Tag Archives: Okinawa


Happy October! I love sharing my book mail. It’s nerd show-and-tell. This week I have the final books I ordered on Okinawa and Uchinanchu culture. My book budget is busted and I have a lot to get through. I didn’t get a chance to stop by the library this week, but I know they have some waiting for me. Good thing the library is free. By the way, these are affiliate links which go towards Amazon gift cards… and more books!

The first book this week is The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa. As of today, this book has 138 ratings with a solid 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I think this will be another read all day and cray book, so I’ll probably wait until after I get the last of my big projects wrapped up.

From Amazon: New York Newsday called this memoir of a warhood childhood in Japan “one of the saddest and yet most uplifting books about childhood you will ever encounter.” Separated from her family in the confusion and horror of World War II, seven-year-old Tomiko Higa struggles to survive on the battlefield of Okinawa, Japan. There, as some of the fiercest fighting of the war rages around her, she must live alone, with nothing to fall back on but her own wits and daring. Fleeing from encroaching enemy forces, searching desperately for her lost sisters, taking scraps of food from the knapsacks of dead soldiers, risking death at every turn, Tomiko somehow finds the strength and courage to survive. Many years later she decided to tell this story. Originally intended for juvenile readers, it is sure to move adults as well, because it is such a vivid portrait of the unintended civilian casualties of any war. Find this book on Amazon here.

Next was The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan by Carmen Blacker and, if you read my post from yesterday, it’s already been an exciting read. I didn’t expect to find information about poetry, magic practices and haiku with a random flip through, but there it was. If the first five minute browse is that exciting, I’m interested to see what else is in this book.

From Google Books: This classic work describes shamanic figures surviving in Japan today, their initiatory dreams, ascetic practices, the supernatural beings with whom they communicate, and the geography of the other world in myth and legend. Find this book on Amazon here.

My third book of the week was Ancient Ryukyu: An Archaeological Study of Island Communities by Richard Pearson, and you can probably see why I need to slow down on my book collecting. Some of these are going to take me awhile to chew through.

From Amazon: Who are the people of the Ryukyu Islands? How could they survive and prosper on small, isolated islands? How did the independent Ryukyu Kingdom become a major player in East Asian medieval trade? Ancient Ryukyu explores 30,000 years of human occupation in the Ryukyu Islands, from the earliest human presence in the region up to A.D. 1609 and the emergence of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It focuses on the unique geopolitical position of the islands, their environment, and the many human communities whose historical activities can be discerned. Drawing on the impressive work of dozens of local archaeologists who have brought the islands’ early history to life, Richard Pearson describes explorers and sojourners and colonists who arrived thousands of years ago, and their ancient trade links to Japan, Korea, and China… Find this book on Amazon here.

Finally, I have GIFT OF A BLUE BALL: Path of a Fortune-teller in Okinawa by Jeff Tuthill. I’m actually trying to reach out to this author to see about republishing with some revising and edits. This book hasn’t gotten the best reviews, but as I paged through I can see there is a lot of solid work here. My guess is that this book needs to be a nonfiction instead of fiction. I’ll let you know when I finish reading it. If anyone knows a good way to contact authors that self-publish without web pages or active social media, please let me know. I’m hunting for at least two of them.

From Amazon: This is a historical fiction following the life of a yuta (fortune teller) in Okinawa from childhood to her death at age ninety. Kameko witnesses the horrors of war as a twelve year old in the Battle of Okinawa and survives into womanhood to locate the thief of the Royal Ryukyu headdress and reclaim the national treasure. By using her gift of sight and ability to communicate with the spiritual world, Kameko attempts to recover the crown, a promise that she makes her mother’s spirit. The reader will discover the meaning behind the gift of the blue ball and the path of a yuta in Okinawa. A story of people interacting with ghosts demonstrating how fate is influenced by both the physical and spiritual world. Although a fantasy, the novel consists of a good deal of research on Okinawan culture and belief systems, including ancestor worship. The result is both entertaining and informative for the reader, using accurate descriptions of historical events as the background for a ghostly and mysterious tale. Find this book on Amazon here.

And that’s it for this week. Thanks for all the responses! While most of what I share I’ve either purchased or contributed to, I’m happy to share any book in a group post like this, but I can’t guarantee I’ll review anything specific. I do pass on books I’ve read to Space & Time reviewers and interested others whenever possible.

Any mail can be sent to:

Angela Yuriko Smith
P.O. Box 214
Independence, MO 64050

Book Mail from September 4-30


I don’t know what I was expecting when I cracked open Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina this morning, but it wasn’t this. I just spent the entire day unable to put this book down, weeping and raging. I only paused long enough to send a Kindle copy to my mother and order a copy to keep as mine is from the library. I will be sending copies to my adult children as well, so they can understand who they are.

Where to begin? First, with a thank you. Elizabeth Miki Brina has explained the mystery of my life back to me through the lens of her own. I saw the relationship with my mother, and her relationship with her mother reflected on these pages. I found answers to my own questions—why am I different? Why is my mother so different? What does it mean to be Uchinanchu?

In this book is a secret history of the US involvement in Okinawa alongside the narrative of a half Asian daughter. Whenever I’ve told people my mother’s family comes from Okinawa I am usually told how much “the local people” love Americans and appreciate the military.

They maybe don’t know about the nearly 9,000 murders, rapes and robberies committed by US service members against “the local people.” Maybe they don’t realize the cases for sexual assault against “the locals” are higher in Okinawa military bases than anywhere else in the world. One of the youngest victims of rape was nine months old.

They fail to mention the Koza Uprising on December 20, 1970. They want to believe this impoverished indigenous people are grateful to be used as service animals for greater purposes. Maybe they don’t know that Okinawa was claimed by the US after World War II because it was such a strategic location for military bases—20% of the islands sacrificed for a foreign military.

They don’t see any unfairness when the US sold Okinawa to Japan for six hundred eighty-five million dollars despite the protests of the people they were selling. Perhaps they forget that it was imperialism and war, other countries’ war, that created the extreme poverty in the first place.

Combined with this historical but often overlooked narrative is the intimate story of what became of them. It is an explanation for all the Uchinaa children to explain to us why we are as we are, even as generations four times removed. On a personal note, it showed me an unfamiliar world that contributed to who I am. Brina showed me other points of view from my family. She’s closed the distances between my own generations.

A memoir, Brita writes with cutting honesty that reflects ourselves back to us. Whatever ethnicity we come from, we can find ourselves on these pages. This isn’t a book of accusation but of understanding. Atrocities happen. It is time to unmake them. The first step is opening a conversation—a dialogue.

Since I’ve started researching what it really means to be Uchinanchu I’ve shared many conversations and the response is usually: Okinawans aren’t Japanese? The answer is no, they are a separate indigenous people with their own customs and language. Japanese can’t speak and read the native tongue, called Uchinaaguchi. Despite this, an internet search assures me it “is the Japanese language as spoken by the people of Okinawa Islands.” This is incorrect. It is the language of the Okinawa Islands.

This book is one of the most valuable and intense books I’ve ever had the traumatic pleasure of reading. If I thought writing a poetry collection about my blended Asian experience was wrenching, this book has ripped my heart wide open again. I’ve wept all day for a people that couldn’t. There wasn’t enough water and energy to waste on tears. There was only survival. I’ve cried buckets for them.

There’s a line in the book that resonates deeply with me. It sums up what I think my grandmother never had and what I suspect my mother craves. It’s a good phrase for all sorts of underrepresented people regardless of ethnicity, gender, age and physical abilities. Brita writes of moving to a town where the ethnicities are mixed more evenly through a population, and how comforting that was, and strange. She described it as “where I feel seen, rather than exposed.”

This is a book that needs to be seen. Speak, Okinawa does indeed speak, loud and clear. It is from a particular voice, but it speaks to and for all of us. We all have the same human desire to matter, to be heard—to be seen rather than exposed.

The best and most important book I’ve read for many years. You can find Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina on Amazon here.


My mail box was packed this week and most of the books have a theme. As a result of all my Okinawa research for the upcoming Tortured Willows, I wound up getting a lot of books on the topic. Three poetry books, two kid/YA books, and three non-fiction. Some of the links below are affiliate links and if you purchase, I earn a commission.

First, from the library I found Speak, Okinawa by Elizabeth Miki Brina: “A searing, deeply candid memoir about a young woman’s journey to understanding her complicated parents—her mother an Okinawan war bride, her father a Vietnam veteran—and her own, fraught cultural heritage.” Available on Amazon here or find it at your local library like I did.

In my mail I have two copies of Monstrum Poetica by Jezzy Wolfe. I pre-ordered a copy with signed bookplate and Jezzy sent me a copy so now I have one to give away. Some time this month I’ll be doing a book spotlight show with Jezzy, so I’ll give the extra copy away then. Watch for that announcement to pop up in this blog. If you don’t want to wait to win, you can always get a copy on Amazon here.

I ordered Oriental Faddah and Son by Lee A. Tonouchi: delivers Da Pidgin Guerrilla’s most entertaining yet poignant work to date through a combination of lamenting and humorous poems… Award winning author Tonouchi delivers a captivating, semi-autobiographical tale through his mastery of the Pidgin language… uncovering the identity of one’s true self. In the Guerrilla’s case, it’s the essence of being an Okinawan in Hawai’i.” Available on Amazon here.

Also in poetry I downloaded Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose by Maxwell I. Gold: Enter a world of desolate imagination, rhizomatic beauty, and ruined cities. Oblivion in Flux, the debut prose poetry collection of Maxwell I. Gold, takes the reader on a trip along demented railways and past rhizomatic tubular dreamscapes… as well as a brand-new collaborative prose poem written by the author and Bram Stoker Award winner and SFPA Grandmaster, Linda D. Addison. Available from Amazon here.

Also in my mail, The Last Sakura: Tales of The Yuta by Ashley Nakanishi. I was super excited about this one because the cover features the mysterious hajichi tattoos from my ancestors, but also talks about yuta, a type of Okinawan medium or witch. From family stories, my family were yuta. From the book’s description, I think there’s a lot of fiction here but I’m still looking forward to it: “Have you ever wondered if all those ghost stories and bits of folklore your obaa told you were true? After the tragic loss of their mother, Kiko and Yuki move to Okinawa to live with their mysterious grandmother. In a new world of language, culture, food and magical arts, Kiko learns she must unlock her mystical destiny as a yuta to avenge her mother’s death against the Iron Dragon.” Find this book on Amazon here.

The Ghosts of Okinawa by Jayne A. Hitchcock was not what I was expecting at all. I expected a professionally printed book and this is printed on a home printer but if the information is good I don’t see that it matters. More power to her. Maybe I’ll try this myself, but I don’t think the labor involved with stapling and folding would be worth it to me. I may have gotten her last paperback version, because I don’t find it listed on Amazon now, but you can still find it on Kindle here.

Another Okinawan book, Okinawan Princess: Da Legend of Hajichi Tattoos by Lee A. Tonouchi: “an illustrated, transpacific feminist fairy tale for all readers that illuminates an ancient tradition and pushes back against normative standards of beauty. When Gramma notices how much her granddaughter wishes she could look like a supermodel, Gramma shares how her own mother was made fun of when she moved to Hawaii from Okinawa due to the bold blue hajichi tattoos on the back of her hands. Gramma then reveals the legend behind those mysterious markings. When the Okinawan Princess is kidnapped by Japanese pirates, will she wait for someone to save her or will she be able to outwit her captors? This trilingual story is written in Hawaii Creole, then translated into Japanese and the endangered indigenous Okinawan language called Uchinaaguchi. Okinawan Princess is part of ongoing efforts to revitalize Okinawan language, history and culture worldwide.” While this book is on Amazon here, I wound up ordering four copies direct from Hawaii for my mother, daughters and granddaughters. I don’t see any copies listed in the Hawaiian shop now, but you can find them here.

Finally, I downloaded a brand new book, Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out by Jennie Nash. For nonfiction books I often buy the ebook version to see if the information is useful, and if I see it being a go-to text I also get the paper or hardback, so you may be seeing this again in a future post. I’ve been excited about this one: “How to write novel in the most efficient way by tackling the hardest part before you start to write, from top book coach Jennie Nash” I will definitely be reviewing this soon, or pick up your copy on Amazon here.

This is why I’m poor.