Writing Back

Representations of Okinawa in Literature and Film

Introduction to Topic

Representations of Okinawa, Japan’s southern most prefecture which used to be an independent Kingdom until the late 19th century, have undergone a fundamental change in the 1990 when an “Okinawa boom” set in. The Japanese media began to idealize, exoticize and commodify Okinawa as a site of mental healing for a Japanese audience. On the other hand, (literary and media) texts by Okinawan authors tend to address the more distressing sides of life in Okinawa which is negatively affected by Japanese quasi-colonialism, the population’s traumatic experiences of the Pacific War from the perspective of a ‘dispensableminority’, and the continuing massive presence of the U.S.-American military on the islands. Drawing on prose literature, film, television series and other popular media formats, this project analyzes the hegemonic as well as the Okinawan counter-discourse on the relationship between Okinawa and Japan and constructions of ‘Okinawan identity’.

Theoretical Concepts

Presupposition: Okinawa as a quasi-colony of Japan (double structure: Japanese and US dominance)

  • Post-colonial hybridity
  • Writing back (against the center)
  • Mimicry (mocking by imitating)
  • Third space (negotiating identities)

Representing hitherto unarticulated experiences in this project is seen as a conscious act of resistance in a post colonial setting by which authors claim recognition and agency for Okinawan subjects.

Research Question

How is ‘Okinawa’ constructed in Okinawan and mainland Japanese literature and media productions?


  • What features are represented as ‘typically Okinawan‘?What are the common markers for ‘Okinawan-ness’?
  • What kinds of narrative and stylistic means are used to create a specific ‘Okinawan identity’? What effects do they create?
  • What purpose do the respective constructions of ‘Okinawan (cultural) difference’ serve?


Discourse analysis – in combination with methods of literature and film analysis: identifying different lines of discourse & analyzing discourse fragments on the basis of the following questions:

  • What is (not) being said about Okinawa and its relationship to the Japanese main islands?
  • How is it said?
  • To what ends (what is the function of the respective images created)?
  • Who is speaking about the topic from what position?
  • Who has access to what kind of media? What audiences can be reached?


  • Literary texts (novels, short stories, essays),
  • Movies,
  • Television productions (films and series) with
    1. Okinawa assetting
    2. Okinawan characters
    3. Okinawa as topic
  • From the 1990s to the present
  • By authors / filmmakers / producers from mainland Japan as well as from Okinawa


In Japanese (popular) literature and media productions,

  • Okinawa is frequently represented as Japan’s exotic ‘Other’
  • Okinawa serves as place of nostalgia
  • Okinawa is stereotyped, idealized and essentialized

The power to represent Okinawa on a wide scale seems to lie entirely in the hands of the Japanese mainstream media.

Results II

Authors from Okinawa

  • address inconvenient topics such as the                    
    1. Trauma of the Battle of Okinawa
    2. Military occupation
    3. Lack of future perspectives for young people
    4. Economically difficult living conditions
  • tend to ironically invert the image of Okinawa as healing island paradise
  • deconstruct Okinawan ‘traditions’
  • counter the Japanese presupposition that there is something like one Okinawan identity, by creating many different versions of how Okinawa might be
  • use post colonial strategies of empowerment, such as, e.g. mimicry

But: They remain outside the dominant discourse and do not reach a wide audience.