The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan: Crossing the Borders Within
328pp. January 2012
The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan: Crossing the Borders Within
Author: Rabson, Steve;
The experiences of Okinawans in mainland Japan, like those of migrant minorities elsewhere, derive from a legacy of colonialism, war, and alien rule. Okinawans have long coped with a society in which differences are often considered “strange” or “wrong,” and with a central government that has imposed a mono-cultural standard in education, publicly priding itself on the nation’s mythical “homogeneity.” They have felt strong pressures to assimilate by adopting mainland Japanese culture and concealing or discarding their own. Recently, however, a growing pride in roots has inspired more Okinawan migrants and their descendants to embrace their own history and culture and to speak out against inequities. Their experiences, like those of minorities in other countries, have opened them to an acute and illuminating perspective, given voice in personal testimony, literature, and song.

Although much has been written on Okinawan emigration abroad, this is the first book in English to consider the Okinawan diaspora in Japan. It is based on a wide variety of secondary and primary sources, including interviews conducted by the author in the greater Osaka area over a two-year period. The work begins with the experiences of women who worked in Osaka’s spinning factories in the early twentieth century, covers the years of the Pacific War and the prolonged U.S. military occupation of Okinawa, and finally treats the period following Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972. Throughout, it examines the impact of government and corporate policies, along with popular attitudes, for a compelling account of the Okinawan diaspora in the context of contemporary Japan’s struggle to acknowledge its multiethnic society.

The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan will find a ready audience among students of contemporary Japanese history and East Asian societies, as well as general readers interested in Okinawans and other minorities living in Japan.

“With its clear organization, concise arguments, and highly readable translations, this book would fit easily in an undergraduate curriculum to East Asian societies. . . . The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan is an important contribution to an unfairly neglected aspect of Japanese history.” —Monumenta Nipponica

“Throughout his book, Rabson draws on background information widely dispersed in works of history, sociology, literature, musicology and political science, to which he adds original research in the form of interviews. . . . In drawing on these various materials, Rabson depicts life in the diaspora, and he does so with great care and impeccable command of detail.” — Pacific Affairs

“This book is an important contribution to a long neglected aspect of Japanese history. Drawing on interviews, memoirs, and popular literature, excerpted in smooth and seemingly effortless translations, Steve Rabson provides a compelling portrayal of the transformation of rural agrarian subjects into an urban proletariat. Readers will find themselves immersed in the experiences of discrimination and betrayal, extermination and neglect, hope and assimilation that have shaped and transformed the lives of Okinawans since Japan first brought the southern islands under its colonial rule.” —Christopher Nelson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Author: Rabson, Steve;
Steve Rabson is professor emeritus of East Asian studies at Brown University.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Introduction 1 

1 The Homeland 
2 High Hopes and Broken Promises (1900–1921) 
3 Moving for a Better Life (1921–1937) 
4 Wartime (1937–1945) 
5 An Occupied Homeland (1945–1972) 
6 Being Okinawan in Japan Today (1972–) 
7 The Minority Experience in Japan: A Comparative Perspective 

Appendix: Questionnaire Survey Results