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Geographical Experiences of Uchinanchu’s Migrations Between the Birthplace and the Place of Residence

I. Introduction

Changing the place of residence will switch people to new social relations in their everyday life. Past experiences and memories, however, have not been wiped out and reflect on it cumulatively in the new place. These geographical experiences of migrants should be considered for unpacking the social dynamics of immigrant communities. Because, these people assumed the potential middle-person who can bridge the communities in their respective regions.

In the questionnaire survey concerning the fourth Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival; TAIKAI, the research group set the questions for the respondents about their birthplace and the currents place of residence. According to the answers in the survey, their migration route can be traced. In this report, current situation of the Okinawan diaspora and their relations with “Okinawa society” will be illustrated.

II. Geography of Taikai’s participants and types of migration

The people who were born and currently live in the USA are the dominant group of those who identify themselves as the Okinawan descendant; Uchinanchu. Apart from them, they are also the largest group of participants in the TAIKAI. There are, however, a quarter of Okinawan participants who did not share the same birthplace and residential place by country. In other words, they have a different experience of trans-border migration.

Of course, the majority of those who experienced migration are those born in Okinawa and its surrounding Islands. With this in mind, there are also the 2nd and 3rd generations of Okinawan who were born in another country like Peru and migrated to Japan and the USA. On the other hand, it is interesting that we can’t find the participants who have experienced of trans-border migration within South American countries. In this light, these types of migrations do not sustain the formation of the horizontal relations between the countries and suggests the one-way traffic between the developed and developing countries. Similarly, beyond nation-based research format, grasping from a smaller spatial scale rather than national boundaries, Hawai’i is the most popular place for participants, followed by California and São Paulo, Brazil. At the very least half of the participants have experiences of moving from the birthplace to the place of residence by the region.

We can recognize four types of migration from the results above. The first type is the settled migration which attributed the participants to the same place between birth and residence. 54.2% of the Okinawan are assigned to this type of migration. The second type is the (domestic) internal migration, where they have only experienced moving between regions within national boundary, and the percentage is 11.0%. The third type is the maiden trans-border migration. This type is comprised of the people who were born in Okinawa but live outside Japan and this makes up 18.1%. The last type is the repeating trans-border migration. Okinawan descendants (4.1%) who were born and live outside Okinawa Prefecture fall in this group. An example of this is the third generation Okinawan descendants who were born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and live currently in Shizuoka, Japan.

Regarding the migration types, Hawai’i and São Paulo are ascribed to the first type (settled migration) and California is characterized as the second type (internal migration). The participants from Hawai’i and California share similar features from the results of this survey, especially in terms of generation, Japanese language ability, percentage of women participants, and occupations. However, there is an apparent difference of migration type between the regions within the USA.

III. Difference of migration experiences and “Okinawan communities” between Hawai’i and California

The difference of migration types between Hawai’i and California reveals the attitude toward “Kenjin-kai” (Okinawan association) which is supported by Okinawan communities in the region. In the survey, there are replies about the affiliating condition to the Kenjin-kai in question no.5, and the work of Kenjin-kai in succession to future generation in question no.17.

Results from the questions, although the 81.5% of participants from Hawai’i have affiliated with the Kenjin-kai, the participants from California make up only 59.7% and half of them identified Hawai’i as the birthplaces. As the same time, 76.2% of the respondents from Hawai’i regarded the Kenjin-kai works were passing on to next generations as going “very well” or “somewhat well”. Only a half of the respondents from California consider it positively. It is more important that 31.3% of the respondents from California are not aware of the activities launched by the Kenjin-kai, compared with Hawai’i of only 5.3%. These findings imply that the Okinawan in California, through migration, have detached themselves and kept the social distance from Kenjin-kai.

It seems that the regions as metropolis which have centralities economically, socially, politically in nature will deprive the Okinawan descendants of the senses of locality and loyalty to the local Okinawan communities.

IV. Towards creating networks of “Uchinanchu” beyond regional borders

From the standpoint of the migration type, one can assume Okinawan communities in Hawai’i are characterized as homogeneous as California. It makes suggestions that these features will be reflected in the sense of the places in which embedded the experience of migrations.

If we want to create the networks of “Uchinanchu” in the future that do not cause core-peripheral and one-way relations between Okinawa Islands and other regions, we should know the regional geniuses of Okinawan communities, in which locating islands, metropolises, rural areas, developed and developing countries etc.. The mutual understanding among Okinawan communities around the world including Okinawa Islands will propel the horizontal interactions between them and bring fruitful future generations.

© 2008 Kentaro Kuwatsuka