Sayaka Chatani: A Report on Oral Interviews with Elderly from Okinawa and Miyagi
With the generous funding support from the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and EALAC, I finally wrapped up my two-year-long dissertation research this summer. My dissertation, Nation-Empire: Youth Mobilization in Japan’s Colonized Peripheries 1895-1950, investigates the mobilization of rural male youth by the Japanese imperial government through the “seinendan” (youth associations) in four locations across the empire. Starting in July 2010, I have travelled within and across Japan, Taiwan, and Korea to conduct archival research and oral interviews.
This summer, I went back to Okinawa and Miyagi, and also ended up tracking down an Okinawan figure to Aichi to meet the participants of youth groups back in the 1930s-50s. Finding where they are located now is more of an art than science, and sometimes takes more time than anticipated. I contacted the community center of Kijoka hamlet (my case) in Okinawa, and arranged group interviews with the elderly villagers when they gathered for a recreational activity. I could hear many fascinating anecdotes from them, but since most of them were women who left Okinawa as factory workers during their youth, they did not know much about the village youth group. I went to Ogimi’s new village history compilation office to consult where I could meet male survivors. In the office, I found many self-published personal memoirs, and by going through them, I found that Mr. Taira Eisho wrote about his experiences as a seinendan leader. Mr. Taira is 93 years old and I was not sure if he was able to, or willing to, meet with me. But I called him out of the blue, he was in good health and spirit, and kindly accepted my interview. I flew to another countryside of Aichi, where he lives presently, and asked him various questions. That is how I finished my oral interviews on my Okinawan case.
In Miyagi, I previously worked with the Osaki city history office, so I asked them as well as the community center of former Shida village (my case) if they could introduce elderly citizens to me. They did give me a few names, and I visited them in the rural countryside near Furukawa. They did remember youth groups, but since they were originally from relatively wealthy farming families, who tended to receive secondary education rather than being active in the village youth group, they had a third-party view on seinendan. In retrospect, it makes sense that the government administration directed me towards more prominent families in the village rather than poorer ones with smaller land, who were the main participants of village youth groups. Nonetheless, I still gathered important accounts, especially on their postwar transformation to complement my archival material.
After these interviews, I moved to Tokyo to collect documents and books that I missed during my first round of research there two years ago. I have also drafted up a few chapters, and I am excited to continue writing my dissertation so that it will meet the expectations of my generous interviewees and funders.
For more information on the Weatherhead PhD Training Grant fellowship, please contact Kim Palumbarit at email@example.com.