JPRI Critique Vol . VI No. 12 (December 1999)
An Okinawan Short Story
by Shun Medoruma
In the run-up to the G-8 Summit Meeting to be held July 21-23, 2000, in Nago, Okinawa, JPRI intends to publish occasional articles bringing non-Japanese readers up-to-date on developments there. The following short story, called to our attention and translated by Steve Rabson, is part of this effort.
Shun Medoruma (b. 1960) is the pen name of an Okinawan writer. In 1997, he won Japan's most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, for his story "Droplets" (forthcoming in an English translation by Michael Molasky in an anthology of post-World War II Okinawan fiction). The story below, "Hope," was first published in the evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun, June 26, 1999.
Medoruma has published a number of caustic--and often very funny--essays and interviews about the forthcoming Nago summit. In truth, of course, he is deadly serious, as this story suggests. Scholars from Okinawa and mainland Japan have called it "the first post-colonial work of Okinawan literature."
Americans are likely to be shocked by Medoruma's subject matter and tone, but they should recall the real-life context that brought forth this piece of fiction. On September 4, 1995, a 12-year-old elementary school girl was abducted, forced into a rented car, then bound, beaten, and raped by two American marines and a sailor. This incident caused wide-spread protests against the American military bases throughout Okinawa and the rest of Japan.
Although the American military tried to portray the incident as an isolated, unfortunate occurrence, it was--in fact--one in a long series of outrages committed by American troops in Okinawa. Bases in Okinawa (Kichi Okinawa), published in Japanese by Ryukyu Shimpo-sha in 1996, lists a long series of crimes. Some typical examples include:
September 9, 1955: a 6-year-old girl is kidnapped in Ishikawa City, raped, and murdered. A U.S. sergeant stationed at Kadena Air Base is convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. But in December he is transferred to the U.S. where his sentence is reduced.
June 30, 1959: 17 elementary school children are killed and 107 injured in the crash, explosion, and fire of a jet fighter inside Miyamori Elementary School in Ishikawa. The school, private homes, the city hall, and other buildings are destroyed.
May 20, 1966: the driver of a taxi for U.S. forces is murdered in Naha, his throat cut.
July 24, 1967: another taxi driver is stabbed to death by a soldier in Urasoe Village.
May 30, 1970: a high school girl on her way home from school in Gushikawa is knifed by a soldier and seriously wounded in an attempted rape.
May 28, 1973: a woman is gang-raped by ten soldiers in Koza.
October 23, 1974: A woman is raped and murdered by a marine in Nago City.
April 19, 1975: a middle school girl is raped by a marine in Kin.
June 14, 1991: a man is murdered by a marine in Koza city park.
June 20, 1991: a man is murdered by a marine in downtown Koza.
April 11, 1993: a man is murdered by a marine in Kin business district.
Kin is the small town adjacent to Camp Hansen, and was also the site of the 1995 abduction and rape. Koza is the town next door to Kadena Air Force Base. Nago, where the G-8 Summit will be held, is also home to Camp Schwab, which the U.S. military now plans to enlarge in the process of reducing its base at Futenma, as promised by President Clinton in April, 1996. If this sounds a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, read Medoruma. JPRI Staff
Hope (translated by Steve Rabson)
It was the lead story on the six-o'clock news. The small child of an American soldier had been missing, and today the corpse was found in the woods not far from the Koza city limits. All eyes of the customers and employees in the diner were glued to the television screen. The marks of strangulation had been found on the body, and now the prefectural police were using evidence from the abandoned corpse in their search for the murderer. After reciting these details, as usual in "crime stories," the report moved on to interviews of people on the street. "Now I'm afraid to let my kid walk around outside. Even Okinawa's becoming a dangerous place." When she saw the woman of about fifty who appeared on the screen, the waitress yelled out gleefully, "Hey, it's Fumi. Look! She's on TV!" A fat woman wiping the sweat off her face came rushing out of the kitchen, but the screen was already showing something else, and both women groaned in disappointment. Now the reporter was commenting on the killer's declaration that had been mailed to the office of a local newspaper. Next to him lay a copy of the evening edition with a photograph of the declaration on the front page. What Okinawa needs now is not demonstrations by thousands of people or rallies by tens of thousands, but the death of one American child. It had been written in menacing red characters with sharp angles and straight lines.
A taxi driver slurping a bowl of Okinawan noodles grumbled, "They better nab him quick, and give him the death penalty." "Yeah, 'cause this'll hurt business too," the waitress chimed in. "The tourists won't come here any more." After panning pictures of the woods and Koza city from a helicopter, the report continued with statements by the governor and high U.S. and Japanese officials. They expressed "outrage" and "revulsion" at a crime targeting an innocent child. Stifling a laugh, I shoved a spoonful of curried rice into my mouth. There was no way their pompous pronouncements could hide their exhaustion and bewilderment. That Okinawans--so docile, so meek--could use such tactics was something the bastards had never even imagined. Okinawans were, after all, a people who followed their leaders, and, at most, held "anti-war" or "anti-base" rallies with polite protest marches. Even the ultra-left and radical factions staged, at most, "guerrilla warfare" that caused no real harm, and never carried out terrorism or kidnappings against people in power, or mounted armed attacks. Okinawans were like maggots who clustered around the shit of land rents and subsidy monies splattered by the bases. And Okinawa was called "an island healed by the love of peace." It made me want to puke.
I left the diner, crossed the pedestrian bridge at Goya Corners, and walked along Airport Avenue. Orders must have come down restricting all military personnel to their bases. No American soldiers in civilian clothes were out walking the streets. A camouflage-colored jeep drove past. A patrol car, its red alarm light gyrating, was parked in front of the gate at Kadena Air Base. High above a row of poinciana trees, a white crescent moon hovered like the fang of a poisonous habu snake. I stopped and stood for a moment. Only the worst methods get results, I muttered to myself. On the other side of the street, a television camera was swivelling. I turned into a side street and was careful not to quicken my pace as I walked back to my apartment. From the refrigerator I took out a can of iced tea and drained it in one gulp. Then I sat down at my desk and wrote the address of the newspaper office on the envelope I had put there. Opening one of the drawers, I took out a small cellophane bag containing strands of straw-colored hair. The child's face in profile came again before my eyes.
The kid had been sleeping in the back seat of a car parked in the supermarket parking lot. A white woman who looked only about twenty yelled several times, but the kid didn't wake up. After she went into the market alone, pushing a shopping cart, I tossed my empty iced tea can into the trash bin and walked across the parking lot. I got into the car that had been left idling with the air conditioner on, and pulled out onto the prefectural highway. I drove north for about fifteen minutes, then turned off into the woods on the north side of a municipal housing project. Only after the car began rattling along this bumpy road did the kid wake up. When I heard crying from the back seat, I stopped the car. Turning around, I saw that the kid had gotten up and was trying to open the door. He was a boy and looked about three. I quickly parked, turned around and tightly grasped his little crying and screaming body. As I finished strangling him from behind, something burst in the back of his throat and a gob of filth dribbled onto my arm. I wiped it off with the kid's shirt, and started the car again. I drove around to the rear of the woods, and parked in the shadows of an abandoned pig shed. After wiping the steering wheel and door handles with my handkerchief, I moved the kid to the trunk of the car. Then I twisted some strands of his straw-colored hair around my fingers, ripped the hairs out, and folded them up in my handkerchief. All over my body, covered with sweat, goose-flesh had broken out. On my way out of the woods, I buried the car keys and, after walking to the national highway, transfered taxis twice on the way back to my apartment.
The air conditioning in my car had little effect and, even when I opened the windows, my sweat kept pouring. I took the envelope containing the hairs to Naha city and dropped it in a mailbox. On the way back I stopped at the seaside park in Ginowan. This had been the site of that farcical rally after the twelve-year-old girl was raped by the three American soldiers, when 80,000 people gathered here but could do absolutely nothing. Now it seemed so long ago. I had finally done what I'd thought about doing that day as I'd stood on the edge of the crowd. I felt no remorse now, or even any deep emotion. Just as fluids in the bodies of small organisms which are forced to live in constant fear suddenly turn into poison, I had done what was natural and necessary for this island. When I reached the center of what had been the rally site, I poured a bottle of gasoline syphoned from the car on my jacket and pants. The fumes stung my eyes. Then, taking a hundred-yen cigarette lighter from my pocket, I spun the flint-wheel. Flames sprang up in the darkness, and, toward the walking, tumbling fire a group of middle school students came on the run, then cheered as they took turns kicking the smoking black lump.
STEVE RABSON is a professor of Japanese at Brown University and author and translator of Okinawa: Two Postwar Novellas by Oshiro Tatsuhiro and Higashi Mineo (Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies, 1996) and co-editor, with Michael S. Molasky, of Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, forthcoming).
SHUN MEDORUMA is the pseudonym of a Ryukyuan-born writer who teaches Japanese at a vocational high school on Miyako Island. When granting interviews he has refused the use of television and other cameras, and he has also asked the media not to disclose his real name. Although he has been winning literary awards in Okinawa since his university days, Medoruma was largely unknown among mainland Japanese readers until "Droplets" won the Akutagawa Prize in 1997.