Mental notes while in Okinawa

I spent the last 7 days in northern Okinawa. My friend & driver, Rumi, and I lucked out with a few days of brilliant weather. Here’s a few notes from this trip before I forget:

Looking at the gorgeous beach and blue sky in the countryside, I just keep thinking of my dream of hosting a summer camp for high school students from all over East Asia. I have not worked out anything practical. But I want to have students from Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan live together for a few weeks, do history together, think about social issues, hike in the deep mountain and dive in the tropical sea, and maybe learn each other’s languages a bit. Okinawa is such a perfect location for its historical role as a small hub and to keep some distance from any national capital yet stay physically close. I don’t know what language in which we will operate. I also don’t know how to lead the history workshop to constructive critical thinking, instead of creating the clear-cut aggressor-vs-victim narrative. (Ugh, this positionality issue, again.)

I kept thinking about it while we drove along the coast, but it also made me realize that I am affected a lot by my research topic — youth groups. I have to admit that a famous Japanese novel, 次郎物語 (Jiro monogatari), was a powerful piece. The latter half of this long novel describes the idealized version of what youth group advocates imagined to do during the youth training in 浴恩館 (Yokuonkan) in Tokyo — probably because this part was written after the war, the author, Shimomura Kojin, depicted it as such an anti-militaristic, youth-centered, bonding experience for the youth. My desire to open a summer camp worries me if this is a sign of me getting a little too close to my research object.

Another note is about case studies. Even at this stage, case selection is hard. It cannot be too rural or too urban, has to match the other cases, and you have to find good witnesses. This time I found a bunch of self-published autobiographies — fortunately the Okinawan elderly write many of those –, and I might be able to track down a perfect Okinawan figure in Aichi. Yes, in the Japanese main island. This is another thing. Those who were active in village youth groups often became successful businessmen or politicians. They all left the village early on (or died in the war, of course), making it harder to find them.

Finally, the relationship between Shimazu (in Kagoshima) and Okinawa is fascinating. It gives a good sense of the political tensions between the center (whether it’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi or Tokugawa shogunate) and Shimazu, as well as the relationship between Ming/Qing China and the Japanese local domains. Interpreting Shimazu’s rule/invasion of Ryukyu is the key to imagining the place of Okinawa in the modern history of Japan. I would most definitely include one lecture on Okinawa’s point of view if I teach Japanese survey history. Please remind me that I should write a historiographical analysis of the history of Okinawa written by various Okinawan intellectuals before I graduate.

Category(s): Japan, Research

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