Living Okinawa



Okinawa, Japan, NYC, NYU, US occupation, WWII, diaspora, Mao Ishikawa, Annamaria Shimabuku, Battle of Okinawa, karate, martial arts, mixed-race heritage, photography

Living Okinawa

Friday, March 31 from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.

NYU – 19 University Place (at 8th Street), Room 102

Admission: Free

Three prominent women whose identities have been shaped in and by Okinawa share their personal stories and thoughts of living on an island intensely occupied by US military bases. Mao Ishikawa is one of Okinawa’s most celebrated photographers. Teiko Tursi, a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, is a karate dance choreographer and dancer as well as an overseas reporter for the Okinawa Times. Annmaria Shimabuku, a second generation Okinawan, is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at New York University who has been involved with feminist anti-military activism, issues pertaining to mixed-race, and the Okinawan diasporic community. Although representing three different generations and diverse backgrounds, all three speakers share the dignified Ryukyu-Uchinanchu (Okinawan) soul, which not only proudly appreciates the natural beauty and the tradition of the island but also defies the unjust and discriminating oppression created by the US military and mainland Japanese administration.

Okinawa, the southernmost island in Japan, has been forced to take on a crucial role in the US-Japan military relationship. The so-called “unsinkable aircraft carrier Okinawa” is described by the US and Japan as a pivotal base to defend the “security” of East Asian Pacific, as part of the US-led world order since World War II. Until 1879, Okinawa was an independent kingdom called the Ryukyus. After Japanese colonization, Okinawa was sacrificed as the final battlefield between the US and Japan, in which about 100,000 Japanese military soldiers and an equal number of Okinawan civilians (about ¼ of the civilian population), were killed. After the battle, the people of Okinawa were rounded up into concentration camps. When they were released, many of them discovered that their land was now occupied by US military bases, taking up about 40% of the usable land on the island, including the best farmland and beaches.

Although the Allied occupation of mainland Japan ended in 1952, Okinawa remained under direct rule of the American military government until 1972 when it was returned to the Japanese administration. During this period, Okinawa was transformed into a huge military base and was used as the launching pad for the Korean and Vietnam wars by the U.S. Even now, after more than 40 years since “returning” to Japan, and 72 years of military occupation, Okinawa remains a vast American military colony enforced by the Japanese government and the mainland people’s indifference to the sufferings and peaceful resistance of the Okinawan people.

It is against this historical background that Mao Ishikawa proclaims herself as an Okinawan photographer, always taking up themes relating to her native islands. Her first project, “Hot Days in Camp Hansen,” documented young women who worked in bars that catered to American soldiers, particularly focusing on African-Americans who sometimes became their boyfriends. To capture the raw and direct image of subjects revealing “forbidden” relationships, Mao herself worked as a hostess at a bar from 1975 to 1977 while taking these photos. Since then, she has continued to publish books and hold exhibitions. Her works have been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria.

Her current project “Dai-Ryukyu Shashin Emaki” (Great Ryukyu photo picture scroll) that she has undertaken since 2014 is radically different in style from “Hot Days in Camp Hansen” as a scroll of color photos printed on a roll of cloth. Each photo represents an important historical scene from Okinawan. The piece includes photos of theatrical scenes full of anger, humor, and satire that are performed by ordinary people in Okinawa who continue to resist the US military bases and the current Abe administration of Japan.

The photographs that make up both of these projects will be shown on the screen during Mao’s talk. In addition, Tursi will give an original martial arts dance performance, including “Shinkanu Cha~,” an inspirational song choreographed by Tursi in 2011 encouraging youth to travel and develop a worldview, and “The Flight of Phoenix,” in which a fan is used to disguise a sword.

Shimabuku was born to an Okinawan mother from Koza, Okinawa, and a German-American father in Muskegon, Michigan. She won a full scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education to complete Ph.D. work at Tokyo University where she began her life work in Okinawan studies. She became involved in grassroots Okinawan activism alongside Zainichi Koreans in the Bay Area in 2006 as part of her attempt to make sense of the living legacy of Japanese colonialism within the context of the US. Her forthcoming book is entitled Alegal: Miscegenation Along the U.S. Military Fence Line in Okinawa from Fordham University Press.

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