Okinawa Narratives: Delineating rhetoric, policy and agency

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This article re-examines the often misrepresented role of Okinawan agency by focusing on the divergence between mainstream framings of Okinawa, actual policies directed towards the Ryūkyū Islands and the sociopolitical reality on these outlying islands. In so doing, it interrogates the various narratives of Okinawa and the key terms that have articulated them in the post-reversion era. It thereby adds explanatory power to extant structuralist and critical literatures, which have tended to suffer from monolithic descriptions of structural power and polemic approaches to American and Japanese governance of the islands. Specifically, by analyzing a series of illustrative issue areas such as sexual and economic exploitation, environmental protection and military security, the article uses an adapted form of critical discourse analysis (CDA) to trace how framings and policy have shifted since reversion to Japanese rule. This concentrates primarily on prime-ministerial statements from the National Diet and other, mostly Japanese-language, materials relating to Okinawa’s governance. These are contrasted with short case studies highlighting the disconnection between rhetoric and reality. Ultimately, the evidence points to a decoupling of mainstream narratives from the on-the-ground reality. The article thereby provides a nuanced understanding and expression of Okinawa’s complex interests and agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalJapanese Studies
Issue number2
Early online date3 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Okinawa-policy
  • agency
  • governance
  • narratives
  • political rhetoric

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