SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Blasts from the past: Memory and history in Sakiyama Tami’s ‘Kuja’ Stories

Vicky Young Seminar Picture
Vicky Young (Kawashima Lecturer in Japanese Literature and Culture, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge)

Date: 21 February 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 21 February 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Seminar


The essays and works of fiction by Sakiyama Tami, born in 1954 on the island of Iriomote, are exemplary in their uses of multiple voices, scripts, and regional vernaculars. Although born after the Battle of Okinawa, Sakiyama experienced first-hand the effects of the prefecture’s ‘homeland reversion’ (sokoku fukki). This perspective informs her writing, which engages with the threat posed to the private memories of Okinawans by right-wing historical revisionism and the legacies of imposed linguistic assimilation.

Such ideas are central to Sakiyama’s ‘Kuja’ series, seven short stories first published between 2006-2008 that emerge from Kuja, a hybrid ‘mash-up’ of the Koza ward of Okinawa City that lies adjacent to the US military bases at Kadena and Futenma. The ‘Kuja’ series is one of several literary works that followed Sakiyama’s critical essay of 2002, Shimakotoba de kachāshī (‘Inciting with Island Words’), which outlines a desire to create a literary language that can narrate the multiplicity of Okinawan voices and experiences. Accordingly, this approach to writing has drawn scholarly comparison to the idea of “linguistic terrorism” evoked by the Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands: La Frontera. And yet, Sakiyama’s essay even incites terroristic tropes directly, positioning the writer as a “suicide bomber” ready to commit “guerrilla warfare” against standard Japanese. In the contemporary global context, such language appears increasingly problematic. This paper will attempt to read such a literary strategy within its context in order to suggest how questions of memory, representation, and resistance connect in ‘Kuja’ in critically significant and challenging ways.

Speaker Biography

Vicky Young is the Kawashima Lecturer in Japanese Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) in the University of Cambridge. Her Ph.D thesis focused on the ways in which literary works by Sakiyama Tami, Yi Yang-ji, and Tawada Yōko, both occupy and challenge various borders of Japanese literature. Vicky is currently revising her thesis for publication as a book, while seeking to develop her interest in the intersections between marginalised works of Japanese literature and transnational discussions of translation and translatability.

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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