The Limits of Okinawa

Japanese Capitalism, Living Labor, and Theorizations of Community

The Limits of Okinawa

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: March 2015

Author: Wendy Matsumura

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Since its incorporation into the Japanese nation-state in 1879, Okinawa has been seen by both Okinawans and Japanese as an exotic “South,” both spatially and temporally distinct from modern Japan. In The Limits of Okinawa, Wendy Matsumura traces the emergence of this sense of Okinawan difference, showing how local and mainland capitalists, intellectuals, and politicians attempted to resolve clashes with labor by appealing to the idea of a unified Okinawan community. Their numerous confrontations with small producers and cultivators who refused to be exploited for the sake of this ideal produced and reproduced “Okinawa” as an organic, transhistorical entity. Informed by recent Marxist attempts to expand the understanding of the capitalist mode of production to include the production of subjectivity, Matsumura provides a new understanding of Okinawa's place in Japanese and world history, and it establishes a new locus for considering the relationships between empire, capital, nation, and identity.


"[The Limits of Okinawa] supplies a previously unexplored and highly convincing account of the historical struggles of small producer communities – analysing the interactions between their peasantries, local elites and the Japanese state.... Matsumura masterfully injects drama and intrigue to embellish what is already a rigorous analysis of Okinawa’s pre-war socio-economic and political history." — Ra Mason, History

"Matsumura’s compelling and theory-informed account of anticapitalist struggles by small producers and cultivators against both local and national agents of political, economic, and sociocultural transformation offers a new perspective on the relationships between colonialism, capitalism, and identity formation. The book is a valuable resource not only for historians, anthropologists, and sociologists who are interested in Japan and Okinawa but also for other scholars who are more broadly concerned with the micropolitics of socioeconomic transformation under colonialism." — Taku Suzuki, Journal of Japanese Studies

"The Limits of Okinawa is impressive new scholarship, challenging us to see the multiaxial and multidimensional constructions of and contestations over identity, labor and power in prewar Okinawa." — James E. Roberson, Social Science Japan Journal

"...The Limits of Okinawa is indispensible to specialists simply for the stories that it tells. However, its attention to historiography and theory makes it equally relevant to nonspecialists." — James Rhys Edwards, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

"This is by far the best history available in English of Okinawa between 1879, when it was forcibly annexed by Japan, and the depression years of the 1930s. Appropriately focusing on economics, Matsumura persuasively applies current interpretations of Marxist theory to show the political, social and cultural effects of corporate and government efforts to make of Okinawans what Marx called 'dead labor' for the sugar and textile industries, and describes how workers and farmers resisted them." — Steve Rabson, Left History

"... a welcome addition to a still small but growing number of works in the area of Okinawan studies in English. Members of the Okinawa diaspora will especially find this book interesting, even if its Marxian critique of the 'Okinawan community,' as bourgeois ideology, might ruffle some feathers." — Mark McNally, Canadian Journal of History

"Wendy Matsumura has crafted a well-documented, theory-heavy account of labor and identity along the colonial periphery of imperial Japan. . . . The Limits of Okinawa is a must-read for anyone interested in the co-production of industrialization and colonialism, in Japan and the world." — Christopher Gerteis, American Historical Review

"A model of clarity and rigor, Wendy Matsumura's book examines the formation of 'Okinawa' as both idea and socio-spatial form under the establishment of the Japanese nation-state. This riveting story of how Okinawan elites mobilized cultural difference to advance their own interests under the new regime and how small producers refused to go along illuminates the micropolitics of capitalism and the everyday possibilities of revolution. A provocative response to the Okinawan obsessions of Japan's twentieth century." — Louise Young, author of Beyond the Metropolis: Second Cities and Modern Life in Interwar Japan

"The Limits of Okinawa is the most historically rich, theoretically integrated work about Okinawa to appear in English. Wendy Matsumura has written a thoughtful, complex, and convincing book that speaks to critical questions about colonial domination, capitalist transformation, and the possibilities for freedom and autonomy. It is a superb work that should find a broad readership among historians of Japan, as well as historians, anthropologists, and others more broadly concerned with colonialism and capitalist modernity." — Christopher T. Nelson, author of Dancing with the Dead: Memory, Performance, and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Wendy Matsumura is Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies at Furman University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. The Birth of Okinawa Prefecture and the Creation of Difference 27

2. The Miyako Island Peasantry Movement as an Event 49

3. Reforming Old Customs, Transforming Women's Work 79

4. The Impossibility of Plantation Sugar in Okinawa 115

5. Uneven Development and the Rejection of Economic Nationalism in "Sago Palm Hell" Okinawa 146

Conclusion. Living Labor and the Limits of Okinawan Community 182

Notes 189

Bibliography 247

Index  265
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5801-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5788-9
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