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Setting out to Imagine a New Community: Okinawa's Reversion to Japan

Sat, June 25, 5:00 to 6:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 115


Two decades after the main islands of Japan regained full sovereignty, Okinawa was added as a new prefecture to the Japanese state. Yet, the ecological, economic and social consequences of the persistent U.S. military presence on the islands to this day have a significant impact on the everyday life of Okinawans, and at many points in Okinawa’s post-war history they sparked sweeping citizens’ protests. This paper studies the citizens’ movement ahead of the reversion of 1972. While marginal in terms of resources, the movement spread and prevailed through innovative strategies of contentious action and based on its strong movement identity, which was framed along a joint historical consciousness of the activists. Taking an Okinawan perspective, this paper discusses why a reversion movement emerged in the first place. Furthermore, which images of this new nation “Japan with Okinawa” were created and represented, and why were they appealing to the people? The milestones of the reversion movement will be examined against the backdrop of an – as will be argued – ultimately failed process of nation building that continues to haunt Okinawa-Japan and Japan-US relations to this day. This study draws on a qualitative content analysis of scholarly works on the issue, historic and recent media coverage, as well as writings by contemporary witnesses in autobiographical and literary genres. In addition to Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities Sidney Tarrow’s take on social movement activism and Peter Katzenstein’s model of norm building in politics provide the analytical basis for this paper.