(translated by Erika Kaneko) From: “KAN” Vol. 43, Autumn 2010
We are not treated as equals My love for Okinawa is boundless. Okinawa is my mabui (spirit) and my body. I was born on the island of Ishigaki and grew up on the islands of South Daitô, Yonaguni and Okinawa, among the peoples, cultures and the seas of these islands. It has become customary to use the name of the main island of the group, Okinawa, interchangeably and as representative of the whole Ryûkyû chain. In historical contexts, it stands for the independent Kingdom of Ryûkyû. We Ryûkyûans call ourselves Uchinanchū (we, us, ourselves) and the Japanese Yamatunchū (those from Yamato/ Japan). Even when I moved to Tôkyô to enter University and lived in a dormitory, I could not forget Okinawa. The contrary, my love grew even deeper. When the Yamatunchû asked, “Where do you come from? What is your nationality?” and I replied, “I am from Okinawa”, they gazed at my face with puzzled curiosity. I repeatedly faced this kind of encounter, I had never before experienced in Okinawa. Throughout my primary, middle and high school years, I had a Japanese education and spoke Japanese, although I am Okinawan. In 1972, when the USA “returned” Okinawa to Japanese administration, I was a third grader. At the time, I had an unforgettable experience. A teacher identified one of the students who had said something in our language by placing a “dialect label” around his neck and punishing him, because the school authorities were enforcing the rule that all speak Japanese. This was also customary in pre-war, (Second World War) contexts. I experienced with my body what it meant to be under Japanese rule. Although we are Japanese citizens, have a Japanese education and speak Japanese, the Japanese never acknowledge us as equals and treat us as foreigners. Among the Okinawans in the dormitory, some friends were so shocked by this treatment that they left school. It was the Japanese who made me conscious of my complexion, facial features and language. I read and discussed with my friends the books written by the fathers of Ryûkyûan studies Iha Fuyû, Higashiona Kanjun and Yanagita Kunio, who espoused a thesis, alleging the cultural and historical identity of Japan and Ryûkyû - the so-called “same ancestor theory”. If we were one people and one culture, how do we explain the historical fact that Japan did unspeakable things to us? An irresistible quest from the core of my being to solve questions, asking things such as,“What is the Okinawa issue ?” and ”Why Okinawa? ”, made me decide to enter the 2 path of scholarship. My primary subjects were comparative studies of the Ryûkyû archipelago and other Pacific islands and island economies. I confirmed my view that all islands are equal in their mutual relationships and learn from each other. I am Okinawa! When Okinawa or Okinawans are appreciated, I am happy, and when they are discriminated against and insulted, I feel sad and angry. This is not a sign of a shallow local patriotism, but an expression of our determination to prevent yet another period of colonization. Ever since the US military occupied Okinawa 56 years ago and turned administrative power over to Japan 38 years ago, the Japanese government and the Japanese people have turned a blind eye to threats to the lives and livelihoods of the Okinawan people and ignore the stabilization of this dire colonial situation. It can be said the Okinawa issue is a discrimination issue and I want to find a way to liberate us. From Serfdom To illegal Annexation Okinawa became a subject of discrimination from the very moment it was incorporated into Japan, as it’s southernmost part. In 1609, Shôgun Tokugawa Iyeyasu permitted the feudal fief of Satsuma to attack the Ryûkyûs. After the rout, King Shô Nei of Ryûkyû was taken prisoner and forced to face Iyeyasu at Sumpu castle on his way to surrender in Edo. The Ryûkyû government was exhorted to send tributary missions to Edo and fulfill its tributary obligations to Japan. The mission was humiliated by being paraded in front of the population of Edo as foreigners in outlandish garb, accompanied by garish music. This kind of reception was also customarily meted out to envoys from Korea. For the kingdom, modern times started in 1609. The Satsuma fief separated and administered the Amami Ôshima islands directly, enforced a monoculture of sugar cane, introduced serfdom and taxed relentlessly. Satsuma officials were stationed at Shuri castle to ensure total control of the kingdom, collect taxes and siphon off the kingdom’s proceeds from trade with China. At the time, the Western Imperial powers were expanding their colonies in the Asia- Pacific region. At the same time, Japan strengthened its relations with the West and staked out its own territory. To augment it, Japan unilaterally claimed the Ryûkyûs. In 1879, Japan subdued the Kingdom by military force, and demoted the kingdom to the Ryûkyû fief and the king to chief of the fiefdom, exiling him to Tôkyô. The Japanese government called this the “disposal of the Ryûkyûs”, and continues to use this discriminatory terminology in schoolbooks to this day. It is not justified to treat the conversion of the Japanese fiefs into prefectures on the same level as the independent kingdom of Ryûkyû, which had treaties not only with China, but also with Western powers and was internationally recognized as an independent state. The Ryûkyû government and people have never agreed to be part of Japan. No treaty transferring sovereignty to Japan is in existence. The annexation of the kingdom cannot be justified either on moral grounds or under international law. IT IS INVALID. Japan has divested the kingdom of its diplomatic, commercial and autonomous rights. Ryûkyû is entitled to demand their restoration.