Essay on Okinawan Culture and Some of its Issues

Submitted By saspurs2014
Words: 1822
Pages: 8

Okinawan Culture and A Few Issues

Just like how the many states in the U.S. make up America, Okinawa is composed of hundreds of small islands that take up an area of southern Japan (Riley 2010:137). All of the islands put together total about 877 square miles, and the biggest of the islands is Okinawa Island, where Naha, the capital, is located as well (Riley 2010:138). In Okinawa, largely because of its geographic location, fishing is widely practiced throughout most of the islands (Zabilka 1959:114). In fact, fishing is a big part to Okinawan lifestyle that an Okinawan will typically eat about four servings of fish a week (Zabilka 1959:116). Not to mention, they eat lots of whole grains, and they even drink about six cups of green tea a day (Zabilka 1959:116). Quite a few homes in Okinawa are positioned along the coasts of the islands, where the view of the ocean is never too far (Riley 2010:138). It’s also not unusual in these areas to have Okinawan burials, but the ceremonies are nothing like funerals we have in America. For Okinawans, a funeral ceremony consists of prayers, burning of “paper” money into graves (so that the dead can use it for the coming year), and afterwards, a picnic, where kids can play and laugh, while adults eat and converse with one another (Zabilka 1959:222). Some Okinawan graves are shaped like the backs of turtles, and this idea originates back to ancient China, where the turtle was considered a sacred creature (Zabilka 1959:223). However, to Okinawans, the turtle-shaped grave, or “kikkobaka,” is thought to be symbolic of a mother’s womb, “from where everyone is born and from there everyone returns.” (Zabilka 1959:223) Another important cultural practice in Okinawa is bowing when greeting someone (Zabilka 1959:206). Bowing, similar to a handshake in America, is used as a sign of respect, where the deeper the bow is, the greater the respect the person has for the other (Zabilka 1959:206). In addition to bowing as a sign of respect, how you address people in Okinawa is also important. When addressing an Okinawan as a foreigner, you should use his or her last name, then add the suffix “san.” (Zabilka 1959:206) If you’re close friends with that person though, it’s okay to call him or her by their first name, and then the suffix “san.” (Zabilka 1959:206) Giving gifts is also a widely practiced custom in Okinawa, where if someone gives you a gift, you’re obligated to give that person something in return (Kerr 2000:64). Although women are becoming more independent in this day of age throughout many countries, gender roles are still noticeable throughout Japan and Okinawa as well (Kerr 2000:118). Men are largely considered the bread-winners of a family and make the business decisions, while the women stay at home and take care of the children (Kerr 2000:120). Unfortunately, Japan has yet to significantly advance in front of other leading countries in terms of equality between men and women (Kerr 2000:120). As far as the division of labor goes in Okinawa, according to a statistic I read about, “only 10% of managerial positions are held by women in Japan- paling in comparison to the United States where the percentage is around 43%.” (Kerr 2000:123) While this may be a negative aspect to gender equality, for Okinawan families, there is something good that comes out of it, and that is closer family connections. As shown in the film “Hotel Hibiscus,” most Okinawan families have strong ties with each other, as even grandparents will stay with their son or daughter’s family if they need to, and husbands and wives are more often loyal to their spouse than not, mainly because of pride in their family (Kerr 2000:126). Usually, families in Okinawa follow a neolocal residence pattern, where newlyweds will independently establish where they’ll live, yet parents tend to live near their firstborn son’s family, if not, with them, a lot of the time (Zabilka