Defining Japan’s Southern Periphery

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~415:

Before proceeding, I should clarify the usages of the key terms in this volume, including “Ryukyu,” “Okinawa,” “Mainland Japan,” “Inner Territory,” and “Outer Territories.” The geographical name “Ryukyu” appears in Chinese historical documents such as the Book of Sui, which was written in the seventh century. In the fifteenth century, “Ryukyu” became the official name of the kingdom unifying the archipelagos of Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama, known today as the Ryukyu Islands or Southwest Islands. Under the Ryukyu Kingdom’s rule, the name “Okinawa” indicated the main island of Okinawa and surrounding small islands. In 1872, Japan’s Meiji government changed the kingdom’s status to that of a domain (han) by fiat; the government then declared the abolishment of the kingdom and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. However, as Wendy Matsumura explains, the word “Okinawa” is not a neutral geographical title referring to a Japanese prefecture but a term that implies a cultural community distinct from the Japanese nation-state. This volume loosely defines “Okinawans” as people whose families and relatives originated in Okinawa Prefecture or the Ryukyu Islands. The term “Okinawans” therefore encompasses people of diverse backgrounds, including those born in Okinawa Prefecture and those born and raised in Taiwan whose parents were born in Okinawa Prefecture. In fact, people from the Yaeyama and Miyako Islands often distinguish themselves from “Okinawans” even though they are part of Okinawa Prefecture, identifying themselves as people of Yaeyama and Miyako rather than as Okinawans. Nonetheless, in this volume, the term “Okinawans” includes people with Yaeyama and Miyako backgrounds unless otherwise indicated.

Likewise, in this volume, the term “Mainland Japan” loosely indicates the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. As the following chapters reveal, the word “Japanese” occasionally includes and excludes “Okinawan.” In other words, the social and cultural categories of “Japanese/the others” and “Okinawan/the others” have been persistent, although the categories are malleable and changeable. Mainland Japan is geographically ambiguous, but the notion of such a place suggests that Okinawans are “the others,” as Mainland Japan was considered dominant over the local islanders. In Okinawa Prefecture, Mainland Japan has customarily been called the “Inner Territory” (Naichi). However, to avoid confusion, this volume defines the Inner Territory as the territory under the rule of the Meiji Constitution (Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire). The notion complements the idea of the “Outer Territories” (Gaichi), which refers to the territories excluded from the Meiji Constitution.

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Filed under Asia, China, Japan, language, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, Taiwan

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