Between a Forgotten Colony and an Abandoned Prefecture

Special Issue: Race and Empire in Meiji Japan

The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 18 | Issue 20 | Number 7 | Article ID 5498 | Oct 15, 2020
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus.

Between a Forgotten Colony and an Abandoned Prefecture:
Okinawa’s Experience of Becoming Japanese in the Meiji and Taishō Eras
Stanisław Meyer

Japan’s attitude towards Okinawa during the Meiji and Taishō periods defied concrete definition. Although nominally a prefecture, Okinawa retained a semi-colonial status for two decades after its annexation in 1879. Despite the fact that Okinawan people accepted Japanese rule with little resistance, which ultimately turned into active support for the assimilation policy, Japanese policy makers never lost their distrust of Okinawan people. Similarly, Japanese society did not fully embrace them, perceiving them as backward and inferior, and even questioning their Japanese-ness. The experience of discrimination strengthened the Okinawan people’s motivation to fight for recognition as true Japanese citizens. Local intellectuals, such as historian Iha Fuyū, embarked on a mission to prove that Okinawa was and always had been Japanese.

From a certain perspective, Okinawan modern history falls into the paradigm of colonization or integration under the Japanese nation-state. The crucial clue to understanding Okinawa’s case lies in the fact that it was a poor country, with little natural resources to offer. Unlike Hokkaido, there was no mass migration from mainland Japan to Okinawa. Unlike Taiwan and Korea, Okinawa did not attract skillful and ambitious administrators. Accordingly, Okinawa was turned neither into a model colony, nor a modern prefecture, but remained
a forgotten and abandoned region.

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