Organized Panel Session
What can the devastation of Okinawa teach us about loss? How do Okinawans incorporate legacies of cultural and ecological loss into their lived experiences? Typhoons of destruction, brought by the Japanese colonial project; World War II and the Battle of Okinawa; and the postwar U.S. Occupation, have reshaped drastically the southern archipelago’s subtropical landscapes. Forests, reefs, and farmland, as well as marble memorials, historical museums, and other somber features of the built environment, convey a profound sense of loss that informs many of the cultural, political, and tourist activities in Okinawa Prefecture today. And yet, these devastating narratives of the long-term ecological consequences of colonization and conflict in Okinawa are also being used to rebuild a sense of place, as well as social and historical continuity, among rural residents. In this paper, I discuss the small scale, localized efforts of some Okinawans to reclaim a “sense of place” in their communities. I argue that the focused collection of stories: of lost animal species, landscapes, and ecologies, constitutes a form of local ethnography and serves to bridge the ever-widening gaps in experience and memory across four generations of Okinawans. Contemporary political ecology resists overdetermined discourses of islands as “naturally” vulnerable places. I draw on the modes of local knowledge production and recovery, implemented by my informants, to propose a different approach to anthropological studies of loss and environment.