At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gettin' Socio-Political in Okinawa

I never write about socio-political issues that I often see unfolding and playing out around me in Okinawa.  Certainly I think about them quite often.  Perhaps it's because the political isn't openly discussed among most Japanese and because the majority of my time is spent in the public school system where discussion and debate about current affairs just isn't even broached.  It's not because the government openly censors its citizens, as happens in a fair number of societies around the world.  It's because the Japanese have internalized a sense of maintaining harmony and this promotes a status quo where only the things which are least dangerous/least offensive are brought up in conversation.  The majority of my students know very little about Okinawa history, let alone Japanese history (though certain things are taught; there are certain things intentionally left out).

One of my students recently told me about how when she was living overseas as an exchange student, that she had the opportunity to interact with a number of foreign exchange students from all over the world.  What she found most surprising was how knowledgeable they were about current world issues and how engaged they were in relation to their own culture's history and its interactions with other cultures around the world.  She felt that she knew very little to add to any discussions about Okinawa or Japan.

Sometimes I wonder if my students will ever be able to function in an increasingly globalized world.  I worry that Japan, which has long held onto its monocultural status and has fiercely guarded itself from outside intrusion and foreign influence (which simultaneously creating a warped simulacra of Western culture), is holding itself back.

A fellow English teacher and I had a discussion recently about how ingrained this thinking of 内外 is within Japan (even within Okinawa, which is inevitably 外 because it was originally its own Kingdom and the people here spoke a different language from Japanese). She told me that, while on a whale watching field trip, a Japanese friend of hers who had her two young children with her on the trip, had pointed out a group of obvious foreigners (probably Americans or those of non-Asian descent). She then said to her children something to the extent of foreigners being different from Japanese and saying it in a way that emphasized the oddity and weirdness of foreign people. My friend was taken aback (as she is a foreigner in this country) and stopped her friend to remind her that she was also a foreigner.

Its these things that make me think that Japan is really dooming itself in the upcoming century. For as Dylan once proclaimed, "the times, they are a changin'..." and this time the change is going to be fast paced and free fall into a interconnected, truly globalized world.

So I've decide to begin posting more freely about the socio-political issues I see here on Okinawa (and because the US military is here, it's inevitable that this topic will be discussed, among other things). In the meantime, here is a topic I'm currently thinking about...

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