- Writing Okinawa: Narrative Acts of Identity and Resistance
At last, we have a book-length study in English that explores the rich diversity of modern Okinawan fiction. That fact alone would be cause for celebration, but Davinder L. Bhowmik's Writing Okinawa does far more than merely fill a gap in extant English-language scholarship on Okinawan literature. Through detailed analysis of a wide range of fiction published from the early twentieth century to the present day, this book offers diverse perspectives into the region's perpetually shifting, yet ever tenuous, relationship with the Japanese state.
During the past fifteen years or so, Okinawa has increasingly garnered attention from scholars both inside and outside Japan for its intrinsic interest as well as for the ways in which it productively complicates our understanding of Japanese history, politics, and culture. It is simply impossible to grasp the full complexity of contemporary Okinawa without considering the region's ambivalent relationship to Japanese imperialism, its own semicolonial status within the empire, its unique experience (within Japan) of the Pacific War as a face-to-face ground battle, and its prolonged postwar experience of American occupation—not to mention the ongoing, ambiguous post-reversion political economy that continues to this day. At the same time, studies of Okinawa have been crucial to acquiring a thorough understanding of Japanese imperialism and colonialism, of the Pacific War and the Cold War in the Pacific, and of the myriad legacies left to the twenty-first century by all of these.
Writing Okinawa contributes to this dialogical understanding of the region's relationship to Japan by examining narratives by writers who seem to have little in common other than that they are Okinawan and write fiction. Yet Bhowmik argues that underlying these disparate works is a shared concern with the question of Okinawan identity—indeed, the problem of identity lies at the heart of her inquiry, although she is careful to highlight its multifaceted, constructed nature and is sensitive to the pitfalls of ahistorical, essentialist assumptions, to which some Okinawan authors themselves have proven susceptible.
The book consists of an introduction, six chapters, and a brief conclusion. The chapters proceed in roughly chronological order, thereby offering a sense of the development of Okinawan fiction over the course of the twentieth century. The first three chapters concentrate on writers active from the late Meiji era through the early 1940s: Yamagusuku Seichū, Ikemiyagi Sekihō, Hirotsu Kazuo (a mainland writer), Kushi Fusako, Yogi Seishō, and Miyagi Sō. Bhowmik situates their prose fiction in relation to the dominant Japanese intellectual and cultural currents of the times while drawing on postcolonial theory to bring these works into dialogue with contemporary literary scholarship. The second half of the book concentrates on the important postwar Okinawan writers Ōshiro Tatsuhiro, Medoruma Shun, and Sakiyama Tami. The chapter on Ōshiro concludes with a section on Shimao Toshio's influential theory on the cultural realm he identifies as "Yaponesia." [End Page 439]
Most chapters focus on one or two writers, providing close readings of both representative stories and lesser-known works while addressing a key theoretical or methodological issue confronting the region's writers at the time. Such issues include: the incorporation of "local color," which was commonly emphasized by critics intent on distinguishing regional writing from mainstream Japanese literature during the early twentieth century; the repression of women's voices among Okinawa's cultural elite; the challenge of translating Ryukyuan spoken languages onto the written page (including hybrid Japanese-Okinawan dialects); private versus social memory; the possibilities and limitations of specific literary approaches such as allegory, realism, magical realism, and (for lack of a better term) "postmodernist prose"; and the problem of representing the periphery within a cultural sphere that is already deemed marginal by many readers.
Throughout her study Bhowmik traces the vicissitudes of Okinawan identity across time, class, gender, and region as well as among individual writers and their fictional characters. During the Taishō and early Shōwa years, many Okinawan writers lived in major Japanese cities and wrote...