Iha Fuyu (1876-1947) was one of the founders of Okinawan Studies. During the Edo period (1600-1868), the Kingdom of Ryukyu (now Okinawa) was invaded and placed under the control of the Satsuma Domain of Kagoshima, which meant it was treated differently than other domains. Even after 1868, Okinawa was treated differently, and only gained the rights to local regulation and democratic representation in the National Diet long after other prefectures. Iha was distressed by this situation, and so to instil pride in Okinawans, he began the field of Okinawan Studies, a field that encompasses the varied branches of Okinawan folk studies, linguistics, literature, and the history of Okinawa. He himself had studied linguistics at Tokyo Imperial University.
We can see Iha’s accomplishments in the eleven volumes of his complete works (published by Heibonsha). His primary thesis was that Japanese and Ryukyuans descended from the same ancestors, which therefore meant that there should be equality between Okinawans and the Yamatunchu1 people.
In contemporary research, his writing is sometimes criticized for following Meiji government assimilation policies, but his ideas came from a stance of wanting to work for the people of Okinawa. One can sense the warmth he held for the Okinawan people and culture. Yanagita Kunio, who founded Japanese folk studies, is similar. These founding scholars of modern research were both working with the sentiment: “For my people.” Today, most people find this idea distasteful, but without it, these men would not have overcome the limits of their singular disciplines to arrive at the realm of ideas.
Iha’s book Onarigami no shima (The Island of Onarigami), published by Heibonsha and Toyo Bunko, is both easy to find and an enjoyable read.
- People of mainland Japan