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  • Our Gang Age, 1970
  • Uehara Noboru
    Translated by Kyoko Selden and Alisa Freedman (bio)

Uehara Noboru (1947-) is a member of the generation of postwar Okinawans who grew up throwing stones at, and taking hits in return from, American children in the housing area for foreigners near the U.S. military bases. “Our Gang Age, 1970” (1970-nen gyangu eiji) first appeared in the November 10, 1982 issue of the Ryūkyū shinpō (Ryūkyū News) and was awarded the magazine’s short story prize.

The year 1970 is remembered in Okinawa for the Koza riot. Koza was the name of the city established by the U.S. military government in the area formerly called Goeku. Present-day Okinawa City (founded in 1974) combines Koza and the neighboring village of Misato. It had been known since late 1969 that Okinawa would revert to Japan in 1972, but tensions rose as it became clear that the U.S. military was to remain in Okinawa leaving the bases intact. Clashes between American servicemen and Okinawan civilians increased, and crimes, such as rape, homicide, child sexual abuse, and robbery, were committed by soldiers returning from Vietnam. In 1970 alone, 960 criminal cases and more than 1,000 traffic accidents were reported.1 The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement protected American servicemen from prosecution by the Ryukyuan police.

On July 8, 1969, fatally poisonous gas leaked from a secret American military powder factory in Misato. On December 7, American servicemen who killed an Okinawan woman from Itoman in a September 1970 traffic accident were acquitted. Okinawan citizens’ resentment about the above events and others boiled over in the December 20 Koza riot. Triggered by a traffic accident just after one o’clock in the morning in which an American soldier hit an Okinawan civilian employee, rioting continued past dawn; over seventy-five American cars were burned, and more than 120 people were injured.

The Okinawan children in Uehara’s story only fight with American children their age; they are friendly toward American adults. There is, moreover, a tacit understanding [End Page 147] on both sides that their fights are their own business, never to be reported to teachers or parents. The story nonetheless reflects the tensions in Okinawa two years before the conclusion of the official occupation and the reversion of administrative rights to Japan, leaving the U.S. military base intact. The story also reveals the narrator’s ambivalence toward the American children, including a certain bonding with the rival gang leader with whom he and his friends shared the “gang age,” at least in retrospect.

Hey, Johnny. I wonder how you’re doing now, having suddenly left that time for god-knows-where. We had been revving up our anger so we could beat you to a pulp someday. But after you disappeared, we felt as if we had lost an important friend.

At first, we said to one another, “He’s shutting himself up in his house like a beaten dog with his tail between his legs,” and “After all, the Americans are too scared to fight one-on-one.” But after a week, when we learned that nobody had seen you, we actually started to worry. We taunted Charlie, McGammon, and the others, mimicking their English, “Hey! Come on, come on baby!” We were trying to lure you, their boss, out. “Hey, come on, where’s Johnny?”

They turned red with rage at our taunts, but all they did was kick the dust to intimidate us. They didn’t go inside to their boss. Because you were our sole target, we let them go without beating them bloody when we saw no sign of you. At that, Charlie, McGammon, and the others hung their heads in shame and ran away.

Really, their sudden change bewildered us. We didn’t even want to fight Charlie, “Slick Charlie,” as we called him, the wily guy who terrified us with his cruelty, and McGammon, “Giant Mac,” as we nicknamed him because he resorted to reckless brutality despite being so massive and weighing almost 170 pounds. We knew then: Johnny, you no longer lived in the Housing Area.

Johnny, now that we...