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Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Japan but surrounded by U.S. influence, Okinawa struggles with split identity

Article taken from the Washington Post
By Chico Harlan
Thursday, July 1, 2010; A01

CHATAN, JAPAN -- These days, when Melissa Tomlinson describes her fraught relationship with the United States, she speaks in English, the language she once rejected. She grew up here on the island of Okinawa. Her mother was Japanese, and her father was an American who served in the U.S. Army, came to Okinawa, fell in love, fell out of love, then fell out of touch.

"I had plans to track him down, find him and punch him in the face," said Tomlinson, 22. "I just wanted to figure out my identity."

Tomlinson's family tensions illustrate the complex cultural clashes that dominate the politics of Okinawa and, lately, relations between what have been the world's two largest economies as they cope with a rising China and a belligerent North Korea.

For the more than 60 years since the end of World War II, native Okinawans and U.S. troops stationed on nearby bases have developed deep, passionate and generation-spanning ties that complicate political and diplomatic debates about the future of the U.S. military here. Those passions have recently claimed the head of one Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who had called for the Americans to be booted off Okinawa, and caused his successor to sharply tone down his party's assertive stance toward the United States.

A vocal majority of Okinawans still demand closing the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. American officials, citing proximity to North Korea, China and Southeast Asia, insist it remain in Okinawa. Japan, in its attempt to mediate, has only frustrated both sides.

The current resolution, which Prime Minister Naoto Kan says his government will honor, calls for Futenma's eventual relocation to a less populated region in the north of the island. Kan apologized last week for the "heavy burden" facing Okinawans.

Many locals on this Pacific island hosting more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan complain most commonly about the noise, congestion and crime. But emotional blood ties and cultural confusion amplify those concerns. Tormented by her identity, Tomlinson said she has tried to kill herself "a couple times" in the past two years.

Tomlinson said she struggles to convince herself -- and others -- that she is truly Japanese and Okinawan. She called her identity "ambiguous" and said her feeling of being an incomplete person has sometimes led to deep depression.

A generation of biracial Okinawans know about intercultural relationships, writ small. They know about romance and separations, child-support battles and reunions. They know that Japanese children refer to their biracial peers as "halfs," and nowadays, they know of the local American-Asian school, for biracial children, where those kids are taught to call themselves "doubles."

Okinawa's demographics separate it from mainland Japan. Here, the rates of single-parent households and divorce are twice the national average. At the American-Asian school, 70 percent of the 80 students come from single-parent households, Principal Midori Thayer said.

"Unfortunately, some kids never live with their father, but they cannot lose their DNA," she said. "Their body shows that they are not 100 percent Japanese."


Denny Tamaki, 50, the local representative to the Japanese parliament, knows only that his father, an American serviceman whom he has never met, was named William. When William returned to the States and Tamaki's mother decided not to follow, she burned his photos and letters. When they moved to a new home, she didn't give him their new address. When Tamaki turned 10, his mother took him to a government office, where they officially changed his first name to Yasuhiro.

Tamaki knows little English and wants Futenma moved off Okinawa because "it feels like we're living under occupation." But he has a passion for American music -- Aerosmith, for instance -- and American television shows.

A decade ago he tried to track down his father, with no luck. When his kids ask about their grandfather, he tells them that it would take the detectives from "CSI: Miami" to find him.

Search for a Father

Tomlinson's mother and father were married on Okinawa, and then moved together to Georgia after his tour on the island ended in 1975. Tomlinson was born in Hinesville, Ga., while her father was stationed at Fort Stewart. Tomlinson's parents separated when she was 3; she returned to Okinawa in 1990 with her mother. Her father retained custody of their two older children, who stayed in the United States with him.

Growing up, Tomlinson said, she remembered nothing about the separation, and never spoke to her father or siblings. "I've had to live with some tough decisions," said Melissa's father, who requested that his name not be used.

Tomlinson said her conflicted feelings were often fueled by her mother, who told her she looked "like an American" and tried to hide her from her co-workers. She said they fought frequently, and she told her mother: "Why did you have me? I want to be a Japanese, but I don't get to choose."

In school, her dual identities battled. Sometimes she was an American who didn't speak proper English. Sometimes she was a Japanese who didn't look Japanese. For several years, she tried to forget every English word she knew.

During high school, she said, a teacher encouraged her to learn English because she would need it if one day she wanted to track down her father. "Maybe you can hear the truth," the teacher told her. "You should know both sides."

At the University of the Ryukyus, Tomlinson tried to find English-speaking friends. She watched American television without the subtitles. Still, she confided to friends that she felt depressed.

From her mother, Tomlinson had heard only nasty tales about her father, who was once stationed at the Army's Torii base. After her junior year in college, in spring 2009, she decided to try to find him and left school for a time.

In March, her U.S. military ID card, a privilege from a relationship she never had, was expiring. The Army passed along her father's address. She e-mailed him, asking for him to sign the required forms for a new ID.

Weeks later, she heard back from the father who had not seen her since she was 3.

"Hi Melissa, Hearing from you, to say the least, came as quite a shock," he wrote. "I was not aware that you could speak English let alone read or write it. The last time we had contact, and I am sure you do not remember it, you could only speak Japanese. Trying to bridge the gap with words after all this time would be futile. In life sometimes we have to make decisions that we don't know if they are right or not, but we have to live with them."

Tomlinson read and reread the e-mail. She discussed it with friends, and together they parsed the words. Their relationship continued, e-mail by e-mail, and she learned that he liked fishing, and that he missed Okinawa, and that he says he has thought about her every day.

For all these years, he wrote, he avoided contact because he didn't want her to be torn between parents.

"It would have made your life miserable," he wrote.
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Rebuttal:

This article provides an excellent insight into the lives of many people Uchinanchu people. I have lived this life also from the time I was twenty years old. I'm sure many relationships in Okinawa start out with couples being drawn in by the attraction of having a foriegn boyfriend or girlfriend. Someone exotic and not the norm for the person's particular culture.


Relationships often times lead to love but many times in intercultural relationships the attraction can be one sided. I believe for American servicemen many enter into relationships believing that if it doesn't work out thay can simply get divorced. Something that in American culture seems to be a normal progression in many relationships.


What people do not realize is that Intercultural marriage takes a lot of cooperation for success. People by nature do not simply give up their cultural heritage and adopt that of another completely different society. I speak from experience (28 years) it takes a lot of give and take to make things work. Tolerence and compassion for the feelings of your spouse are high on the list if you want things to work.


My wife and I have three kids that were brought up in this milticultural relationship and I know that sometimes things were rough for them. Personal identity however is not determined by ones racial composition but rather by the character of the person.


Described as "Ha-fu" in not necessarily a bad thing although in Japan there is a stigma to not being associated as 100% Japanese. I believe that half Japanese and half American children are some of the best looking people I know and should be proud that they possess the best traits of two great cultures. Here is a video I found on You Tube about it. Let's hear what you think!


Please Comment!

2 comments:

  1. I was really shocked by this article. Not necessarily entirely shocked that such a thing, such an experience, could exist for someone, but more that the newspaper would report it in this way, as if her situation is representative of that faced, or experienced, by most or all hafu in Okinawa.

    I was also surprised to hear that she should feel this way in Okinawa. I don't have nearly as close a connection to Okinawan people and Okinawan society as, for example, you do, but just from whatever little exchanges I've had, I had the impression that Okinawans were much more internationally-minded, more open-minded, more foreigner-friendly than ethnic Japanese from mainland Japan. Granted, there is extremely strong influence from the mainland, and the education system is a national one, with kids being socialized and educated in certain ways that are exactly the same as in the rest of Japan. But, still, if her environment at school and in her town was such that she should grow up thinking she's not Japanese enough (or not Okinawan enough), that sticking out as a hafu and not fitting in is something to be tormented over and worth killing yourself over, then that's a truly horrible comment on her community and her schooling. I am really amazed that this should go on in Okinawa. Not that it should be acceptable or tolerated in, say, Gifu or Gunma, but I really thought that Okinawa was a different place in terms of those kinds of attitudes.

    ...

    Back home in the US, I really kind of feel like we are all hafu, in a way. Maybe not everyone everyone, but a great many people in our society actively hold onto a cultural tradition other than just being "American". Even if you're white, you still have connections to a land, a set of traditions, perhaps a language other than American (English). I myself, as a Jewish-American, grew up always thinking about how I stood out, maybe not physically, visually, in terms of being decisively different at a glance, but different in how I was raised, what my cultural background is. I associate not only with the US, but with Israel as well, and while I really am only fluent in English, I associate with Yiddish and Hebrew as "my" languages, and all in all I identify myself as being different from some imagined standard American, whether that be a WASP, or, I don't know, whatever the imagined standard should be.

    I constantly think about my identity, think about where I belong, and I'm not sure if I do feel 100% American, 100% comfortable with thinking of that as my place, where I fit in. There are a lot of things I hate about the way American culture, American society is, and in some respects I feel more comfortable here in Japan, even though I don't have any real cultural, let alone ethnic, connection to Japan.

    I guess all I'm getting at is that it seems perfectly normal to me to have identity issues. I imagine most Americans think about their identity, and struggle with it, and while I suppose perhaps Japanese do not as much, I am still shocked and saddened that anyone should feel the way this Melissa Tomlinson does.

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  2. Please remember that her perception was brought about by the fact that she did not have contact with her father and the fact that her mother had soured over the break up of her relationship. People in Okinawa are relatively tolerant of other cultures in almost all cases. Japanese influence has also effected them and their perceptions. It is apparent that now she understands more clearly since she has had contact with her father and they are communicating. It's only one example and we shouldn't consider it a representation of how all Okinawans feel.

    There is still a lot of racism in Japan and they do not have equal opportunity laws as we do here in the states. I don't believe we could ever get away with having a school for people that were bi-racial just because they weren't accepted by others in their community.

    It is true that we were once called the melting pot because we were all here together and seemed to blend. My daughter has told me however that it is now an obsolete term and that they now refer to the United States as a tossed salad because we are all diverse cultures living successfully in amongst each other. There is no more boundary in many cases and mixed cultural marriages are an accepted norm.

    People do tend to own the traits of their ancestry even thought they may not have had much exposure to them. I guess in that perspective, my children would be Italian, German, Yugoslavian, American, Okinawan, Japanese children. We simply look however at the ethnicity of the parents to determine what race a person is.

    Many people have identity issues. It's how we deal with it that matters. Always seek the truth and realize there are two sides to every story. If you only hear one side of the story then how can you make an educated decision as to what is right and what is not. I would encourage everyone to explore the cultural heritage of those who came before them. Approach it with an open mind and you may be surprised at what you will find.

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