Friday, October 30, 2015

Shinako's Grandfather

I interviewed so many cool people over the last week in Okinawa and Ishigaki Islands. I did so with the help of Okinawan activist Shinako Oyakawa who I first met in 2010 during a demilitarization study tour to South Korea. I was fortunate enough to join her, Bruce Gagnon and Corazon Fabros on on a trip to South Korea where we visited areas affected by US military facilities and training. Later I met Shinako in the context of solidarity activism in connection with Okinawa. She is a member of an academic association which is pushing for Okinawan, Ryukyu or LewChu independence from Japan. Her group has invited me to several conferences in Okinawa over the years and she is usually stuck translating the mindless things I say into Japanese.

Another connection I have to Shinako is that she is a language revitalization activist. She is from Okinawa, one of many islands in what most people consider to be "Okinawa" or the Ryukyu Islands. Most people in Okinawa speak Japanese, but there are languages that belong to the people there which were in the past suppressed, just in the same way Chamorro was suppressed in Guam. The native language most widely spoken in Okinawa is called Uchinaguchi. It has different dialects, the Shuri dialect from the south being the most common. In addition to that different islands have their own dialects or languages, some of which are incomprehensible to each other. Shinako doesn't speak the Uchinaguchi language fluently, but is determined to see it revitalized. She has worked with others to build a language school for parents and youth and is working towards her Ph.D. When I meet with Shinako we always discuss our similar struggles in terms of getting people to speak a language that is still strong amongst our elders, but which they passively refuse to pass on to those younger then them. For both Chamorros and Okinawans there are still a significant number of elders who can speak Chamorro fluently and comfortably, but the younger one goes demographically the less likely one is to find fluency.

Each time I go to Okinawa Shinako is my guide, driver and translator. I tell her where I'd like to go and who I'd like to talk to and she is kind and generous enough to take me. We've spoken to protester at Henoko. Squatters at Takae. War survivors in Naha. Plaintiffs against the United States military in Ginowan. This time around I was trying to squeeze in as many interviews as possible for both my own research but also for the radio show Beyond the Fence for KPRG on Guam. Okinawa has been a nexus of demilitarization protest for so long and there have been flare ups recently over the construction of a base and destruction of a bay at Henoko. I talked to demonstrators there at what they have termed "Henoko University." I wrote about it for my weekly column in the Guam Daily Post. 

One interview that I conducted this time around that was different was with Masao Arume, who is Shinako's grandfather. He was born in Saipan in 1931 and lived there prior to WWII, during WWII and for a year and a half after WWII. We sat down with him and his wife for more than three hours, listening to him talk about the life for Okinawans who were working for the sugar cane industry that the Japanese had started there during their colonial period. I I learned a number of new things, and he was kind enough to give me a map of Japanese Saipan and noted for me places important to him in his youth. We ran out of time before we were able to talk more about his life after the war, but he did become a community activist and has long sought to get his family's land back which is in the middle of what is Kadena Base today.

From his granddaughter's blog "Shinakosan is Okinawan" is a short portrait of her grandfather.


This is Masao Arume, 83 years old Okinawan activist spending most of his life as antiwar landowner, and he is my grandfather too. He told me "Japanese people think Okinawa is a sacrifice stone for them, American people think it's a key stone of them, but we Okinawan knows it's a ISHIGANTO, the talismanic stone to protect us from evil!". All he wants is take his "improperly grabbed land" back from the U.S. military base in Okinawa, and his peaceful life there. But Japan-U.S. alliance won't return the land to Okinawans and what is more they are going to make another within Okinawa. In the face of strong opposition, the alliance have started the construction with a downright anti-democratic attitude. Yet, we keep our hopes up and stay the course. I must insist to stop the building base in Henoko immediately, make one in Japan when it's necessary.

写真は有銘政夫83歳、反戦地主として人生の大半を闘い続けているうちなーんちゅであり、私の祖父です。彼は私に「ヤマトや捨て石、アメリカーキーストー ン、わしたうちなー石敢當」という琉歌を詠んで聞かせました。石敢當は邪悪な存在から私達を守る石、つまり沖縄そのものだということでしょう。彼が望むの は、不当に接収され米軍基地として使用されている彼の土地を返してもらい平和な老後を過ごすということです、しかし日米同盟は彼や彼のようなうちなーん ちゅに土地を返還しないばかりか、この沖縄の地にあらたな米軍基地を作ろうとしています。強い反対にも関わらず、日米政府は実に反民主主義的な態度で工事 に着手しました。しかし私達は望みを持ち続け、最後までやり遂げるでしょう。辺野古への基地建設の即時中止を求めます、必要あらば県外に移設して下さい。

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