For two decades, I have edited a biannual series of volumes under the title Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing. Each volume is published by the University of Hawai'i Press as an original paperback book, and occasionally a volume also appears in hardback form. Oftentimes the publications are compilations of contemporary literature in new English translation from specific places in Asia and the Pacific-places that are not always defined by national borders.
The guiding editorial assumption of Mānoa has been that excellent international literature-well wrought and attuned to the multiplicity and mystery of what makes us human-invariably transcends itself, no matter how local its details may be. By literature I mean stories that address the profound concerns of listeners and readers who recognize their own circumstances, and at the same time appreciate a true presentation of the cognitive, moral, and aesthetic variety that comprises the world as a whole. At best, literature carries us-not as tourists or eavesdroppers, but as kin-into the lives and locations of others, to whom we acknowledge a responsibility beyond tribe and nation. Just as in the ecological harmony of plants, animals, and other beings, in the human world every community and relationship matters; none can be subtracted without producing consequences for the whole. Stories reinforce the belief that we live in a complex, polyglot ecology of human experiences; and the ways that we sing, dance, think, and create are the stuff of our shared imaginations, crossing borders and pollinating our better selves to make dignity and justice possible.
In 2008, Professor Katsunori Yamazato of the University of the Ryukyus suggested to me that Okinawan American literature would be appropriate for publication in the Mānoa series, where it could appear in the context of other international literature, while also standing on its own.
Clearly, the world has much to learn by reading the best Okinawan literature. Among those lessons, I will mention just two: the ways Okinawans arrange ethical relationships with one another and the world, and the metaphors in Okinawan literature that add to the "word hoard," "story hoard," and "metaphor hoard" of the world's emotional and intellectual resources. [End Page 203]
George Kerr notes in Okinawa: The History of an Island People, "It is striking that, almost without exception, foreigners who visited Okinawa before 1850 made special note of the Okinawan mildness and kindliness of character" and, he adds, "a general love and aptitude for singing and dancing." As early as the sixteenth century, visitors observed that there were no lethal weapons in Okinawa and the monarchy had no armed forces. Indeed, when Japanese warriors from Satsuma invaded in 1609, they were aware that carrying personal weapons had long been banned. Militarily overmatched, the kingdom was seized by samurai of the Shimazu daimyo from the north. Okinawa remained in a tributary relationship with Satsuma until Commodore Perry arrived in 1853, demanding that Okinawa sign a separate compact with the U.S. Such interference by a number of Western powers hastened the assimilation of the Ryukyu Islands by Japan's Meiji government in 1879.
Despite a history of disputes over their autonomy, Okinawans have maintained a cultural temperament of peace, cooperation, and tolerance-which is not to say passive, uncompetitive, or free of internal conflicts. Today, Okinawans are among the most peace-conscious people in the Japanese prefectures.
At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the popular Okinawan musician Kina Shoukichi and his band, Champloose, performed. Their theme was "Lay down your weapons, take up musical instruments" (Subete no buki wo gakki ni). A peace advocate and member of the Japanese parliament's House of Councillors, Kina also played at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. His popular music satirically comments on such social issues as cultural identity and the unwelcome presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. James E. Roberson discusses Kina's playful, double-edged lyrics in his article "Uchinaa Pop: Place and Identity in Contemporary Okinawan Popular Music." Roberson cites, as an example, the lyrics to "Akisamiyo!" (Oh, No!), from Kina's 1980 album Blood Line:
Hey, Nabi,Is Okinawa part of Japan?In the past grandpa...