The Center for Okinawan Studies (COS) was established on July 1, 2008. It is the eighth area studies center in the School of Pacific and Asian Studies (SPAS) at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, joining the Centers for China, Japan, Korea, Pacific Islands, Philippines, South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is the first center of its kind outside of Japan. COS is a coordinating unit with a mission to promote Okinawan Studies.
Okinawa is in many ways a paradigm of the Pacific island experience: once a kingdom whose dynamic trade relations throughout East and Southeast Asia helped connect an isolated Japan to the outside world, then a colony that epitomized Japan’s efforts to reshape Asia, then the final, bloody battleground of the Pacific War, and now a Japanese prefecture seeking to define itself even as larger political and economic forces still contest its land. Its language holds the key to understanding the ancient Japanese language. Its diasporic communities throughout the Pacific, and North and South America, have remained remarkably durable. It is now time to focus serious scholarly attention on this place.
Thanks to the efforts of the Center for Japanese Studies, the Center for Okinawan Studies is receiving a Japan Foundation Grant over a period of three years (June 2008 through May 2011). This grant enables COS to take on projects that will establish it as an important resource for the field of Okinawan Studies. The Center will also play a leading role in defining the emerging field of Okinawan Studies, both nationally and internationally.
Globally, indigenous and regional studies are on the rise as a counter to the homogenizing effects of globalization. Locally, Hawaii’s strong and politically important Okinawan community provides rich ground for such studies. Resources at UH have reached critical mass. Recently developed courses in Okinawan History and Okinawan Language and Culture build on a tradition begun by the late professor William Lebra in the 1960s. The UH Library’s Sakamaki-Hawley Collection is one of the most important Okinawa-related collections in the world. The Library continues to acquire Okinawa-related resources and fortifies the field of Okinawan studies by further developing its collection. A steady stream of scholars and students from Okinawa continue to enrich our programs, while at the same time, they learn from our multicultural environment. Our long-standing ties with the University of the Ryukyus and other institutions in Okinawa remain strong. Finally, the success of the Mitsugu Sakihara Okinawan-English Wordbook (UH Press, 2006) provided further impetus to establish a Center for Okinawan Studies at UH. We look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.