Okinawa’s ‘Reversion’ 50 Years On

Davinder Bhowmik

University of Washington

Davinder Bhowmik

Red Palm Leaves Queered

Medoruma Shun, Okinawa’s preeminent author, is best known for stories that depict the long-term impact of the Battle of Okinawa on individuals most notably in “Droplets,” (1997) “Spirit Stuffing,” (1999) and “The Tree of Butterflies.” (2000) In addition to the main theme of war trauma a number of recurring motifs animate Medoruma’s fiction from a laser sharp focus on language, to a penchant for fauna, to male-male intimacy. This last motif is the focus of “Red Palm Leaves Queered”.

As early as “Chronicle of a School of Fish” (1983) readers encounter homosocial scenes of young boys in Medoruma’s fiction. The climactic scene in “Droplets” reveals a deeper relationship between two young adults. In “Red Palm Leaves” (1992) male intimacy is not limited to one scene; it prevails throughout in a queer relation between protagonist and his schoolmate “S”. This primary relationship is complicated by the protagonist’s conflicting desires for, on one hand, American soldiers, and, on the other hand, a local girl and woman. In my paper I will argue that these triangulations in which militarism (soldier) and normativity (female) figure cannot but lead the protagonist to fail “S”.

Davinder L. Bhowmik is an associate professor of Japanese at the University of Washington, Seattle. She teaches and publishes research in the field of modern Japanese literature with a specialization in prose fiction from Okinawa, where she was born and lived until the age of 18. Other scholarly interests include regional fiction, the atomic bombings, and Japanese film. Her publications include Islands of Protest: Japanese Literature from Okinawa (co-edited with Steve Rabson, 2016); Writing Okinawa: Narratives of Identity and Resistance (2008); and “Temporal Discontinuity in the Atomic Bomb Fiction of Hayashi Kyōko (in Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contempoary Japan, 1999). Currently she is writing a manuscript on military basetown fiction in Japan.