Okinawan Postwar Nationalism(s): Independence, Autonomy, and Indigenousness, 1945-2008


Ryan Masaaki Yokota

PhD defended at: 

University of Chicago


This dissertation focuses on the history of Okinawa from the immediate post-World War II period up to 2008, and details emergent movements for independence, regional autonomy, and indigenousness as means by which Okinawans not only contested the terms of American occupation, but increasingly began to interrogate the nature of the relationship with the Japanese state. In contrast to existing literature that often sublimates discussions of Okinawa within Japanese national discourse or as a subset of U.S.-Japan relations, this dissertation centers the voices of Okinawan residents and intellectuals and reflects on their dynamic assertions for popular sovereignty.

Primarily developed as an intellectual and social history, this dissertation sets the stage for this discussion with an analysis of the concepts of statehood, sovereignty, colonialism, nationalism, and autonomy and secession, as they apply to Okinawan prewar and postwar history. From there this dissertation details the early postwar history of Okinawa and the vibrant debates that local political parties engaged in regarding Okinawa’s potential future, and the later dissident voices calling for independence and anti-state nationalism (hanfukkiron), which emerged once the terms of the reversion movement to Japanese control became apparent. From there, this dissertation highlights postwar debates around local autonomy and dōshūsei (prefectural amalgamation), discusses the arguments of Okinawan advocates for regional autonomy which emerged as a response to reversion, and eventually shows the transition of these debates as they increasingly took on the form of national charters in intellectual circles, and were also materialized through advances under Okinawa Governor Ōta Masahide’s administration in the 1990s. Following this discussion, this dissertation focuses on the recent move to redefine Okinawan identity as indigenous, as situated within the prewar intellectual debates on Okinawan and Ainu subjectivity, but which is also a markedly contemporary movement that seeks to achieve recognition of Okinawans as indigenous peoples at the United Nations level, and also chronicles activist and intellectual voices in support of using international law as a means by which to influence domestic policies.

In sum, this dissertation argues that all of these movements for independence, autonomy, and indigenousness show the vibrant political debates that resonate under the surface of political life in Okinawa. Instead of focusing solely on the ever-present controversies related to U.S. military base issues, this dissertation gives voice to Okinawan intellectuals, politicians, and activists that have sought to address those issues of Okinawan sovereignty that undergird discussions of identity, inclusion, and larger debates related to regional security and U.S.-Japan relations.