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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

An Okinawan. Uchinā is Okinawa, chu is person. It seems like a good enough explanation, but it’s not that simple. A resident of the Okinawa Prefecture is not necessarily an Uchinānchu. I have reservations including people from Miyako and Yaeyama as Uchinānchu as done in recent days. However, thoroughly researching the “boundaries” of Uchinānchu would be a real hustle, so let’s just say for now that an Uchinānchu is, loosely speaking, a person of Okinawan origin. In any case, usually, it isn’t much of a problem simply understanding it as “We are from Okinawa.” 

By some physical (kīmā1, jīgurū2, and a strong-featured face, etc.), historical (Disposition of the Ryukyus, Yamato yū, the Battle of Okinawa, Amerika yū, etc.), and cultural (tēgē3, Okinawa time, readily taking taxis, etc.) characteristics, Uchinānchu feel, to a certain degree, that Okinawa and “Japan/Yamato” are different. So, saying Uchinānchu somewhat draws a line with Yamatunchu

When Matayoshi Eiki was awarded the Akutagawa Prize, one of the judges, Ishihara Shintaro, commented “Here, there’s no demarcation between Uchinānchu and Sotonānchu.” It is absurd, yet quite understandable. Ishihara, as a person of literature, probably instinctively had come up with such names as he had felt that Okinawans divided the uchi (inside) and soto (outside) with a rope (nawa). By the way, the word “Sotonānchu” did not root any more than “Uchitonchu” did. 

Two or three years ago, I had a chance to ask a high school student in Okinawa, “How do you think of yourself? Japanese or Okinawan?” The student replied, “Well, I am Japanese but also Okinawan.” “Which do you feel is stronger?” “Hmm, first Okinawan, then Japanese, maybe.” There is a well-known quote from a while ago: “The Okinawan mind is the mind that wants to be Yamatunchu but cannot;” this was their identity crisis, “Are Okinawans Japanese?” But young people today don’t feel such a contradiction. Perhaps although Uchinānchu cannot be Yamatunchu, we may have become “Japanese citizens.” I would like to have the chance to ask my earlier question to Namie Amuro, SPEED, and MAX.

In the Worldwide Uchinānchu Festival, which began in 1990, many second and third generation of Okinawan immigrants come to participate. Uchinānchu consciousness seems to not be just against Yamatunchu identity, but more in a viewpoint of delving into one’s own cultural identity… “the Uchinānchu inside oneself (uchi),” so to speak. Perhaps Uchinānchu are the people who endlessly and passionately discuss the question, “What is an Uchinānchu?”

Editor’s Note:

  1. Hairy
  2. Dark complexioned
  3. Easy-going