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JYO Contents | Yamashina Institute for Ornithology
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The lips pulled away. Lightly wiping his mouth with his index finger, Ishimine stood up.
He was still seventeen. A smile took shape—around those eyes that stared out beneath the long lashes, on the spare cheeks, on the vermillion lips. At last the thirst is gone. This critical passage raises several issues, none of which is easily solved, and which do not aid in reading the story as a generic tale of a village temporarily disturbed by immorality.
This scene in particular, and the story as a whole, muddies the distinction between victim and aggressor.
The Honshu Pioneer
Water figures prominently in the work as evidenced by its title and the contents therein, suggesting that Medoruma is probing folk beliefs of Okinawans, who according to Nakamatsu Yashu, revere and worship the spiritual power of water. Not only does Dr.
Rather than depict a clash between public and private memory, Medoruma pits the indomitable weight of tradition against those mechanized forces that have come to erode long held communal values. A startling predator with fierce pincers, the crusty crab figurally rends the superficially smooth aspect of contemporary Okinawan society. Spying the eggs of a sea turtle, Omito began to collect them for sustenance just minutes before she is killed by artillery fire.
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Uta was sitting in the open veranda, gazing at the brilliance of her dew-drenched garden, growing brighter in the morning sun, when the calisthenics music from the radio in the community center nearby began to play. She sneered humph and sipped her tea through a chunk of raw sugar in her mouth. For generations the elderly had started the day with a cup of tea before getting to work. Naturally they urged Uta to join them. From this subtle aside on the rapid disappearance of morning tea under the onslaught of centralized culture, Medoruma segues to the heart of story, which underscores another absence—that of faith in contemporary times.
Finally, a fellow villager is able to hack the elusive crab to pieces with a scoop and hoe just seconds after Uta realizes that the feisty crab must be a reincarnation of Omito, and that it, like the sea turtle, signals, through a reunion of mother and son in death, a restoration in the natural world.
Uta was the sole person on the beach. The light of sea fireflies faded in and out in the warm waves lapping the shore.
Uta stopped, turned toward the horizon, and brought her hands together. But her prayer never reached its destination. Medoruma beguiles his readers with clever contrivances—a certified healer, a mythic sea turtle, a predatory hermit crab—yet neither Uta nor the sea creatures are ever securely attached to any convincing symbolic meaning. Nor, in the end, are they any match for the war that engulfs them. To be sure, ingenious inventions such as drops of water trickling from the toe of an impossibly large, gourd-shaped leg, or a lusty crab staking its territory in a human body serve to entertain; they also force one out of conventional ways of thinking about war, memory, and identity.
In both stories cultural memory, that suspect version of history, which the island projects to others in its assertion of group identity, clashes with a different kind of memory, one that is contestatory, idiosyncratic, political.
Uta or NHK? While Medoruma gives voice to the former in each case, these stories show clear tensions between and among local and national forces as they vie to narrate the past. As the annual festivities take place, Yoshiaki is slowly drawn toward traditions in which he had long been uninterested. These include music, dance, and the performance of melodramatic but beloved plays that depict rampant prewar discrimination toward Okinawans. This whitewashing of material included the removal of a gun from a proposed exhibit on the daily lives of civilian refugees during the Battle of Okinawa.
Further changes were made in terminology. In every case the former term is more benign than the latter. Understandably, many Okinawans were outraged by the fact that a peace museum in Okinawa was itself now part of a national attempt as in the school textbook controversy to conceal the facts of Japanese wartime violence toward Okinawans.
Without a doubt, Medoruma has emerged as the most prominent intellectual to voice his dismay at the conservative turn of the tide that has swept Okinawa in recent years. The steady stream of political essays published by Medoruma since effectively quells any doubt as to his preeminence in matters of public concern. It was into this political cauldron that Medoruma stepped when he left quiet Miyako for once quiet Nago. Inamine employed a convincing argument to support his gubernatorial design choices for the new Peace Museum.
That is, as Medoruma fills in what Inamine strategically leaves out of representations of the past, he too, is putting forth a different interpretation of the Battle. Lest one think that his is yet another portrayal of Okinawa-as-victim, Medoruma pointedly includes references to Korean sex slaves who are below Gozei in hierarchy, given that their sexual services are restricted to lower-ranking enlisted men. One of the few civilian men left in the village, he worked as a servant at the inn.
Their only relief from harsh servitude came in stolen moments savored under a yuana tree clustered with masses of yellow blossoms that look like butterflies from a distance. Yoshiaki learns these particulars from a ninety-year old gentleman named Uchima who had previously served as ward chief. Well advanced in age, Uchima is, until Yoshiaki hears the tale, the sole repository of memories deliberately left unmentioned in village history.
Inside, Gozei lies in the mud sexually degraded. The guilt she suffers for this partiality remains with Gozei for decades.
She spends her remaining years living in a hut no bigger than a goat shed, eking out a living by collecting and selling aluminum cans. Owing to her past, virtually all the adults suspected foul play and roundly censured her. For months afterward, Gozei avoided the accusing eyes of the villagers. In the three-week span of the narrative, Yoshiaki comes to a finer understanding of himself through encounters with Gozei who awakens in him repressed memories and a desire to know more about his family and culture.
No, he was very close. Bathed in moonlight, the clusters of yellow butterflies on the hibiscus tree seemed on the verge of taking flight. When she went in the shade of the tree she was immediately drawn in by a strong force, and for an achingly short time, his hot tongue played at her throat, and his firm left hand pressed her back. I had already oozed into the dirt. The Korean woman was saying something.