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The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan

Crossing the Borders Within

Steve Rabson

Publication Year: 2012

The experiences of Okinawans in mainland Japan, like those of migrant minorities elsewhere, derive from a legacy of colonialism, war, and alien rule. Okinawans have long coped with a society in which differences are often considered “strange” or “wrong,” and with a central government that has imposed a mono-cultural standard in education, publicly priding itself on the nation’s mythical “homogeneity.” They have felt strong pressures to assimilate by adopting mainland Japanese culture and concealing or discarding their own. Recently, however, a growing pride in roots has inspired more Okinawan migrants and their descendants to embrace their own history and culture and to speak out against inequities. Their experiences, like those of minorities in other countries, have opened them to an acute and illuminating perspective, given voice in personal testimony, literature, and song.

Although much has been written on Okinawan emigration abroad, this is the first book in English to consider the Okinawan diaspora in Japan. It is based on a wide variety of secondary and primary sources, including interviews conducted by the author in the greater Osaka area over a two-year period. The work begins with the experiences of women who worked in Osaka’s spinning factories in the early twentieth century, covers the years of the Pacific War and the prolonged U.S. military occupation of Okinawa, and finally treats the period following Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972. Throughout, it examines the impact of government and corporate policies, along with popular attitudes, for a compelling account of the Okinawan diaspora in the context of contemporary Japan’s struggle to acknowledge its multiethnic society.

The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan will find a ready audience among students of contemporary Japanese history and East Asian societies, as well as general readers interested in Okinawans and other minorities living in Japan.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. ix-ix

This study owes much to information and guidance from sociologist and Osaka resident Kaneshiro Munekazu, along with his articles (see bibliography) and public lectures on the Okinawan community. His advice was crucial in designing the questionnaire and conducting interviews. Higa Fujiko, a schoolteacher in Osaka, introduced me to numerous interviewees, helped distribute questionnaires, and provided timely suggestions...

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pp. 1-16

People encounter internal borders across the years and around the world. A company advertises job openings, but a man looking for work is greeted by a sign announcing that those from his birthplace need not apply. A family from the same birthplace looking for a home encounters a similar sign in front of an apartment building with vacancies. A factory pays a woman from there lower wages than it pays other employees, puts her in a more crowded dormitory room, and serves her leftover food in the company cafeteria...

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Chapter 1 The Homeland

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pp. 17-42

What the Japanese government designated as Okinawa Prefecture in 1879 encompasses most of the islands in the Ryukyu chain. They extend some eight hundred miles southwest from Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, almost to the northeastern tip of Taiwan. First recorded in China, the place-name Liu Ch’iu (Ryūkyū in Japanese) means “circle of jewels.” The boundaries of the Japanese prefecture today include the island groups of Okinawa, Yaeyama, and Miyako, but not the northernmost Amami...

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Chapter 2 High Hopes and Broken Promises (1900–1921)

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pp. 43-63

Li ttle record remains of people from the Ryukyu Kingdom traveling for work to Japan while it was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate from 1600 to 1868. The shogunate’s strict enforcement of prohibitions on immigration and travel could easily explain the lack of documents. But in at least two instances, evidence strongly suggests that people from Ryukyu went for gainful employment to Japan. Fishermen from the village of Itoman, still famous as a...

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Chapter 3 Moving for a Better Life (1921–1937)

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pp. 64-93

Even before the collapse of sugar prices in 1921 devastated Okinawa’s economy, compelling so many to leave the prefecture, Japan had fallen into a postwar depression that had ravaging effects in rural areas. The “World War I boom,” though it had created jobs in cities, resounded with a steep wave of inflation that was making it harder to pay for daily necessities. The price of rice soared to four times prewar levels by July 1918, more than doubling from the year before...

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Chapter 4 Wartime (1937–1945)

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pp. 94-137

As more Oki nawans moved to the mainland, their residential communities continued to grow. It was Japan’s involvement in full-scale war that brought in thousands of Okinawans for military-related jobs. In its final years, however, the war wrought death and devastation on their communities, which were mostly located in urban industrial areas. The number of Okinawans residing in Greater Osaka more than tripled between 1935 and 1940, from 18,774 to 56,828, after having declined by 4,565 over the previous five years.1 During the second half of Japan’s turbulent 1930s, more...

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Chapter 5 An Occupied Homeland (1945–1972)

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pp. 138-194

With many still not knowing whether their relatives had survived the battle, Okinawans on the mainland had varied reactions to the emperor’s radio broadcast on August 15, 1945, announcing Japan’s surrender. Oyakawa Takayoshi, then twenty-nine, was staying in the countryside of Nara Prefecture when he heard it...

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Chapter 6 Being Okinawan in Japan Today (1972–)

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pp. 195-217

Tw o months after Yamaguchi Shigemitsu’s arrest, Okinawans on the mainland observed Reversion Day on May 15, 1972, by celebrating the end of U.S. military rule and protesting the terms of the “prejudiced agreement.” At the Hyōgo Association’s twenty-seventh annual convention, members commemorated the event by burning their U.S.-issued “passports.” Demonstrations the same month in several cities protested the deployment of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to Okinawa, as well as U.S. bases there. For Okinawans...

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Chapter 7 The Minority Experience in Japan A Comparative Perspective

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pp. 218-255

It is all too easy in hindsight to sneer at expedients, such as namechanging, to conceal ethnic identity. Some circumstances require them for economic survival. Constant exposure to prejudice can also have profound psychological effects that are especially devastating for children and youth. Yet concealing ethnicity can also cause internal conflict, erecting borders in the mind. George DeVos writes of “an internal duality involving a partially pejorative self-image.”1

Appendix Questionnaire Survey Results

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pp. 257-259


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pp. 261-290


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pp. 291-299


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pp. 302-312

About the author, Back cover

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pp. 313-319

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860332
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835347

Publication Year: 2012