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Amami Identity and Infrastructure Development

Sat, June 25, 1:00 to 2:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 115


Although the Amami Islands were annexed by Japan in 1879 along with the other Ryukyus, in contrast to mainland Japan the infrastructure of Amami was largely under-developed until postwar reversion to Japan in 1953. The development of infrastructure such as ports, roads and public buildings in the Amami Islands effectively began in the early 1950s. As a result of the poverty suffered by islanders during the eight years of US military occupation, a strong movement for Amami’s reversion to Japan arose within the local population. As a strategic move, local activists downplayed their cultural ties with Okinawa and stressed their historical affinities with mainland Japan. This led to the promotion of a collective Amami identity, which incorporated the relatively distinct identities of individual islands. Post-reversion development was based on Japan’s Act on Special Measures for the Promotion of Amami Islands (commonly referred to as ‘Amashin’). While infrastructure development proceeded in the 1960s and 1970s, an anti-development movement has gained momentum since the 1980s. Support for both perspectives has led to a polarization of opinions. There has been a surge of opposition to Amashin-related development that favours the conservation of natural resources. There has also been a related rejection of the idea of “One Amami” in favour of “Many Amamis,” leading to a reassertion of local socio-cultural distinctions among the various Amami Islands. The paper discusses the factors behind this movement from a pan-Amamian identity in favour of localized island identities.