Tag Archives: Steve Rabson

An Okinawan Holden Caulfield

In 1989 Brown University Japan Studies professor (now emeritus) Steve Rabson translated and contextualized two Akutagawa Prize-winning novellas by Okinawan writers (in Japanese): “Cocktail Party” (Kakuteru pātī, 1966) by Ōshiro Tatsuhiro and “Child of Okinawa” (Okinawa no shonen, 1971) by Higashi Mineo (born—on Mindanao— in 1938). Both were published while Okinawa was occupied by the US (the US still has large military bases on the island whose people chose to return to being a part of the country of Japan, despite a history of discrimination by “mainland” (Honshu) Japanese against Okinawans). Both have been adapted to the screen, btw (in 2016 and 1983, respectively).

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Higashi does not try to take on as much as Ōshiro did. Tsuneyoshi, the titular Okinawan boy, is a sort of Okinawan Holden Caulfield. He is a junior high student who lives in Koza. His parents run a small bar that provides prostitutes for American servicemen. There are two prostitutes and only one bedchamber for their tricking, so Tsuneyoshi is sometimes ejected from his bedroom for a quarter hour or so (and a change of sheets). Also a drunk solider urinates in the container of drinking water Tsuneyoshi draws each day.

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Tsuneyoshi hates depending on the income from Okinawans prostituted to members of the occupying army. He quarrels with his parents and frequently skips school, gravitating to the beach. Tsuneyoshi has something of a crush on Chīko, who treats him as a younger brother. One of her customers is frustrated at her refusal to go with him again and tosses a grenade into the bar, burning her. Tsuneyoshi cannot strike back, and decides to steal a boat and escape. He does not think this through, even to choosing a destination (though he dreams of Saipan, where he was born), and neglects to pack drinking water. He has been reading Robinson Crusoe and fantasizing about living alone on an unpopulated island.

After a series of flashbacks and vignettes of his present (1950s or 60s) reveries and frustrations and a typhoon (or, perhaps only when its eye arrives) he cuts loose a yacht.

Neither novella has a real end with a possibly more interesting journey (in the Okinawan court system of Ryukuan waters) beyond the cessation of the account of frustrations of occupied Okinawans. Tsuneyoshi’s are more those of a sarcastic virginal adolescent condemning his elders than specifically about the injustices inflicted by occupying armies. It invokes the particular geography and botany of Okinawa in 38 short chapters. Also Tsuneyoshi learns how to masturbate and wonders why the GIs need to pay to get off.

In Japan the book was hailed for having the rhythm of the Okinawan language (in Japanese), something that is lost in translation. The aggrieved point of view of a boy struggling against colonial emasculinization and engaging almost necessarily in voyeurism, however, comes through clearly. He casts off clutching a knife, though there is no prospect of anyone for him to stab in his solitary expedition, but “a surge of violent excitement set my whole body quivering” is the last phrase of the novella.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

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Stress at a multinational cocktail party in occupied Okinawa

In 1989 Brown University Japan studies professor (now emeritus) Steve Rabson translated and contextualized two Akutagawa Prize-winning novellas by Okinawan writers (in Japanese): “Cocktail Party” (Kakuteru pātī, 1966) by Ōshiro Tatsuhiro and “Child of Okinawa” (Okinawa no shonen, 1971) by Higashi Mineo (born—on Mindanao— in 1938). Both were published while Okinawa was occupied by the US (the US still has large military bases on the island whose people chose to return to being a part of the country of Japan, despite a history of discrimination by “mainland” (Honshu) Japanese against Okinawans). Both have been adapted to the screen, btw (in 2016 and 1983, respectively).

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IMHO, Ōshiro stuffed too much into “Cocktail Party.” It begins on a base near Naha with a cocktail party for a mix of Americans and Okinawans with one Chinese thrown into the mix. The nucleus of the party, hosted by a Mr. Miller (who has hidden that his position is in military counterintelligence), is a group that is practicing/learning Chinese. The party breaks up when the Morgan’s son is discovered to be missing and everyone goes in search of him (it turns out that the Morgan’s Okinawan maid took him home without telling anyone; they eventually charge her with kidnapping).

The solidarity in facing possible harm to an American child completely breaks down when the daughter of one of the Okinawan guests, City Hall employee, Ogawa, is raped by an American serviceman, Robert Harris, who has been renting a room in the Ogawa house to copulate with his Okinawan girlfriend.

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Mr. Miller is not willing to intervene on behalf of his Okinawan “friend.” Mr. Sun, the Chinese refugee attorney, is very reluctant to bring charges of rape against a G.I., knowing that the Okinawan court has no authority to punish an American (and that a court-martial will cover-up rape by servicemen of locals). Adding insult to injury, the raped girl is charged with assaulting Harris (she pushed him off a cliff after he finished with her, so it doesn’t count as “self-defense”).

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Mr. Sun points out to Mr. Ogawa the latter’s acquiescence through silence of atrocities Japanese committed in China, including some of which Ogawa was aware. Moreover, Japanese soldiers had raped Mr. Sun’s wife. And Japanese had mistreated Okinawans both before and during the war when they were in authority there. Mr. Sun also acknowledges Chinese mistreatment of Japanese after Japan’s surrender. No group has clean hands, and justice is but a dream. Nonetheless, Mr. Ogawa brings charges in a court that cannot compel Harris to appear. The real victim of the story’s present (some time during the 1960s), the daughter, is not even given a name by Ōshiro.

(Rabson writes that Robert Harris is a catalyst rather than the villain. I think he Mr. Miller are villains and that Mr. Sun is the catalyst of recognizing that others occupying armies —most particulary Japan’s—mistreted the conquered peoples, not that this justifies Americans in raping Okinawans and jettisoning “international friendship” when something is asked of them.)

Alse see Medoruma Shun’s In the Woods of Memory, also centered on the rape of an Okinawan girl by US militart personnel.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray