Tag Archives: Uchinanchu

BOOKMAIL: ANCIENT GIRL BOW GIFT

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

“SPEAK, OKINAWA” NEEDS TO BE HEARD

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.