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Cultural Renaissance on the Eve of War

With time, there gradually grew a cultural renaissance in Okinawa in the 1930's, sparked by abiding anger over discrimination and a new valuation of traditional arts and cultural forms. Soon after a tour of kilns throughout the Japanese Empire, for example, potters in the Japan Folk Art Association urged the Okinawan people to retain their cultural heritage and artistic traditions. Later, discussion of local dialects led many Okinawans to publicly criticize Japanification policies that punished Okinawans for speaking their native tongue. Soon thereafter, Okinawans started to come forward to protest the unjust and discriminatory treatment they had suffered under colonization. Yet even despite these explorations of resentment at Japanese occupation practices, the Okinawans had little respite. The Japanese government was preparing for war, and with the growth of Japanese fascism, all forms of dissension were stifled and suppressed, if not eliminated. The Okinawans were to be forged into the united war effort, where every subject was expected to sacrifice their lives for the good of the empire and the emperor.

With the onset of World War II, the Okinawans were "caught between the hammer and the anvil," and became the great victims in the interplay of Japanese and American forces in the Battle of Okinawa. For here at the last major battle on the Pacific Front, many converging strands developed their final toll on the Okinawan people due to the nationalistic propaganda they received and the racism that still abided in the minds of the Japanese. On the one hand, the war hatreds and propaganda of the times amply prepared the Okinawans to sacrifice themselves for the empire, since many were told that the American occupation forces would rape and torture any islanders that they found. Additionally, many Okinawans undoubtedly felt a need to make even more extraordinary sacrifices, in order to prove their "Japanese-ness" to the Japanese people. All of these things combined to make suicide all the more palatable to the Okinawans, and many chose to die in order to sacrifice their lives for Japan. Yet an equally vast number died not out of duty, but at the end of a Japanese bayonet, and it is here that the worst aspects of Japanese racism played themselves out. For throughout the expansion of the Japanese empire, there was a tendency amongst the Japanese to distance themselves from the other peoples of Asia, which they considered to be "darker" and more "savage." Interestingly, most literature and popular belief always painted the Okinawans as being "dark" people, though it is doubtful that they were darker than the mainland Japanese people. That proved of little merit, however, in decreasing Japanese racism towards Okinawans as a lesser, and therefore expendable, people. The prevailing view that Okinawans were an expendable population acted itself out viciously in the treatment they received in places like Chibichirigama, where Japanese soldiers explicitly forced many Okinawans to commit suicide. All in all, the effects of the Japanese military's own racist beliefs proved devastating to the Okinawan civilian population at the end of the war.

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