Sometimes we say that they would concrete over the entire island if they could. Concrete highrises give way to concrete schools, concrete seawalls with concrete wave breakers, concrete houses and concrete covers on the sewers when we're lucky, concrete between the trees along the side of the road, concreted-over hills and concrete tombs lined up overlooking the sea and also lined up in alleyways behind convenience stores. Little concrete ditches, just big enough for your car's tire, lining the roads--we call them gaijin traps. Moldy, crumbling concrete.
Then there is the rusty everything, the dirt sports fields, the bits and pieces and piles of island trash--what do you do with big pieces of junk when you live in a place that burns its waste and you can't pay to have it taken? In a yard around the corner from my house sits a derelict car that is stuffed, footwell to dashboard to ceiling, with that sort of non-burnable non-perishable trash that in America just kind of disappears. From our sight, anyway.
They try to subdue the messy green growth in this place. Every spring they trim it back, the grass ninjas clad head to toeboot in gloves and sleeves and hats and nets, armed with saw-toothed metal weed whackers, in preparation for the hordes of tall(ish) fair-skinned Tokyo-styled tourists.
The island is wrought into a life-size concrete model of itself, subjugated, and it's a theme it knows well.
The Ryukyus were a kingdom once. For hundreds of years they traded internationally and raised skilled horsemen and stoneworkers and priestesses, a Pacific Asian melting pot. Then placed under a samurai, annexed by Japan, sacrified for the new mainland, suppressed, their heart's language (Uchinaaguchi) outlawed. Then chosen to host a battle as the necessary, lesser of two grand evils: invaded and overrun and bombed and burned and combed and recombed for every unsurrendering soldier that hadn't committed suicide in a cave with a grenade or in a field with a sword. And finally, given away by the country that had taken it less than a hundred years earlier. Made American for almost three decades.
Okinawa was the bloody ransom Japan paid for a measure of freedom from consequences, and it sounds melodramatic but when it comes down to it that is why I sit on this island with my newborn son, watching MV-22s fly by my grimy hospital window.
This is Okinawa is a series meant to capture observations and moments in our last days here, the sorts of things I like to think I'll never forget but know I will. (I doubt I'll get very far before my computer gets packed up.) Read more about Oki here and here.