Okinawa-ron: Representations of Okinawa in Essay Literature

Key information

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Prof Ina Hein (University of Vienna)


Even though Okinawa has been a part of Japan for over a century by now, the prefecture is constantly being discussed and constructed as an ‘internal other’ within the wider framework of ‘Japan’. Sometimes this ‘Okinawan difference’ is explained by using the notion of a ‘temporal lag’. In this line of argument, Okinawa is being equated with a past Japan: elements of Japanese culture which allegedly were lost in the process of hyper-modernization are supposedly still alive in Okinawa. On the other hand, however, it is often argued that the difference between Okinawa and Japan is a fundamental one, Okinawa having its own history (as Ryukyu Kingdom), culture, religious traditions and language. The respective motivations for taking each of these positions are always politically charged: On the one hand, Japanese claims of sameness between Okinawa and Japan tend to support the point of view that it is only natural for Okinawa to have become a part of Japan in the 1870s, and that it has rightfully been handed back to Japan in 1972 after 27 years of American occupation. On the other hand, Okinawans advancing the ‘sameness argument’ have aimed at establishing equal rights between Japanese mainlanders and Okinawans. By doing so, the situation of Okinawans who, as they felt, have been treated as second-class citizens by the government in Tokyo, would improve. A third approach, predominantly followed by Okinawan authors who refer to Okinawa’s past as a prosperous Kingdom in its own right, fosters the idea that Okinawa can and should become independent – or at least gain a much higher grade of autonomy within Japan.

This ongoing debate becomes manifest across many different kinds of media. My lecture will focus on examples of non-fiction writings discussing various aspects of Okinawa and its relation to Japan, which can be subsumed under the term “Okinawa- ron ”. Some of these texts are overtly political and adopt a highly critical stance towards Japan’s role in the annexation and subsequent (quasi-)colonization of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the late 19th century. In raising a critical voice, the authors of these texts question the necessity and rightfulness of the ‘reversion’ of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, while others discuss the question of Okinawa’s ‘identity’ by highlighting aspects of its history and culture. However, even these texts are not free from a political agenda, albeit in a less direct manner. In this lecture, I will discuss some examples from this vast corpus of “Okinawa- ron ” in greater detail and explore major topics and lines of argument. My analysis will show how the authors describe Okinawa and its culture as well as the relationship between Okinawa and Japan. Against this backdrop, I will then conclude what position the respective authors take and what implications their arguments might have regarding the question of Okinawa’s (not) belonging to Japan.

Loading the player...

Okinawa-ron: Representations of Okinawa in Essay Literature

Speaker Biography

Ina Hein is a Professor for Japanese Studies in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria. She has gained her PhD degree from the University of Trier in Germany in 2003, and has been conducting research on representations of Okinawa in Japanese (and Okinawan) literature, film, television series and other media formats, aiming at a broader understanding of the discourse on Okinawa and its relationship to Japan since the 1990s. Ina has published a substantial number of articles on this topic and has served as co-editor of the volume 40 years since reversion. Negotiating the Okinawan difference in Japan today (University of Vienna Press, 2016). Other research interests include constructions of alternative forms of femininity and masculinity in Japanese literature, representations of Asia in Japanese literature and media, as well as exophony and multilingualism in contemporary Japanese literature.

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

Contact email: