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  • Alegal: Biopolitics and the Unintelligibility of Okinawan Life by Annmaria M. Shimabuku
  • Masamichi Inoue (bio)
Alegal: Biopolitics and the Unintelligibility of Okinawan Life. By Annmaria M. Shimabuku. Fordham University Press, New York, 2019. xx, 219 pages. $95.00, cloth; $28.00, paper; $27.99, E-book.

Annmaria M. Shimabuku's Alegal: Biopolitics and the Unintelligibility of Okinawan Life explores forms of agency in postwar Okinawa constituted at the margin of "a network of racialized territorial sovereignties [i.e., the United States and Japan] across the Asia-Pacific" (p. 6) by examining, among other issues, conditions in entertainment districts around U.S. bases. In the process, the book perceptively problematizes Japan as a "biopolitical state"—a state that controls life through "[t]he reproduction, management, and commodification of labor power" (p. 9)—where patriarchal norms of monoethnicity have been promoted, according to Shimabuku's analysis, through the formation of the Japanese middle class from the prewar through postwar periods. The author's explorations are theoretically informed by a number of critical concepts. Central among these is the "alegal," defined as "a form of life that exists in a condition of unintelligibility to the biopolitical state" (p. 12).

In the introduction, the ideas of alegal and biopolitical state are laid out against the background of "triangulation" (p. 4)—a historical process originating in the U.S. policy to confront and contain the power of the Soviet Union after World War II, which was actualized in the Asia-Pacific region through the economic use of mainland Japan as the factory of Asia, on the one hand, and the military use of Okinawa as the keystone of the Pacific, on the other. The chapters that follow elaborate on these concepts—alegal, biopolitical states, and triangulation—and others through close readings of poetry, reportage, film, and memoir.

Chapter 1, titled "Japan in the 1950s: Symbolic Victims," explores, with Kyoto School materialist philosopher Tosaka Jun's work in the 1930s, the origin of the biopolitical state in prewar Japan and examines its postwar development. At the heart of the biopolitical state lies "the logic of substitution, whereupon the family came to symbolically stand in for the larger society or state through quasi-religious feelings of 'primitivism' or 'mysticism'" (p. 5). Shimabuku substantiates this insight by examining a number of antibase reportages produced in mainland Japan in the 1950s. As Shimabuku explains, they characterized the presence of U.S. troops as the cause of the crisis of Japan as the family state; the troops permeated the war-defeated nation [End Page 439] through varied forms of sexual contact with Japanese women, and the births of mixed-race children, particularly around U.S. bases, represented large-scale "miscegenation." The Japanese solution to this crisis, as Shimabuku shows, was the transfer of U.S. bases from mainland Japan to Okinawa. She astutely notes that antibase reportages—or movements, more generally—in mainland Japan, in their very desire to eliminate the violence of the Other, ironically contributed to disseminating patriarchal norms of monoethnicity in mainland Japan, on the one hand, and "securing Okinawa for miscegenation" (p. 32), on the other.

Chapter 2, entitled "Okinawa, 1945–1952: Allegories of Becoming," focuses on social conditions in Okinawa in the aftermath of the war, tracing the process whereby the sexual violence of the U.S. military resulted in the establishment of entertainment districts around the bases. Invoking Yunshin Hong's analysis of the agency of Korean comfort women in prewar Okinawa, Shimabuku perceptively explains the fragmented subjectivity of Okinawan women immediately after the war, constituted by multilayered fears—a fear of being violated by Black servicemen and Filipino scouts, a fear of being made into "comfort women" for U.S. troops, and a fear of being misrecognized as spies of the U.S. military by Japanese soldiers. In so doing, Shimabuku also shows the birth of the "petitioning" (masculine) subject, a term invented by Tomiyama Ichiro—a subject who requests, based on free will, his "'right' to conduct [sex] business with the U.S. military" (p. 39)—as an effect of the complex "sex-scape" created by the presence of the U.S. military after the war.

Chapter 3, titled "Okinawa...


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