Okinawa by Susumu Higa, translated by Jocelyne Allen
Hardcover – Fantagraphics Books – Aug 2023 – 529 pages
Okinawa – a place of vibrant culture, lush greenery, and blue waters – draws millions of tourists from Japan and abroad each year. Situated on Japan’s southernmost islands, the archipelago was for centuries an independent kingdom, until its military annexation by the Japanese Empire just decades before WWII. But as U. S. forces approached in the last days of that conflict, these tranquil islands became the stage for the most destructive land battle of the Pacific Theater. Despite the resilience of its people, and the recent throngs of touritsts, the effects of that battle still shape life in Okinawa today.
This devastating and wital collection, by Okinawa’s pre-eminent mangaka, Susumu Higa, brigs the complex and multivalent story of his homeland to life. In print for the first time in English, in a vivid translation by Jocelyne Allen, Okinawa pairs two of Higa’s books: Sword of Sand and Mabui. These sequences of intertwined stories unflinchingly expose the horrors of war, and reflect on how the U. S. occupation has irreversibly changed life in the island prefecture, through the lens of the archipelago’s indigenous spirituality, and the central character of the yuta priestess.
Okinawa is a harrowing document, but also a work which imagines the dreams and needs of a people facing an uncertain future. Steeped in the culture and geography of this singular, fascinating, beautiful place, the layered relations between Okinawan and Japanese identities, between occupation and autonomy, and between humanity and biolnce speak beyond borders and across shores.