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Okinawa grad student on Henoko: Don't make such decisions from a mainland perspective

Graduate student Shinako Oyakawa talks about Okinawa's desire to decide on its own future in the city of Tomigusuku in Okinawa Prefecture. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- A graduate student has hit back at the Supreme Court's decision on Dec. 20 to allow the restarting of landfill work at the new U.S. military base in Henoko in the city of Nago, claiming, "The mainland needs to stop ignoring Okinawa's point of view and doing only what suits itself."

University of the Ryukyus graduate student Shinako Oyakawa, 35, who is actively trying to reinstate the ancient Okinawan "Shimakutuba" languages in the region, and to ensure that Okinawan identity is respected, made the statement shortly after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling.

Earlier in the month, on Dec. 16 -- just three days after the Osprey crash along the coast of Okinawa -- Oyakawa made approximately 60 students who she teaches English to at Okinawa University read about the crash in an English newspaper article, and had them write their opinions on the incident.

Opinions on the crash were split down the middle, but there was a clear pattern: the students who believed that Osprey flights should be discontinued largely referred to themselves as "Okinawan," while those who were in favor of restarting Osprey flights if safety measures were implemented referred to themselves as "Japanese." This led Oyakawa to conclude that peoples' opinions about the U.S. military base issue seem to be influenced by how they see their place in the world.

Oyakawa believes the current state of affairs, in which the majority of U.S. military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture, is the result of systemic discrimination. "An Okinawa-centered point of view is needed to change this situation," she declares.

Oyakawa's determination to create a stronger identity in Okinawa, and for the Japanese mainland to take the prefecture more seriously was initially triggered when she was studying in Hawaii in 2004. She was inspired by the way in which Hawaii -- where the number of people who spoke the local language plummeted after Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. in the late 19th century -- has adopted Hawaiian as an official language due to increased activism starting in the 1970s to revive the language as part of a move to regain autonomy.

Since returning from Hawaii, Oyakawa has carried out research on her own into "Shimakutuba," which is now spoken by just 30 percent of Okinawans, most of them elderly. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who opposes the presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, calls for solidarity among Okinawans based on identity more than ideology. Oyakawa states, "If the Shimakutuba languages can be reinstated, then the sense of unity in Okinawa will become much stronger."

The latest lawsuit may be over, but Okinawa's fight continues.

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