As a Fulbright scholar, journalist Akemi Johnson-whose work has been featured on NPR, The Nation, Travel + Leisure, and Anthony Bourdain's Explore Parts Unknown-traveled to Okinawa, one of the biggest outposts of the American military. At the southern end of the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa is host to more U.S. military bases than anywhere else in the country, which itself hosts more U.S. service members than anywhere else in the world. Once an independent kingdom colonized by Japan, Okinawa came under U.S. military rule for over two decades after WW2.
In her poignant debut, Akemi Johnson in NIGHT IN THE AMERICAN VILLAGE: Women in the Shadow of the U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa illuminates the island's complex melting pot of native Okinawan, Japanese, and American cultures where the ripple effects of empire (both Japanese and American) have had sometimes fatal consequences. During Johnson's time immersed there, Okinawa reeled from the rape and murder of twenty-year-old Rina Shimabukuro by an American ex-marine. The crime added to the growing schism between Tokyo and Okinawa, fueled anti-base protests, and helped reveal a long history of military sexual violence.
Johnson masterfully blends the history of the "keystone of the Pacific" with first-person interviews with present-day women on the island, U.S. military service members, and anti-base activists. As she investigates the subtle layers of sexualization, feminization, and racism baked into Okinawa's borderlands culture, she finds the women of Okinawa have had a complex relationship with the military, both Japanese and American. During World War II, some women were persuaded to take their own lives by the Japanese military as U.S. forces approached; many were among the 120,000 locals kept in U.S.-run refugee camps for years while their homes were destroyed to make way for U.S. military bases; and in postwar years, an alarming number have become the targets of U.S. military sexual violence. Yet, most women have been far from victims, Johnson finds. Many local women actively benefit from and encourage the U.S. military presence, and when under threat they organize and protest against the American bases, fearlessly indicting both the United States and Japan in the process.
NIGHT IN THE AMERICAN VILLAGE is not just a rare window into a stronghold of the American military abroad. Akemi Johnson brings her own perspective as a young woman exploring her mixed-race identity-Johnson's father is white American and her mother is Japanese American-to offer a truly unique debut and investigation of politics, race, and memory that transcends neat narratives.
Free event; wheelchair accessible
Jun 29, 3pm to 4pm, Eastwind Books of Berkeley 2066 University Ave., Berkeley