As I’ve mentioned several times, I can not do a month focused on Japan without giving special attention to Okinawa. And it’s very important that I look at Children’s books set in Okinawa.
My dad was military and I lived there for three years in elementary school.
For those unfamiliar with this part of Japan, let me try to help explain it.
A brief overview of Okinawa
Head to the southernmost part of Japan and keep going south. You’ll reach the Ryukyu Islands, a section of islands that are kind of part of Japan, but with a different history than the mainland. A different culture. And different weather.
The largest of this island chain is Okinawa.
If you were to keep south, you’d run into Taiwan. If you were to head east until you hit the United States, you’d be somewhere in Southern California. And, just like the everywhere along that latitude line, you’re in tropical weather throughout the year.
A brief look at the people and history of Okinawa
There’s some dispute over the very first people of Okinawa. They could have come from any of the neighboring Asian countries.
One thing we can agree on is there was a strong history of both Chinese and Japanese influence in Okinawa. It is said that, perhaps, Okinawa is the missing link between China and Japan.
In the late 1800s, the Ryukyu Kingdom became part of Japan and became known as the Okinawan Prefecture. The people resented mainland Japan for many reasons. The Japanese culture was forcibly replacing the Ryukyun culture. The people felt like second-class citizens.
After World War II, the United States occupied. The currency was the USD. The cars drove on the right side of the road. There was an attempt at Ryukyu independence in the 1960s, but that ended when the island was returned to Japan in the 1970s. The currency became the Japanese Yen. The cars now drive on the left side of the road.
A briefer look at Okinawa today
Today there is still a strong United States military presence in Okinawa. It’s one of the largest military populations outside of the United States. Yes, one of the world’s smaller islands has a large foreign military occupation. Tension. Additionally, many people in Okinawa are still bitter towards the Japanese government. And while I don’t have the answers, I am happy to see that Okinawa is growing their tourism sector. I think people will love learning more about this beautiful island.
With all of the influences to their culture, Okinawans have a unique offer to share with the world. One of those things, as an example, is the food. On Anthony Bourdain’s recent episode he visited Okinawa. He tried something called Taco Rice. It is what it sounds like. A mesh of the tacos so loved by the American troops, and the Japanese staple – rice.
Here’s a recipe for Taco Rice. If your kids are like mine, I’m sure they’ll love it.
Children’s books set in Okinawa
From what I could find, there aren’t a lot of choices for children’s books set in Okinawa. People tend to refer to the plentiful supply of Japanese stories available. But as we know, the story of Okinawa is not just the story of Japan. So, what is Okinawa’s story?
Well, I’ve only been able to find a few kids’ books set in Okinawa. Most of them are rare. Hard to find, not too many copies exist, and the copies that do exist can get expensive. But, let’s have a look.Looking for books for your kids about Okinawa? This is where to go! #beokinawa Click To Tweet
Takako and the Great Typhoon by Kelly Garcia and illustrated by Carmen Daniel
This book was written by a military spouse who lived in Okinawa. She wanted a book to help her children remember their time there. I would love something like that. I remember surviving many typhoons during our time there. The vibe was much different than experiencing the several hurricanes I lived through in Florida. You can also check out her FB page here.
The word “mongoose” was a big part of my vocabulary when I lived in Okinawa. Especially stories of the mongoose its natural enemy – the habu.
These stories were written by a local military spouse. Following some horrible incidents that scarred Okinawan/military relations, she wrote these stories in the hopes to help kids from both cultures better understand each other. For a look into her story, check out this article from the Stars & Stripes.
The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa
While this book was written with kids in mind, it may be better to read it first and judge for yourself. This is the story of seven-year-old Tomiko Higa and her struggle for survival during World War II.
As the name suggests, this is a collection of folktales from Okinawa. Two warnings: This is a rare book and expensive. I’m not sure most people will want to invest in this book. If you’re still interested in learning more about Okinawan folktales, check out this website that has several stories listed. Second warning: Beware of the fear factor when telling young kids this story. Like folktales in all countries, they aren’t a pretty Disney version of events.
Have you been to Okinawa? Is there more you think we should now? Tell me in the comments.
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