Mainland Japanese. People from mainland Japan are called yamatonchū (Yamato people) in Okinawa; naichā is an alternative name for them.
I had a conversation with an Okinawan friend:
“What’s the difference between a naichā and a yamatonchū?”
“Naichā’s more easy. Like, ‘someone from over there.’ Yamatonchū, or yamatū, has a discriminative feel, quite distinctively.”
“Don’t Okinawan people like discrimination? I heard that the inhabitants of the main island of Okinawa discriminate against people from Miyako and Ishigaki Island, and that Miyako and Ishigaki Island people discriminate against islands further beyond.”
“None of your business, I don’t need a yamatonchū like you to tell me that.”
“How dare you say that, you…how should I call you if I want to discriminate against you?”
“Whatever you like. Yamato people are good at those, right? There are no words like gaijin1 in Okinawa. It’s only the yamatonchū that uses such words.”
“So, there are no gaijin, but there are yamatonchū or naichā.”
“But I heard that recently, the term naichā is often used in a some friendly way.”
“Didn’t you call me a yamatonchū just now?”
“Now, now, these kinds of talk are best to be kept tēgē2.” (SUGIYAMA Toru )
When meeting someone for the first time, Okinawan people often ask where they are from. The answer would be the island they are from if both are Okinawan, but it becomes a question of whether a “naichā” or not if one came from elsewhere. A friend—obviously a naichā—was complaining: “Why do the people here ask so often where I’m from?” Okinawans just want to know. I once saw a business card of a yamatonchū living in Okinawa that said “Don’t call me a Naicher!” so it might be making them feel quite unpleasant. And yet, even today, Okinawan people always have this tendency to divide themselves from the naichā.
Personally, I believed the term naichā had a somewhat discriminative implication to it. However, the publishing of Okinawa Iroiro Jiten (Okinawa’s Diverse Dictionary, 1992), which was openly announced to have been edited by naichā, seems to have led to some changes in general. There are differences among individuals as well. I employed the terms yamatonchū, or yamatwu on purpose (for it seemed to imply an equal relationship between “uchinā” (Okinawa) and “yamato” (Japan)), although others may consider the yamatonchū to have a discriminative nuance. I dislike “naichā” because it comes from “naichi” (mainland) and “gaichi” (overseas territory)—two terms from the post-Ryukyu-disposition period. Which would you choose: yamatwu, or naichā?
Today, a term either becomes a “discrimination” or “distinction” depending on the user’s state of mind. What is essential is the fact that Okinawan people clearly divide themselves from the naichā/yamatonchū. As of now, Okinawans are “Japanese citizen”, but not a naichā, nor a yamatonchū.
Nonetheless, recently, many yamatwu have settled in Okinawa and are fully contributing to the modern Okinawan culture and life. Given this fact, we can’t simply divide them anymore into “Okinawan” or “naichā”. For example, the term shima-naichā (island-naichā) once had two definitions: an island-nized naichā, or an islander who is naichā-nized. Nowadays, the former definition is more common. I believe the term “naichā” is beginning to take on new connotations. (SHINJO Kazuhiro)
- A pejorative term in Japanese used against foreigners.
- An Okinawan term that means “rough and easygoing”.