- Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan by Hiroko Matsuda
Liminality of the Japanese Empire is an important work that addresses a long-overlooked topic and region while recognizing the complexity of history and human experience. Hiroko Matsuda examines the various motivations for and lives of Okinawan migrants crossing the watery border to Taiwan during Japan's colonial era and repatriating after Japan's defeat. In an introduction, epilogue, and six clearly organized chapters, Matsuda fleshes out the complex political, social, and cultural contexts of the perennially [End Page 482] shifting burdens on and desires of the people of Okinawa. The analysis is framed through the concept of liminality to good effect. Matsuda highlights the precarious place of the Ryukyu Kingdom/Okinawa (understood as the numerous islands that make up what we now call Okinawa Prefecture), which has been forced to negotiate its own identity and agency vis-à-vis China, Japan, and the West. Set against the backdrop of Japan's radical transformation through nation-state and empire building, modernization, and industrialization, this scholarly treatment of Okinawa's imposed identity as the "southern gate" of Japanese empire investigates both the liminal spaces and identities that settlers inhabited and the biases and discrimination they navigated.
This is not just a sweeping history. Through firsthand accounts of personal journeys, hardships, and achievements, Liminality of the Japanese Empire portrays diverse trajectories of Okinawans in schooling, employment, and social integration in Okinawa and Taiwan during and after Japan's colonial rule. Matsuda captures the dramatic changes in Taiwan and Okinawa under the cloud of Japanese imperialism featuring both individual life stories and multiple generations of families. Crucially, Matsuda's focus extends beyond the main island of Okinawa and the ordeals of the Battle of Okinawa, thus enriching our perspective of this period and people's experience. Many of her informants hailed from the southwestern part of the archipelago—specifically, the Yaeyama and Miyako islands. While tracing their multifaceted marginalization within dominant mainland Japan and Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule, Matsuda skillfully integrates topics such as class and gender throughout the work. The inclusion of a wide range of supplementary materials—including maps, photographs, tables, and advertisements—enhances the reader's ability to imagine the macro and micro picture of the realities and meanings of the border crossings.
The introduction offers clarifying historical contextualization of the Ryukyu Kingdom, its complex and contested relationships with Japan and China, and the predicaments caused by the region's engagement with the United States from the late nineteenth century. Matsuda situates her theoretical underpinnings within a broad range of scholarship in colonial, border, and ethnographic studies, putting her ideas in conversation with the works of Victor W. Turner, Ann Stoler, Edward Said, and Oguma Eiji. At its heart, this book is an examination of the lived experience of Okinawans caught in a state of betwixt-and-between-ness not just amidst political entities or countries but also the constructed and contested lines demarcating the superiority and inferiority of peoples. Matsuda therefore attends to the material and discursive nature of the terms "boundary" and "border" as they interact with the conceptualization of "liminality." To use Matsuda's language, this project sheds light on "the intricate relationship between the geographic borders and the boundaries of Japan and the Japanese by examining the narratives and practices of people living in the border zone" [End Page 483] (p. 7), which brings to the fore "the malleable nature of the ruler and the ruled" and the "dynamic use of the border between the Inner Territory and the Outer Territories" (p. 5).
The first chapter, "Migration in the Age of Modern Colonialism," contextualizes labor migration patterns from both Japan and Okinawa within larger geopolitical transformations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Common destinations promoted by government and private agencies for Japanese/Okinawans included Hawai'i, the west coast of the United States, South America (Brazil, Peru, and Argentina), the Philippines, and the...