharing local information through the exchange of newspapers, private letters and personal traffic while the latter two engaged in vigorous relief activities. This triangular interaction was supported by a strong sense of “we, Okinawans”. This paper examines how local Okinawans began discussing their future using the framework of pro-reversion vs. anti-reversion as the San Francisco Peace Treaty loomed. The attitude of their compatriots in Tokyo and Honolulu were different. Voices from Tokyo were pro-reversion and Okinawans in Hawaii were largely silent on the issue. However, both shared in common a paternalistic tone toward Okinawans in Okinawa. Local Okinawans, on the other hand, regardless of their opinion toward the Okinawa’s status, in turn criticized overseas Okinawans for not understanding the reality under the military occupation.

Reconsidering the Okinawan Territorial Debate of 1968-72
Hiroshi Komatsu, Waseda University, Japan

Okinawa’s reversion was officially recognised by the Japanese and US governments in 1965, and the details were disclosed in a joint statement by Satō and Nixon in 1967. However, reversion did not bring about the removal of US forces, which greatly disappointed Okinawan people calling for the exclusion of military bases from the islands. By 1970, when reversion was becoming a reality, opposition was emerging from the Okinawa Pro-independence Movement and Anti-Reversion Debate. Previous studies have dichotomized these arguments as conservative vs. progressive, or pro-reversion vs. pro-independence. However, in this presentation, I wish to propose an alternative, triangular structure, which comprises Japan, Okinawa and the US. The pro-independents asserted that it would serve Okinawa best to become a country of asylum under the US, while the supporters of the Anti-Reversion Debate insisted that reversion to Japan would destroy Okinawan identity, and suggested metaphysical thought that denied statism through ethnic nationalism. Against these opinions, reversion supporters called for Okinawa’s re-integration into the Japanese nation, arguing that the way to happiness for Okinawa was protection under the Japanese Constitution. By analysing pro-reversion writings by Yara Chōbyō (first elected Chief Executive, Government of the Ryukyu Islands), pro-independence writings by Yamazato Eikichi (thinker), and anti-reversion literature by Arakawa Akira (thinker), I will elucidate how the pro-reversionists aspired to Japan, the pro-independents felt affinity to the US, and the anti-reversionists endorsed Okinawan national identity. This will contribute to understanding how Okinawan identity continues to be negotiated today vis-à-vis Japan.

“Japanese” Activists and the “Okinawa Problem” ― An Examination of the “Teaching Okinawa” Movement by the Japan Teacher’s Union
Yuriko Ono, Hitotsubashi University, Japan

From the late 1960s, calling for reversion of Okinawa became the typical political stance for labor unions and pacifist organizations. For “Japanese” activists in the mainland, what exactly did the “Okinawan problem” refer to, and what significance did reversion hold? On the one hand, calling for reversion of Okinawa spoke volumes about these organizations’ political stance toward continued American Occupation in the region. On the other hand, it tended to reflect their easy reconciliation of Okinawan difference. In other words, many Japanese activists enthusiastically called for reversion without grappling with the complexities of what that would mean for people living within Okinawa. That being said, some people did try to better understand local conditions. Particularly poignant in this respect were the teachers who tried to teach their students about Okinawa because they were troubled that most school textbooks did not have sufficient information about Okinawa, and because their students did not see Okinawans’ lack of Japanese citizenship as problematic. In order to combat these twin problems, in 1967, the Japan Teacher’s Union developed a policy that stated their intention to deal with the “Okinawa problem” in the classroom. This presentation examines the difficulties that teachers encountered when they actually began teaching about Okinawa with very little in the form of teaching materials. Using teachers’ reports, it traces the processes through which the teachers overcame their own lack of knowledge and convinced their students that Okinawa is part of Japan.