Establishment of Okinawa Women' s Studies – Facing up to My Hometown of Okinawa –

Some interest facts on Okinawa is how 4 different languages have developed in such a small geographical area. Okinawa is a perfect field in which to consider the question of "what is language?" There is also the tradition in which only women have spiritual vocations and perform Shinto rituals.

Keiko Katsukata=Inafuku
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of International Liberal Studies
Director of the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies in Waseda University


The Roots of Research are American Literature

I now profess my specialty to be gender theory and Okinawan studies, but my original specialty when I was a student was American Literature. I had an interest in the minority literature of Native American and black authors. This interest gradually led to my research in women' s literature. The world of women' s literature is very deep, with outstanding women authors coming one after another. I became immersed in the genre to the extent that I edited the "Encyclopedia of American Women Authors" , which introduces 300 women authors.

Furthermore, I thought that I had found a theme for my lifework in the activity of women editors who led the American literature scene in the 1920s. The 1920s in America were a period which featured the emergence of the literature of modernism. In the background of this emergence was a group of literary magazines known as "little magazines" . The majority of these "little magazines" were managed by shrewd women editors.

For example, the famous avant-garde literary magazine "The Little Review" was founded by Margaret Anderson, a young woman who was still in her 20s. Anderson was a provocative individual in the literary scene at that time. She introduced "Ulysses" , by James Joyce, in her own magazine. When a work scheduled to appear in her magazine was prohibited by the censorship of the Obscene Publications Act, she protested by publishing the magazine with the blank pages included.

This was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of black liberation, and the success of black women can also be observed. Among the group of gradually emerging economically affluent blacks, there was a beautician named Madam C.J. Walker. Walker invented a chemical to straighten hair. Her product enjoyed a boom among black women and sales were a huge success. With the money that she earned, Walker opened a cultural exchange salon, and became the patron of black authors and artists.

I discovered a social phenomenon in which women were very successful in a variety of areas, and I became as excited as if I had found a mountain of treasure. In truth, I had thought that I would be immersed in this kind of research at the present time…but unfortunately, this dream was not fulfilled. After becoming an academic staff member in the Faculty of International Liberal Studies, it seems that my fate was to never have my interests remain in one area. My research took on a direction that I never would have anticipated.?

Entrance into Gender Theory and Women' s Studies

In 1991, I assumed a position in the School of Law, where I was responsible for general education lectures on American literature and English. In 1993, I became able to oversee a general education seminar for 3rd and 4th year students of the undergraduate school. At the time when I was searching for a topic for the seminar, a student who had just returned from foreign study in America told me that "In America, there was a really interesting class in gender theory(*). I really wish that Waseda would offer that kind of class, too." There were a number of other students who showed interest in such a class, and their opinions served as the impetus for me to begin a seminar on gender theory.

(*)Gender refers to "the form of social and cultural gender" .

I began a seminar under the name of "Women' s Studies", and I had thought that the students enrolled in the course would all be women. However, when I looked at the composition of the class for the first time, I was surprised to see that, out of the 30 students enrolled in the course, the ratio of men and women students was fifty-fifty. This was at the beginning of the 1990s, and students had a high interest in the concept of gender, in part because the Japanese mass media had begun to use the word "gender" extensively. In 1997, I changed the name of the lecture to "Gender Studies" and created an open lecture that targeted all the students of Waseda. 400 students gathered for the lecture, and I thought to myself that this had become quite an event.

Our experiment became the impetus for the earnest inclusion of women' s studies and gender theory at Waseda. Upon examining the contents which were taught in lectures on gender theory in America, I found that it was highly interdisciplinary. Law and gender, culture and gender, media and gender…it was truly a field established across all existing scholastic subjects. Recognition of the need to put serious efforts into these topics began to gradually increase among faculty of Waseda. This led to the start of the Gender Studies Institute, a Project Research Institute(*), in 2000.
(*) A system unique to Waseda University that supports project-type research activities in which faculty members surpass their affiliated fields and work together.

Facing the Trauma of Okinawa

In time, my research took another turn into Okinawan Studies. Actually, there are very strong historical ties between Waseda University and Okinawa. These ties are exemplified by Nobumoto Ohama (legal scholar/died in 1976), who served as President of Waseda University for 12 years during 3 terms between 1954 and 1966. Ohama was born on Ishigaki-Jima in the Yaeyama Islands, and he is known as being instrumental in the reconstruction of Okinawa after the war, and in the return of Okinawa from America to mainland Japan.

At the time when I had begun my involvement in gender, there was increasing opinion that "it makes no sense that there is no research institute for Okinawan Studies at the Waseda University of Nobumoto Ohama." I was also told that "if you, who were born in Okinawa, don' t create such a research institute, then who will?" At first, I wasn' t really excited about the idea, but I guess you could say that I gave in to the smooth-talk and flattery! I eventually became resigned to the idea, and, from around 2005, I became involved in preparations for the establishment of the research institute. The Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies was established in 2006, and I assumed the position of Director.

To be honest, I felt quite a bit of inner-conflict in regards to once again facing the Okinawa where I was born and raised. Upon arriving in Tokyo, I had felt deeply relieved that I could finally be rid of the pressure of Okinawa. Within my own home, my father was a surviving member of the Special Forces and my mother had experienced great hardships during the Battle of Okinawa. There resulted in conflict between a married couple who both had different stories in there past. Also, there was conflict between my grandmother, who was raised in the consciousness of an indigenous group, and my mother, who had received a modern education. A variety of trauma existed within my family, and I just wanted to get away from what seemed to be the historical darkness held by Okinawa.

However, perhaps because I was growing older, I began to consider creating a thorough relationship between Okinawa and myself. Perhaps, recognizing that although I had intended to sever my ties with Okinawa, I would always be held under some kind of spell, I wanted to finally bring an end to my experience and create peace for myself. In some ways, my attraction to women' s studies and gender theory was an attempt to arm myself with the theory needed to free myself from the pressure of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. In the same way, this shift to Okinawan research came from my desire to use theory in order to free myself from the "Okinawa" that was festering inside me, and to create peace for myself.

In this way, I became the Director of the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies. Thus, I can only say that I am pursuing Okinawan studies. I have pursued my own approach in research, such as holding an interview survey for the personal history of Okinawan women, and by developing the area of "Okinawan Women' s Studies" , which includes the ethnicity of Okinawan studies with the theme of gender. In 2006, the same year that the research institute was established, I was able to summarize the results of my research by publishing the book "The Beginning of Okinawan Women Studies" .

Increasingly International Okinawa Network

Upon becoming involved in Okinawan studies, I was surprised at the interdisciplinary and international aspect of Okinawan studies. Scholars throughout the world are conducting research regarding Okinawa, and the fields of research are quite varied, including historical studies, language studies, political studies, and social studies.

An interesting fact regarding Okinawa is how 4 different languages have developed in such a small geographical area. These languages possess such a completely different linguistic system that they surpass regional dialects and are better classified as foreign languages. For a linguistic scholar, Okinawa is a perfect field in which to consider the question of "what is language?" Furthermore, there is the tradition in which only women have spiritual vocations and perform Shinto rituals. This tradition is extremely rare even throughout the world and receives a great deal of attention from religious scholars.

In 2006, the International Conference of Okinawan Studies was held in the city of Venice in Italy. The title of the conference was "Imagined Okinawa: Challenges from Time and Space", and approximately 50 scholars from around the world gathered in order to discuss Okinawan studies. The conference was held at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice, where Professor Rosa Caroli teaches a lecture on Okinawan studies. I had the chance to get to know Professor Caroli when she spent time at Waseda as a Visiting Researcher. I felt an instant rapport with Professor Caroli when she declared that "I want to make Italy the international research base for Okinawan studies" , and I accepted the role of secretariat on the Tokyo side.

This marked the beginning of my full involvement in the internationalization of Okinawan studies. Since then, the international network of Okinawan studies has developed at an astounding pace. In 2008, an Okinawan Research Institute was opened at the University of Hawaii, and an International Okinawan Research Institute is scheduled to be opened at the University of the Ryukyus in April of 2009. The two institutes have agreed to cooperate with each other. I would also like to become actively involved as an international base.

This autumn, Waseda University is playing a central role in holding a series of exhibitions with an Okinawan theme. The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, is holding "Okinawa Prismed 1872-2008" from October 31st to December 21st, 2008. This is a revolutionary Okinawan exhibition that introduces works such as modern Okinawan art and photography. As the finale of this exhibition, Waseda is planning to act as a co-sponsor with the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, in holding a performance of "The Human Museum" , a work created by an Okinawan theatre group, at the Okuma Auditorium on December 16th. A variety of events, from small to large, are planned over a period of 3 months, including an "Okinawan Documentary Film Festival" and symposiums held in various areas of Tokyo. Events on this kind of scale have never been seen before and may never be seen again. I am also running around Tokyo, raising my catch phrase of "dying Tokyo in Okinawan colors" .

Keiko Katsukata=Inafuku
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of International Liberal Studies
Director of the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies in Waseda University

Left Okinawa when she was a high school student and transferred to a high school in Tokyo. Graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 1971. Completed the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1983. Served as faculty at the Nihon University College of Art before becoming Assistant Instructor at the Waseda University School of Law in 1991. Served as Assistant Professor and then Professor at the School of Law before assuming her current position in 2004. Assumed the additional position as Director of the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies in 2006. Her current interest is the establishment of a methodology for performing multi-faceted research in Japanese studies and Okinawan studies through the perspective of gender and ethnicity. Her major works include "Images of Women in American Literature" , "Feminist Groups" , "Gender and American Literature: Presentation of Race and History" , and "Family, Gender, and Law" . Received the Okinawan Cultural Society Award in 2002.

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