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Cultural Prostitution: Okinawa, Japan, and Hawaii Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 23rd, 2021

When you hear about Okinawa and Hawaii, what image comes to your head? Is it Hawaiian sandy, sumptuous, luxurious beaches lit by the warm, generous sun, or is it blue sky, azure-colored ocean, sky-high mountains, and intricate, fascinating architecture incorporated into vast abundant vegetation in Okinawa?

The mind of a foreigner draws beautiful pictures which are difficult to resist. But have you ever considered that these places are not that god blessed in terms of their economic, political and cultural dependence on the other countries which subjects Okinawa and Hawaii actually are? It is a generally known fact that Okinawa is for more than 400 years has been under Japanese rule and Hawaii is subordinated to the United States.

As a result, ethnic clashes occur derived from the unresolved problems of cultural diversity causing the local population to struggle for independence and liberty in an attempt to overthrow the existing order, to avoid exploitation of their land. This situation is known as cultural prostitution and is usually associated with tourism that fosters the loss of authenticity and “undermines the spiritual and sacred nature of the indigenous customs and traditions”, which may be applied to Okinawa’s and Hawaiian cultures equally (Takaki 17). This uncaring neglect of cultural heritage to gain political and economic profits may bring irreparable to the cultural legacy or even entail the extinction of original traditions embedded in the cultures under consideration.

Over 400 years of Okinawa’s Occupation

Before proceeding to the issues of cultural prostitution in Okinawa, it is necessary to highlight the most essential facts of Okinawa history. First and foremost, it should be stressed that Okinawa had not long enjoyed the status of an independent nation from 14th to the 16th century during which the major cultural traditions had formed but most of its history was subjected to other countries. The infringement of Okinawa’s people began in the 17th century when a military government was established that was characterized by the harsh and severe policy under the subordination of the Satsuma clan (Molasky 12).

In the 19th century, Okinawa ceases to be the subject of the Satsuma clan and acquires the status of a Japanese prefecture as a part of the program of imperial expansion. Yet Okinawa’s status was not clearly identified.

On the one hand, “Okinawa was regarded as an intrinsic part of the ethnic nation-state rather than a mere imperial subject” (Molasky 13). On the other hand, Okinawans have always been treated by mainland Japanese as not their equal counterparts but lower-class members of the empire. Despite Okinawa having given the status of the prefecture, it has always stood apart from the mainland. The Second World War brought major alternations in Okinawa in the aftermath in which Japan including Okinawa was occupied by the U.S. troops.

It should be stressed that Okinawa suffered from severe losses during the war and especially in the notorious battle of Okinawa. Since Japan lost the war, Okinawa became the subject of the U.S. administration for 27 years. This step of the Japanese government who had long struggled to assimilate Okinawa was taken as a betrayal. This period was marked by the unorganized and unethical authoritarianism of American officers.

However, the most devastating and disastrous consequence of the American occupation was the installation of the U.S. military bases that constitute 75 percent of the total amount of military bases located on the territory of Japan. At the end of the 20th century, Okinawa eventually became a part of Japan again. However, the military installations still occupy a large number of the territory of the island. In this connection, it can be assumed that “structurally and subjectively Okinawa and the Okinawans remain part of a triangle” that embraces Okinawa’s identity and Japanese and American influence that “has differed over time but has consistently constrained the independence of Okinawa in political and economic space” (Molasky 14).

Relations between Mainland Japanese and Okinawa People

Since Okinawans’ identity has been greatly influenced by hundreds of Japanese and decades of the U.S. occupation and located on the margin with Japan, and for years serving as a transit to China and other Asian countries, Okinawa embraces various features characteristic of Japanese and Chinese cultures, thus forming its own unique identity. Okinawa has always been different from Japan in terms of its identity, ethnicity, language, and even people’s appearance.

Even though Japanese people think that Okinawa people are Japanese but the race is different in addition Okinawa presents a separate ethnic group. However, some mainland Japanese consider Okinawa people to be different and even exotic to some extent due to the different facial structure and complexion, even the region’s semi-tropical landscape differs greatly from the mainland. In addition, Okinawa people had darker skin, lived measured simple life, their style of living posing a strong contrast to industrialized Japan.

Moreover, due to its climate and the way of life Okinawans are more generous, warm, peaceful, and light-hearted than the mainland inhabitants. As far as political attitude is concerned, the Japanese government regarded Okinawa people as “backward, lazy, and in special need of education if they were to achieve full status as citizens of Japan” (Molasky 14). As a result, “a rigid assimilation policy” was implemented in Okinawa that was intended to the eradicate of local dialect (Molasky 14). Moreover, since the Okinawan language was given a status of non-standard language, its native speakers suffered discrimination in many social spheres until the 20th century. This triggered major concern and debate over the issue raising the assumptions that losing the language means losing identity and culture embedded in it, which threatens to become the nation without the past.

Mainland Influence over Okinawan Economy

It should be stressed that the economy of Okinawa is dependant on mainland investments and the U.S. military. Okinawan industries are pretty much tourism-centered. The companies that provide services for tourists are mostly from Mainland Japan. It causes the immatureness of the Okinawan eco and political system that represents Okinawan. Despite today the shift from military base economy towards tourism is being witnessed, it is characterised by a number of negative effects.

Moreover, this tendency can not completely eliminate Okinawan dependency upon the U.S. military facilities but only change the direction. In other words, Okinawa is now to the large extent dependent on mainland investments and public works. In spite of the fact that “much improvements in public services were made, overall differences between that of Okinawa and mainland Japan have not been redressed, economic independence has not been achieved and in essence the situation remains the same” (Molasky 21). In terms of politics, mainstream parties are imposed by the Japanese government that prevents the development of the regional policies and economy.

Furthermore, as far as administration is concerned, a special council was established to govern the development of Okinawa. Nevertheless, “problems in housing, traffic and transportation, welfare for aged, medical and insurance, as well as other issues related to island isolation” still require government’s attention that has done nothing “tangible to develop the unique traits of Okinawa’s local industries” (Molasky 35).

The Meaning of the U.S. Military Bases in Political and Economic Context in Okinawa

“Many unscrupulous people exploit cultures, having only the quick financial gain in their mind while ignoring the long-term negative consequences” which is exactly the case with Okinawan culture (Takaki 17). As it has been already mentioned, Okinawa hosts 75 per cent of American military installations. While most world countries oppose the installation of the U.S. military base, Okinawa remains the permanent location of them.

Notwithstanding Okinawan people refuses to have army base on their land the government officials from mainland do not accept it. It should be stressed that mainland supports the presence of the military bases in Okinawa that aggravates the whole situation.

Moreover, in addition to military bases the government signed the treaty that allowed the USA to locate nuclear weapons on the territory of Okinawa. The controversy lasts till today. Okinawa activists fight for the relocation of military bases however claiming that the problem should be resolved without violent means. Taking all these evidences into account, it can be assumed that the Japanese government exploit Okinawa region to gain quick profits at the expense of the prefecture. However, Okinawa people resist the U.S. invasion with American soldiers stationed at the territory of military bases who inflict damage on the local population.

On top of that, the U.S. military officers are often accused of violent behaviour directed at Okinawans and not without reasons. In terms of ethnic rights that Okinawa possesses, the U.S. centred policy present severe violation of the political rules and norms. Not to exacerbate the situation further it is immensely important to follow the conviction that “American minds need to be opened to greater cultural diversity; instead of hierarchy of power headed by a privileged group, greater cross-cultural understanding and interconnected viewpoints are necessary” (Takaki 12).

Hawaii’s Exploitation by Tourists

To the U.S. Hawaii is its possession, an island associated with posh resorts and a heaven on earth. Similar to Okinawa’s island, American imperialism spread to Hawaii thus making tourist as a result of it that brings major destruction to Hawaiian culture. It interesting to note that Hawaii is “she” in English, which reinforces the image of the island as an easily accessible female (Trask 139). However, local people, customs and traditions suffer immensely from American tourists claiming for their right to maintain tourist business on their own regarding the existing situation to be cultural prostitution. By this Hawaiians mean that tourists, corporations and advertising companies perceive Hawaii as a beautiful resort without any local people. In fact, this is a distorted image.

Despite the fact that the economy of the island gets some profit from tourism, it can’t exceed the number of appalling cultural consequences and its effect on the indigenous people. Since tourism is a complex notion, it requires tracts of land to build hotels and restaurants on, developed airlines, transport companies, recreation areas, which are owned by foreign corporations. In this respect, it is obvious that the claim that Hawaiian population benefit economically from tourism that, allegedly, provide wide career and job opportunities for local people is slightly vague not to say false. However, in reality people employed in the sphere of tourism in Hawaii are very poorly paid.

Moreover, since the cost of living in Hawaii increases and expensive restaurants continue to sweep through the island, Hawaiians cannot afford living on the native land and are forced to move to other countries in search of better conditions of living. Behind luxurious beaches and soft sands, amazing hotels with spacious rooms, there are local people who wait for decades to get a piece of land for houses or agricultural lots (Trask 140). What’s more, eco-diversity of the island is dramatically affected by tourists industry that causes the extinction of rare species and extensive cutting of forest lands. Another fact that should be stressed is that the number of crimes increases with the number of tourists.

On the whole, cultural prostitution in this case is presented by a mass-based tourism (Trask 140). Though the term is rather harsh it demonstrates the things how they really are. Hawaiian nature, land, people, and cultural traditions have become the issue of conspicuous economic consumption. Big corporations earn big money by selling the island’s uniqueness to the tourists. “Our lands are no longer the source of food and shelter, but the source of money. Land is not called “real estate”, rather than “she who gives birth to islands” Hawaiians say (Trask 142). Thus, Hawaii is made a prostitute that provides facilities but gives no love.

Nature that once has been sacred and innocent is now “raped” by expensive resorts that popularize the distorted image of the island, a glittery cover that has no connection to the original landscape and culture of Hawaii. From the practical point of view, native people lose their traditional places to get food, i.e. the fishing places that are converted into beaches for tourists are no longer available for common people, and land is occupied by hotels and is no longer serves as agricultural centre. However, despite Hawaiians resistance to tourism their abilities are limited since they hugely rely upon tourism. As a result, a vicious circle advances the loss of authenticity.

Hawaii under Threat to Lose Culture

A wide range of Hawaiian traditions have been made a subject of tourists’ attraction. It concerns its famous greeting aloha, dancing girls with flowers, beautiful language; the degradation is traced on all levels. Thus, Hawaiian word aloha means love to anything familial not only greeting thought for tourists it has become a symbol of Hawaii without any meaningful context or social connections (Trask 141). For marketers, this word is just the tool to attract as more people to visit the island as possible while for Hawaiians “aloha is a cultural feeling and practice that works among the people and between the people and their land” (Trask 141).

American imperialism nearly led Hawaiian language to extinction when it was substituted by English in all social spheres in the beginning of the 20th century. Fortunately, nowadays, Hawaii has two official languages, English and Hawaiian (Trask 143).

As far as Hawaiian dance, hula, is concerned, it also underwent major changes. In order to suit tourists’ tastes and needs, the dance transformed from one of the finest dances that had a great cultural meaning into dance that expresses sexual appeal. In fact, the original version of the dance is full of sadness which has completely evaporated “while the athleticism and sexual expression have been packaged like ornaments” (Trask 144). The major purpose of the dance shifted from praising divine and human nature to “entertainment for profit” (Trask 144).

All things considered, it should be pointed out that both Okinawa and Hawaii suffer from American expansion though Okinawa is also subjected to Japan. Cultural prostitution is traces in Okinawa since it is used by Japan as a host for American military bases and is treated as a lower race. Hawaii, being wholly in the hands of tourist corporations, is under the threat of losing its identity and authenticity only to bring quick income to the owners of the resorts.

Works Cited

Takaki, Ronald T. Debating Diversity: Clashing Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Molasky, Michael S. The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory. London: Routledge, 1999.

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