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Beachheads: War, Peace, and Tourism in Postwar Okinawa by Gerald Figal (review)

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 40, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 140-144 | 10.1353/jjs.2014.0024

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This volume joins a body of English-language scholarship on Okinawa that has markedly increased in the last 20 years. Following Alan Christy’s 1993 article “The Making of Imperial Subjects in Okinawa,” monographs on Okinawa have been published in disciplines such as history, literature, and anthropology. Also now available are multiple anthologies of translations of Okinawa’s fiction and poetry as well as edited volumes that contain essays on a wide range of topics such as film, emigration, and social protest. Gerald Figal’s new monograph adds to this corpus, highlighting tensions in Okinawa, which despite being awash in wartime legacies is also Japan’s “tourism prefecture,” where the image of tropical leisure tourism is actively cultivated. Figal extends the study of what Glenn Hook and Richard Siddle frame as “structure and subjectivity” by taking a wide view of the production and consumption of tourism that encompasses institutional structures, and then tracing human interactions with these structures. In doing so, he shows strong connections among war, peace, and tourism in postwar Okinawa.

Beachheads is organized in three parts, each consisting of two chapters. Historical analyses on early postwar tourism of war memorials and the “memorial boom” of the 1960s comprise part 1 (“Graves and Caves”); the tropicalization of Okinawa’s landscape and the restoration of Shuri Castle comprise part 2 (“Creations and Recreations”); and military bases and beach resorts comprise part 3 (“Bases and Beaches”). In spite of this neat symmetry, Figal’s coverage of these topics is somewhat uneven. Part 1, while vital in laying the groundwork for the book’s richest chapter (on the restoration of Shuri Castle), lacks the force of parts 2 and 3. The book’s concluding section on bases and beaches struck this reader as regrettably short, though long enough for Figal to astutely link military installations and the built environments of beach resorts, both of which colonize Okinawa’s landscape. Mentioned in passing several times throughout the book is Expo ’75, the theme of which was Okinawa’s aquamarine sea and cerulean sky. An extended consideration of this exhibition, held to commemorate Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty, might have given the concluding section greater weight.

To his credit, Figal explains why he eschews Expo ’75: Tada Osamu has already extensively discussed this signal event marking Okinawa’s reversion. While Tada, like many, considers Expo ’75 a watershed event in Okinawa tourism, Figal acknowledges the Expo as the realization of tourism development in Okinawa but wishes to take the longer view to stress that the advancement of tourism had already been going on for more than a decade as his book’s early chapters show. Also, Figal takes issue with what Tada characterizes as “the parallel worlds of bases and tourism” (p. 183). Although it is true that a tourist departing and returning to Naha airport by bus for a resort on Okinawa’s picturesque west coast or pristine north might successfully avoid the taint of graves, caves, and bases, what Figal demonstrates in his book is that, in practice, these worlds are inextricably linked.

Figal stresses that the roots of Okinawa tourism began in the 1950s, a period when Okinawans found nothing touristy about their war-torn island. Thus, the Okinawa Tourist Association had to create promotional literature targeted at Okinawans themselves to effect tourism consciousness. War memorials formed the bedrock of early tourism, with young female bus guides catering to guests from the main islands. Their accounts of the carnage of the Battle of Okinawa conformed to mainland Japanese expectations of a tragic but patriotic story of loyal Okinawan sacrifice that historians and peace activists would later claim as “a whitewashing of civilian war experience and as a ready acceptance of the Japanese state’s rationale for war and, in particular, its use (sacrifice) of Okinawa to stall the Allies in their advance upon the mainland” (p. 44). This uncritical packaging of wartime experience is not surprising given that this was an early stage in tourism on an island with a struggling economy. Hosts could not very well insult guests by challenging the actions of their sons, brothers, and fathers who had died for their nation. In short, tourism was...



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