Voices from Okinawa offers writings by Okinawan Americans who were born either in the United States, such as Jon Shirota, June Hiroko Arakawa, and Philip K. Ige, or in Okinawa, such as Seiyei Wakukawa and Mitsugu Sakihara. It has been a dream of the editors to compile such an anthology. Voices is the first publication of its kind, presenting authors from a region of the world that has yet to be fully acknowledged in American and international literature.
Some scholars and readers-but too few-have long been aware of the social and cultural atmosphere that is unique to literary works by Okinawan American writers. The best known of this literature is Jon Shirota's novel Lucky Come Hawaii. Widely read when first published by Bantam in 1965, the story was later adapted by Shirota as a play. It was produced in New York in 1990 by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, with a grant from the John F. Kennedy Center Foundation. The play was praised in the New York Times and continues to be produced in the U.S., along with Shirota's other plays about Okinawan immigrants and their descendants.
Lucky Come Hawaii is set on Maui and begins immediately before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the male Okinawan characters express strong pro-Japanese nationalism as soon as they hear about the attack. They begin to think that Japan will take over all of Hawai'i and even hope that this will happen soon so that they-not well-placed haoles (Caucasians)-will be able to control Maui. They imagine that victorious Japanese soldiers will come to Maui, so that even Okinawans-marginalized and discriminated against by the Naichi (Japanese immigrants from Japan's main islands)-will be big shots. So thinks Kama Gusuda, an Issei (first-generation immigrant) from a small, impoverished village in the northern part of Okinawa. The reactions of the various characters to the war reveal where they came from and how they have been affected by immigrating to Hawai'i.
Shirota gives his Okinawan characters cultural and ethnic traits that distinguish them from other Japanese. The troubled relations between Okinawa and the rest of Japan have continued since 1879, when the Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by the rising East Asian empire of the northern [End Page vii] islands. Even after Okinawans settle in Hawai'i and the United States, they must struggle for an identity of their own, Japanese and yet undeniably Okinawan.
Despite the many cultural and linguistic distinctions, Okinawan writers have been seen as a small group within the larger category of Japanese American literature. Regarded as peripheral, these writers have generally been overlooked by scholars and editors. Why were Okinawan American writers not included in anthologies of Japanese American or Asian American writers?
In Voices from Okinawa, readers will discover the exuberance and excellence of Okinawan American literature, as well as its importance to world literature. Showcasing these works is a way of questioning the established "canon" of Asian American and Japanese American literature. We believe that as more Okinawan Americans are published, these literary categories will be seen from a new perspective: more inclusive, complex, and multilayered.
Okinawan American writing at present may be hidden deep in special collections and in public or private libraries. We look forward to presenting works by more Okinawan authors-both young and old-in the coming years.
The publication of Voices from Okinawa is made possible by a grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sciences of Japan. The University of the Ryukyus received a 2008 grant to do research on human migration, and we are grateful that the Pacific and North American Research Project generously provided the funds necessary for publishing this book. [End Page viii]
Katsunori Yamazato received his doctorate from the University of California at Davis and is professor of American literature and culture at the University of the Ryukyus. His books include Great Earth Sangha: Dialogues between Gary Snyder and Sansei Yamao; Japanese translations of Snyder's A Place in Space and Mountains and Rivers without End; and Post-War Okinawa and America: Fifty Years of Cross-Cultural Contact...