Archive for December 2, 2019

Akemi Johnson’s Book Talk

December 2, 2019

Last night I attended a Book Talk by former Fulbright scholar, author and journalist Akemi Johnson. She is currently on a tour of mainland Japan and Okinawa to promote her book Night in the American Village, subtitled ‘Women in the Shadow of the U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa’.

I’ve read many books in English on Okinawa, its history and politics, so it was very timely and convenient for me that the author herself, who lives in Northern California, should be visiting the island just as I had finished reading this one.

Akemi Johnson

Each of the book’s eleven chapters focuses on a different woman and this is the starting point for the story of how lives in Okinawa have been affected by the bases. As the book’s blurb states: “Focusing on the women there, she follows the complex fallout of the murder of an Okinawan woman by an ex-U.S. serviceman in 2016 and speaks to protesters, to women who date and marry American men and groups that help them when problems arise, and to Okinawans whose family members survived World War II.”

The book is beautifully written and at times reads like a novel. As well as its obvious literary merit, it’s also clear the author has done a lot of background research in addition to the year she spent living on Okinawa and meeting many of those connected in one way or another with the bases. And so, in the book we find her at one moment in a Naha bar drinking with American soldiers, the next in a boat on the ocean with anti-base protesters trying to stop the landfill at Oura Bay.

Meeting Akemi last night after her talk

What emerges from all this is a very balanced account of her findings that is also at times moving – and occasionally shocking.  The book it most resembles is Mary Ann Keyso’s fascinating Women of Okinawa, from 2000, but Night in the American Village is ultimately the more rewarding read.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the author as an outsider without a deep understanding of Japan or Okinawa. That would be a huge mistake. In fact, it’s her openness, willingness to learn, to investigate further, and to understand and make sense of it all that leads to a book that is both academically sound and at the same time enormously readable.

The talk last night was held in the informal setting of Esparza’s Tacos and Coffee, a Mexican restaurant in Chatan, in front of a large and varied audience. Akemi also read some selections from her book and concluded with a question and answer session. An unexpected bonus was the introduction in person of two of the women whose stories are featured in the book – Chie and Ai – and they joined her to speak and to answer questions.

More details of the book and its author are on Akemi Johnson’s website:

www.akemijohnson.com