Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Colonizing Frame

When I was in Okinawa last month for a symposium on Okinawan sovereignty and decolonization, there was significant interest amongst the local media in the island. I was interviewed extensively by a reporter from one newspaper. The other newspaper also provided coverage and even organized a large televised panel on the issue. A local media station filmed the symposium I spoke at and is planning to make a documentary about it. The one thing missing however was the mainland Japanese media. They didn't cover much of the sovereignty/decolonization related events. It seemed almost like a blackout, or perhaps a temporary refusal to acknowledge. I can understand why the Japanese media might want to not cover this issue. 
 
Media operates by frames, by easy ways of understanding a story. A story is presented in such a way that all you do is provide some details and the audience can already assume everything else. This is part of the limitations of the media but also the way in which people operate in general. Is this a story about a corrupt politician? A local hero? A scandal? A natural disaster? An incomprehensible tragedy? A war somewhere we don't understand?
 
The frame through which mainland Japanese understand Okinawa is primarily through bases and protests. What happened on the bases now? What are they protesting about now? This allows the Japanese to easily dismiss whatever critical discourse emerges from Okinawa as the grumblings of spoiled and immature children. What do they want, more money? Why can't they just accept the sacrifice of hosting these bases for the good of the country?
 
Independence for Okinawa is obviously outside of those frames. So the Japanese media doesn't not engage with those protests or that discussion. It ignores it and tries to put it into a petulant child context. It tries to recast it in such a way so that it does not exceed the national framework for understanding and giving meaning to Okinawa. 
 
The article above is a case in point. The main rhetorical thrust of the article comes from a politicial who argues that this move for Independence is a strategy that the Okinawans resort to when their country does not treat them properly. In the translated article above there are several interesting rhetorical cues that make it so that even if they are talking about leaving Japan behind and moving on, you can still understand this in a Japanese context. In other words, they are just upset and aren't really gonna leave. They aren't that serious. They probably just want more money. 
 
I hope that the Independence movement in Okinawa continues to grow until the point where Japan can no longer ignore it.  

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Okinawans form group to study independence from Japan

May 15, 2013
By TSUKASA KIMURA/ Staff Writer

NAHA--Could Okinawa become an independent state? Five Okinawans formed a group to study the possibility on May 15, the 41st anniversary of the island prefecture's reversion to Japanese sovereignty.

While only a minority of Okinawans are calling for independence, a growing distrust among islanders toward those on the mainland, who have left the southern prefecture burdened with U.S military bases, could lead to more empathy for the idea.

Okinawa Prefecture accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s landmass, but it hosts 74 percent of all U.S. military bases in the country.

The group, “Ryukyu Minzoku Dokuritsu Sogo Kenkyu Gakkai” (Ryukyu tribal independence general study association), is led by Yasukatsu Matsushima, an economics professor at Ryukoku University.
The members plan to conduct research on Scots who seek independence from Britain as well as on the possible effects on the local economy if all U.S. bases are withdrawn.

Matsushima decided to form the group after he heard about a meeting of prefectural governors in 2010. At the meeting, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima demanded that central and local governments significantly reduce Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. military bases, but almost no governors supported him.

“To achieve a breakthrough on the bases issue, discussions on the option of independence are necessary,” said Matsushima.

The argument for Okinawa's independence stems from the “anti-reversion theory,” which was propounded around 1970 when Okinawa was still under U.S. administration. The theory stated that it is an illusion to believe Okinawans can live a peaceful life under Japanese sovereignty.

But the idea failed to gain widespread support from islanders at the time.

“Expectations for the return to Japanese sovereignty were so great that the anti-reversion theory was largely ignored,” said Akira Arakawa, 81, who advocated the theory.

Arakawa said he pins his hopes on the new group formed by Matsushima and his colleagues.
“Okinawans have continued to be betrayed by Japan after they were returned to Japanese administration, and some support the idea of independence,” Arakawa said.

Kantoku Teruya, 67, a Lower House member from the Okinawa No. 2 district, mentioned the new study group on his blog.

The entry in April comes under the sensational heading, “Okinawa finally becoming independent from Yamato." Okinawans refer to the Japanese mainland as Yamato.

“It is sad to discuss independence, but we should have enough backbone to discuss it (to call attention to Okinawa's problems),” Teruya, of the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview. “The call for independence represents an objection filed against the nation of not treating its people the way it should.”

According to Teruya, some people on the mainland sympathetic with Okinawans regarding the U.S. bases issue have told him that the tiny island prefecture should break away from Japan.

But Teruya said he has a key question for such people.

"I want to ask whether they are prepared to take on the U.S. bases (abandoned by Okinawa) on the Japanese mainland," he said.

By TSUKASA KIMURA/ Staff Writer
 

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