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Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa

Michael Molasky
Steve Rabson
Copyright Date: 2000
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  • Book Info
    Southern Exposure
    Book Description:

    Southern Exposure is the first anthology of Okinawan literature to appear in English translation, and it appears at a propitious time. Although Okinawa Prefecture comprises only one percent of Japan's population, its writers have been winning a disproportionate number of literary awards in recent years--including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for fiction, which was awarded to Matayoshi Eiki in 1996 and to Medoruma Shun in 1997. Both Matayoshi and Medoruma are represented in this anthology, which includes a wide range of fiction as well as a sampling of poetry from the 1920s to the present day. Modern Okinawa has been forged by a history of conquest and occupation by mainland Japan and the United States. Its sense of dual subjugation and the propensity of its writers to confront their own complicity with Japanese militarism imbues Okinawa's literary tradition with insightful perspectives on a wide range of issues. But this tradition is as deeply rooted in the region's lush semitropical landscape as in the forces of history. As this anthology demonstrates, Okinawan writers often suffuse their works with a lyricism and humor that disarms readers while bringing them face to face with the region's richly ambiguous legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6440-8
    Subjects: Linguistics, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-36)
    Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson

    In 1996 and 1997, writers from Okinawa won the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious award for fiction. Matayoshi Eiki, a veteran author in his own right, became the first Okinawan to receive the award in twenty-five years with his 1996 novella,Pig’s Revenge.¹ At the time, jaded critics observed that the competition had grown so weak in recent decades as to render the semi-annual literary prize practically meaningless. Besides, they added, Okinawa had been in the headlines daily for opposing the Japanese government over its support for keeping American military bases on their islands, so it should come as no...

  5. Poetry

    • A Verse from “Translations of Old Okinawan Poems” (ca. 1922)
      (pp. 39-39)
      Serei Kunio
    • My Last Letter (1927)
      (pp. 41-41)
      Nakamura Kare
    • Entering the Harbor of a Southern Island (1931)
      (pp. 43-43)
      Tsukayama Issui
    • Dead Body (1931)
      (pp. 44-44)
      Tsukayama Issui
    • Reminiscences from The Days of My Youth (1963)
      (pp. 46-46)
      Yamanokuchi Baku

      In the coffee shop where I used to hang out, one of the regular customers showed up one day after a long absence, his face deeply tanned. He announced in a loud voice to the woman who ran the shop and her daughter that he had been on a business trip to Okinawa. I’d been talking to some other people at the time, but, being from Okinawa, I was slightly irritated to hear him mention it. Most Okinawans of my generation feel uncomfortable at such times. Still, I could not suppress a certain interest in this man’s impressions of Okinawa....

    • A Conversation (1935)
      (pp. 47-48)
      Yamanokuchi Baku
    • Shell-shocked Island (1964)
      (pp. 49-49)
      Yamanokuchi Baku
    • Dream Revelations (1984)
      (pp. 51-56)
      Takara Ben
  6. Fiction

    • Officer Ukuma (1922)
      (pp. 59-71)
      Ikemiyagi Sekihō

      On the outskirts of Naha, the capital city of Ryukyu, is a certain village I’ll refer to as “X.” Its residents are of Chinese descent, and most of them–no, I should say nearly all–are poor and do menial work. Frog catchers go out to the rice fields to hunt for frogs, which they skin and take to market. Frogs are considered a delicacy by people in Naha and in the nearby town of Shuri. There are also fishermen and weavers among the villagers. Their work is humble, and people in other parts of Naha look down on them...

    • Memoirs of a Declining Ryukyuan Woman (1932)
      (pp. 73-80)
      Kushi Fusako

      I was visiting a friend who had just returned from a family funeral on our home island. I expected to hear from her about my mother but was afraid of what she might say. It was hard for me to imagine my mother surviving this winter with her failing health, and I listened to my friend, feeling as if I had walked out onto thin ice. But she spoke only of my mother’s unflagging endurance, and I could detect no sign of concealment on her face, which looked as if it had been freshly swept by the salt sea breeze...

    • In Defense of “Memoirs of a Declining Ryukyuan Woman”
      (pp. 81-83)
      Kushi Fusako

      The current and former presidents of the Okinawa Student Association visited the other day to denounce me for what I wrote in the June issue ofFujin kōronand to demand an apology. I am taking this opportunity to publish a defense.

      First of all, these two men insisted that I stop writing because they found my revealing portrayal of our homeland extremely embarrassing. In addition, they ordered me to apologize for my depiction of one character in the story, my uncle, so that readers would not get the mistaken impression that all Okinawan men are like him. Yet in...

    • “Mr. Saitō of Heaven Building (1938)
      (pp. 85-96)
      Yamanokuchi Baku

      Hiratsuka, a friend from when I worked in the shipping department at Tōkaidō Booksellers, told me that my request was most unbecoming for a poet. Nevertheless, he handed me one of his business cards. On it he’d written, “I introduce to you Mr. Yamanokuchi Baku, a poet.” Since this was meant to be a job reference, the word “poet” may have been irrelevant. Anyway, with card in hand, I headed across the river for Heaven Building.

      The building, right next to the railway station, was a shabby, four-story walk-up with a dim, dirty hallway and no sign of people. I...

    • Dark Flowers (1955)
      (pp. 98-111)
      Kishaba Jun

      By the time Nobuko opened her eyes, the sun was already high in the sky. Through holes in the closed shutters streamed rays of sunlight swirling with tiny particles like bluish smoke. She lay on her stomach between the dirty sheets covering the steel-frame bed and took a deep drag from a menthol cigarette. Something weighed heavily inside her numbed brain. Not only that, she felt like throwing up. These days even a headache was hard for her to bear.

      Nobuko was exhausted.

      The night before, she and Joe had drunk too much. Joe’s black skin, big, broad shoulders, and...

    • Turtleback Tombs (1966)
      (pp. 113-154)
      Ōshiro Tatsuhiro

      On most days, all Grandma Ushi and Grandpa Zentoku thought about was what went on inside the ninety square feet of their thatched-roof house on its quarter acre of land. Only on those days when they joined their neighbors to see soldiers off for the front or receive the remains of war dead did they think about “Okinawa Prefecture,” “The Greater Japanese Empire,” or “America.” So they had no idea these things had anything to do with the noises they were hearing now.

      First, a thundering seemed to shatter the air as their house shook. Outside in the goat shed,...

    • Bones (1973)
      (pp. 156-170)
      Shima Tsuyoshi

      The work crew had arrived at the construction site and was taking a break when a yellow safety helmet swung into view at the foot of the hill. The man in the helmet was moving at a fast clip as he made his way up the dirt road that cut through the pampas grass. Right behind him was an old woman. She relied on a walking stick, but she dogged him like a shadow.

      The construction site was situated atop a stretch of foothills from which one could see the entire city of Naha in a single sweep. Long, long...

    • The Silver Motorcycle (1977)
      (pp. 172-190)
      Nakahara Shin

      She died nearly ten years ago, toward the end of a summer when it had hardly rained at all. Like sparrows at sunset, people had flocked together and gossiped about how she had been a little strange.

      That summer everything dried up. She had been proud of the big rubber tree at her gate, its leaves covered with fine white dust. The leaves turned yellow, then gradually brown as they fluttered in the wind until at last they fell straight down with a dry, rustling sound onto the pavement in front of the garage. And they kept falling, one after...

    • Love Letter from L.A. (1978)
      (pp. 192-212)
      Shimokawa Hiroshi

      For the first time in many years, Tomiko saw Sueko again. That night she was out with her boss, Yoshida, and they happened to stumble into the one bar in all of Naha that Sueko was running. Tomiko was less than overjoyed about bumping into someone she knew because Yoshida, in addition to being her boss, was also the married man with whom she was having an affair.

      Only a few days before, Yoshida had learned that he was being transferred back to the company’s main office in Tokyo. Come to Tokyo with me, he had told Tomiko. I’ll divorce...

    • Love Suicide at Kamaara (1984)
      (pp. 214-233)
      Yoshida Sueko

      Kiyo was awakened by the sound of the lighter hitting the floor. She opened her eyes and saw a faint wisp of smoke drifting toward the sunlit ceiling. Glancing over at the other side of the bed, she saw Sammy looking at her with a cigarette between his teeth. He must have been watching her sleep for some time. Kiyo rolled over and faced the wall. She knew he’d been getting an eyeful of her hair, which was starting to turn white at the roots, and at the lusterless nape of her bony neck. She felt painfully exposed and pulled...

    • Will o’ the Wisp (1985)
      (pp. 235-253)
      Yamanoha Nobuko

      The voice was faint at first and didn’t register. Through thick layers it reached her, jolting her to consciousness. She wanted to wriggle, but she couldn’t move, as if steel reinforcements ran through the center of her body. She felt trapped in cement, gooey cement that had just been poured around her body without leaving her an inch of space. She opened her eyes suddenly, which smarted immediately from the cold. It was water, the weight of water that was constricting her. Saltiness assailed her nostrils and overflowed into her already open mouth.The sea!she shouted, and the pressure...

    • Droplets (1997)
      (pp. 255-285)
      Medoruma Shun

      It was during a dry spell in mid-June, the rainy season, when Tokushō’s leg suddenly swelled up. He lay napping on a steel-frame army cot in the back room, away from the scorching sun of the cloudless sky. The heat had subsided now that it was past 5:00, and he was sleeping comfortably when he was awakened by a feverish sensation in his right leg. He looked down and saw that the lower half of his leg had swelled up bigger than his thigh. Frightened, he tried to sit up, but his body wouldn’t move, nor could he speak. Cold...

    • Fortunes by the Sea (1998)
      (pp. 287-358)
      Matayoshi Eiki

      That the marriage came about quickly was due to a lack of concern over “blood,” given how many degrees of kinship separated them. The other reason was that the ridiculing by the young unmarried men here on T— Island had gotten to be far too irritating.

      On T— Island, there were no playhouses or movie theaters where the two of them felt comfortable just sitting together silently for any length of time. There were a few coffee shops. But these, while proclaiming themselves coffee shops on signs out front, were also bars that servedawamori.Five young men, having an...

  7. Translators
    (pp. 359-360)
  8. Sources for Original Texts
    (pp. 361-364)