The other day I had to pick up a copy of my mom’s koseki (family registration) for some personal reasons down at the city office in Naha. I stopped by my auntie’s house to pick her up in Oroku-Uebaru. I’m so glad she came with me because I wouldn’t have been able to answer some of the questions they asked me regarding the head of the household on the registry–the kanji used, etc. I wish I could go into the details of the communication I had there with the city official because that in itself might be interesting for anyone studying mixed race people, registry issues, and belonging but I’ll save that for another day when I have more time to write and reflect more on that.
We went back to the house and had a terrific conversation about some of the jokes they told about the base officials they used to work for. My auntie was a housekeeper and she had some good ones. Believe it or not, a lot of people on the bases now call the women who do errands, babysit, help spouses in the home with domestic duties “mama-san.” It makes me cringe every time I hear it. My uncle was what they called a “houseboy.” They had me rollin’ as they did their “GI English” which consisted of “goddamn” and orders. My other uncle worked in the mess hall which I learned was a coveted job because they could bring home all kinds of scraps of food (so if it was a chicken they could bring home, they stuffed the hell out of it with anything else they could find) and would divy the goods. My mom had told me similar jokes when I was growing up. She used to do a number of odd-end jobs around the base (babysitting, making id’s, bowling alley attendant, etc). It was good to hear how they looked at labor, the sheer difference in wealth and power between themselves and those they worked for, and “defeat.”
Anyway…my uncle told me more about the land they owned. The place where they grew up right on the ocean before the war. They told me of how generous some Americans were to them in their extreme poverty but how little they really knew about how they lived–suffering with very little and just barely scraping by. They talked about how sometimes those blue eyed men looked like goats to them. And the jokes they would make at night at home.
Then they pulled out all kinds of historical information for me. My Okinawan family is displaced in Okinawa. Their original land is old Oomine where the imperial Japanese military set up a airfield, then where Naha AirBase was built (where my dad worked), then where the Naha Airport and now Japanese Self Defense Forces operate. The last time I was here my uncle took me to just outside the barbed wire fence and off-limit signs. It’s where my mom used to play just before the war began, just up to the point when the sirens sounded in 1945. And they ran.
Their old original neighborhood organization is still going strong. About 11 years ago, I went to the undokai (field day) organized by the various munchus 門中 (like a family clan) and was deeply moved that for the most part, stayed connected after all the deaths and war and displacement (not all in a romanticized way b/c there’s a lot of infighting and nastiness in lots of munchu politics all over Okinawa).
I hope these memories of the pre-war Oomine community will continue to persist. If this area or places like these ever are returned, I always wonder how the memories of these spaces, how the festivities and activities that center around the actual place, and the intricate assemblages of culture at work in the continued persistence to map and remember this area physically will shift. There needs to be more work on this as more foreigners come to Okinawa to buy land (many American military expats) and wealthy mainlanders and superstars who have their second homes here. I worry.
If my Japanese were much better, this would be my next research topic but alas, my kanji is still not good enough for the type of deep archival and legal work in Japanese needed for this.