Disembodiment of an Everyday Object and Changing Regional Identity: Pushing against the Center in Southern Okinawa
Thursday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m.
Kent Hall, Room 403, Columbia University
The Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture kicks off the season with an intriguing talk by Dr. Amanda Mayer Stinchecum, an independent scholar who specializes in the history and material culture of Okinawa Prefecture’s Yaeyama islands.
A narrow, indigo-dyed cotton sash is decorated with clusters of four and five white rectangles. Its production has been unique to five islands in Yaeyama, at the southern end of Okinawa Prefecture. Transcending boundaries of usage, class, and meaning over the course of 140 years, the sash became a legend. But as it disappeared from everyday use, it became the exclusive province of islanders representing themselves in local performances.
What were once sharper distinctions among the islands have blurred, giving rise to a new, Yaeyama-wide identity, now symbolized by the sash’s abstract motif. Beyond the appeal of its bold design, its significant role as the marker of a new Yaeyama does not adequately explain its ubiquitous presence. Dr. Stinchecum suggests that it also functions as a protective talisman, rooted in a belief, widespread in the Ryukyus, Japan, and elsewhere in Asia, in the spiritual power of cloth. As the Yaeyama islands struggle to affirm their separateness from the prefecture’s political center on Okinawa Island, the sash’s motif has begun to appear on Okinawa as well. The prefecture, too, is struggling to assert itself against Japan’s political pressure and homogenizing influence.
Dr. Stinchecum received her Ph.D. in Classical Japanese and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and is a Research Associate at the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, Harvard, and at the Institute for Okinawan Studies, Hōsei University. Her current topics of current research include textiles, clothing, and regional museums in the converging contexts of heritage preservation, tourism development, performing arts, and shifting identities.
No registration required.
For more information, please visit the Donald Keene Center’s website.