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The Politics of Difference and Authenticity in the Practice of Okinawan Dance and Music in Osaka, Japan.

By Sumi Cho


This dissertation examines the ways in which Okinawan music and dance, especially eisa and minyo, are practiced and interpreted by diasporic Okinawans and Japanese enthusiasts in Osaka, Japan. By following changes in Okinawan dance and music practice in Osaka, I explore how the apparent recognition and celebration of Okinawan difference, in comparison to the negation of ethnic and cultural diversity, can either enhance equity between groups or reinforce the existing cultural hierarchy. Also, I examine how different actors attempt to establish or recover authenticity in their practice, their identity, and/or their personhood through their practice and interpretations, thereby illustrating that authenticity is constructed through practice by the collective participation, interaction, contestation, and reflection of actors. Cultural activism and cultural appropriation are the two most prominent aspects of Okinawan music and dance practice in Osaka. Cultural activism started occurring in the mid-1970s by diasporic Okinawans as a means to contest the hegemonic ideology of ethnic, cultural and social homogeneity of Japan, assert Okinawan difference, and build communality through collective participation in music and dance. Cultural appropriation by Japanese enthusiasts, on the other hand, has occurred on a large scale since the 1990s, when Okinawan music and dance became popular nationwide in media and popular culture. While such Japanese fascination with Okinawan music and dance has had positive effects on the reception of Okinawan difference and provides many diasporic Okinawans with opportunities to boost their self-esteem and increase their means of livelihood, it also distracts mainstream Japanese from realizing the political and social marginalization of Okinawa in the past and present, undermines Okinawan cultural activism, and results in the Japanization of Okinawan music and dance. This continuing gap between Okinawans and Japanese illuminates the fact that the apparent recognition and celebration of Okinawan difference does not necessarily lead to overcoming the continuing socio-cultural asymmetry, but often disguises it. However, the case of the appropriation of Okinawan dance by Japanese gay males in LGBTQ activism illustrates that the effects of cultural practice on politics of difference are ambivalent, and not always predictable

Topics: Okinawan Music and Dance, Politics of Difference, Cultural Activism, Cultural Appropriation, Authenticity, Diaspora
Year: 2014
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