Okinawa

Susumu Higa; edited by Andrew Woodrow-Butcher and Christopher Woodrow-Butcher; translated by Jocelyne Allen
(Fantagraphics Books)
  • Fiction
  • Set in Japan

Key words: Community, family, war, translation

A peaceful, independent kingdom until its annexation by the Japanese Empire in the 19th century, Okinawa was the site of the most destructive land battle of the Pacific War. Today, the archipelago is Japan’s poorest prefecture and unwilling host to 75% of all US military bases in Japan.

Okinawa brings together two collections of intertwined stories by the island’s pre-eminent mangaka, Susumu Higa, which reflect on this difficult history and pull together traditional Okinawan spirituality, the modern-day realities of the continuing US military occupation, and the senselessness of the War. The first collection, Sword of Sand, is a ground level, unflinching look at the horrors of the Battle of Okinawa. Higa then turns an observant eye to the present-day in Mabui (Okinawan for “spirit”), where he explores how the American occupation has irreversibly changed the island prefecture, through the lens of the archipelago’s indigenous spirituality and the central character of the yuta priestess.

Okinawa is a harrowing document of war, but it is also a work which addresses the dreams and the needs of a people as they go forward into an uncertain future, making it essential reading for anyone interested in World War II and its effects on our lives today, as well as anyone with an interest in the people and culture of this fascinating, complicated place. Though the work is thoroughly about one specific locale, the complex relations between Okinawan and Japanese identities and loyalties, between place and history, and between humanity and violence speak beyond borders and across shores.