How Okinawans See Themselves

Shiomi Maeda

Okinawa – Southern island of Japan – has a quite unique culture. As we covered in the class, Okinawa once was an independent country itself; once belonged to a different country; and today is a part of Japan. We non-Okinawan would say “Okinawa is of course a part of Japan, but it’s different from the rest of Japan.” Is this the case with what Okinawans see themselves? Since I fortunately have a friend (Kenshiro Oshiro) from Nago, Okinawa, I decided to interview him.

The identity he would prefer is – Okinawan identity

…So his prior identity is that as Okinawan. But, according to him, this is not because he is from a special island with unique historical backgrounds, but is more like affection/sincerity that everyone would hold toward his/her hometown.

Just because he prefers regional identity over the national one does not mean he does not have a national identity – because he DOES see himself as a member of Japanese society, just like us.

“I’m both Okinawan and Japanese. It’s just I have a stronger sense of belonging to my home, than to my country.”

However, as he continued, he came to realize the existence of special pride as Uchinanchu (Okinawan) – being different from Yamatonchu (non-Okinawan).

“We Okinawans have…a pride. We are proud of being the way we are, distinct from the rest of Japan.”

He claims this “pride” came into existence due to the history of discrimination against Okinawa.

H: We chose to belong back to Japan. But I am not sure whether it was right to have done so.

Ever since the year of 1972 when Okinawa was returned from the States, Japanese government has laid such a huge burden to the prefecture of Okinawa, such as existence of the U.S. Army bases.

On the one hand, they are forced to be Japanized. On the other hand, they have been treated different from the rest, and been facing social discrimination. They have always been left in-between. This discrimination brought up their pride – being different from the rest.

We have been considered different, treated differently. They always saw us behind in lower status. This long-time inferiority complex has strengthened our pride as Uchinanchu.”

But at the same time, he says Okinawans thank the nation for their economical development.

“If we had made a different choice, I don’t think Okinawa could survive in today’s globalized economy. In this sense, that choice was a right one.”

I personally think having different culture and values is interesting and fun, unless each culture and its people are properly respected. But in reality, Okinawans have been suffering from segregation because of its unique history. And this is now the way we can be proud of ourselves.

“It is very important to learn the historical background when it comes to discuss the issues surrounding Okinawa. Things are so complicated that not all of them can be seen on the surface.”

That is true. We non-Okinawans are too unconscious or ignorant about this issue. This is the biggest problem. The first step to resolve the issue is for us to get to know the history and current situation.

It is on us whether to leave the issue as it is now, or to try to make it better.

Special thanks to Kenshiro Oshiro (11/14/2011)

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2 thoughts on “How Okinawans See Themselves

  1. not intending to be rude but c’mon-who contributed and contributes directly into their Okinawan economy ?
    the US military.

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