Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity

Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity

Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity

Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity


This book draws on a range of disciplines to provide a coherent and theoretically informed examination of Okinawa from the perspective of political economy and society.


Japan? Structure and subjectivity in Okinawa

Glenn D. Hook and Richard Siddle

Okinawa. Its subordinate integration into global, regional and national orders has posed a challenge for the governments and peoples of Okinawa for centuries. While this structural subordination of Okinawa and the wider Ryukyu islands during the period of the Chinese world order was never complete (Fairbanks 1968), and was ameliorated by the cultural and economic benefits it brought, Satsuma's extension of control over the islands from 1609 onwards created a triangular relationship with both China and Japan. In the face of Western imperial expansion, the pace of Okinawa's asymmetrical incorporation into the Japanese empire quickened with the annexation and dismantling of the island kingdom from 1879. This was followed by its integration, albeit often belatedly, into the political and economic structures of the rapidly developing Japanese state as 'Okinawa Prefecture'. Until the empire's defeat in 1945, Okinawa was part of another, as yet little explored, triangular relationship, sitting between the empire of Japan proper and the colony of Taiwan (Formosa), acquired in 1895 as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This policy of subordinating the Ryukyus within Japanese political and economic, if not cultural, space, was part of the historical development of Japan as a subimperial power in East Asia (Takahashi 2001). The particular catch-up path of development pursued by Japan led to military aggression and territorial aggrandizement throughout the region. The legacy of the Second World War's outcome has been twofold, one international, one domestic. The first is Japan's well-known colonial legacy in East Asia, which continues to this day to constrain the government's relations with neighbouring states (Hook et al. 2001:151-257). The second is the less well-known 'colonial' legacy within Japan's own legal, territorial borders (as with the island and native people of Hokkaido on the northern periphery of the 'developmental state'). This combination of geography and strategic significance has historically meant that the 'Okinawa problem' becomes most acute precisely at key moments of transition or crisis within the modern Japanese state; the early Meiji transition to modernity; war, defeat and the occupation after 1945; and most recently the post-Cold War realignment.

The latest manifestation of the 'Okinawa problem' cannot be understood outside of this context. The historical memory of the nineteenth century, not to mention of the mid-twentieth century, when Okinawa suffered enormously at the hands of both American and Japanese troops, continues to cast a long shadow over relations

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