Reconsidering “Okinawan Art” Before 1945:

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What is “Okinawan Art”? Yoshitaro Kamakura, who later gained renown as a stencil print artist, first recognized the value of the arts and crafts of the Ryukyu Kingdom period and inaugurated their research. Kamakura visited Okinawa in 1921, immediately following his graduation from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (present-day Tokyo University of the Arts). He studied the arts of the Ryukyu Kingdom period and introduced them to mainland Japan. At the same time, he personally photographed the cultural heritage of Okinawa, documenting an image of the Ryukyu Kingdom prior to the Battle of Okinawa. He also took part in the preservation movement for Shuri Castle and reappraised the Bingata dyeing method of the Ryukyu Kingdom period.

In 1921, the year that Kamakura set foot on Okinawa, the important Japanese folklorists Kunio Yanagita and Shinobu Orikuchi first visited the islands. It is also around this time that native Okinawans such as Fuyu Iha attempted to promote “Okinawan Studies,” in part inspired by these visits. Okinawa as a cultural field was being discovered at this time.

We have another case of Okinawan Studies. Yashu Nakamatsu studied Okinawa from a geological perspective, focusing on relationships between villages—prior to the birth of political hierarchy within the community—and the Gods that protected the people. Nakamatsu’s view of Okinawan society, which rejects not only modernity but also historical Ryukyu / Okinawan royal authority, can be read as an expression of anarchism. Nakamatsu’s ideas can be understood as a new foundation for dismantling the kingdom-centric historical view of Okinawa and forging a new beginning for art in Okinawa. Could we not say that it is precisely from this kind of anarchism that Okinawan Art emerges?