Yuki Takauchi

On the night of 3 September 1955, a six-year-old Okinawan girl named Yumiko Nagayama was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. The next morning Yumiko’s body was found in a garbage dump on the Kadena Air Base, sliced with a knife from the lower part of the abdomen to the anus. Two days later, the Okinawan police arrested the perpetrator, Sergeant Issac J. Hurt. The Okinawan people’s anger over the “Yumiko-chan incident” triggered the first massive protest against U.S. occupational policies, called the “All-Okinawan Fight” in 1956. Ever since, the metaphor of rape has framed historical understandings of the U.S. military’s occupation of Okinawa, also referred to in Japanese as Ryukyu. Indeed, the literature on military occupation—like colonial studies on modern Europe more generally—often relies on heterosexual metaphors to explain unequal power relations between the occupiers and the occupied. However, these heterosexual metaphors tend to overlook a far more pervasive homosocial fiction, one promoted by the United States and perpetuated by local Okinawan elites. In the era of decolonization, it was imperative for the United States to avoid any association with European colonial powers. Consequently, U.S. occupation officials promoted the fiction of egalitarian homosocial U.S.-Ryukyu friendship in order to publicize Okinawa as “a showcase for democracy,” a place in which the indigenous populations embraced the U.S. military presence and American democratic values.

Koza Yaejima Street(Red-light district) circa 1955. “Maps of new home: Vol.3,” Okinawa Times. (Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.)

The occupation of Okinawa started in 1945. The small islands off the southern coast of Japan became a “keystone” for U.S. military operations in the Asia-Pacific region after the Communist revolution in China and the Korean War. As Christina Klein argues, U.S. officials and intellectuals tried to secure an ever-increasing military, political, and economic presence in Asia during the era of decolonization by promoting an image of the U.S. as a non-imperial power which integrated non-communist Asian countries to its bloc, not by armed forces, but by fostering friendship. Okinawa was no exception. In Okinawa, the people had no choice but to rely on the U.S. military for survival after the devastating terrestrial battles of World War II. Impressed by America’s abundance and convinced that cooperation with the United States was the only way forward, Okinawan elites accepted the U.S. ruse that the occupation was actually a form of egalitarian friendship between the two peoples. Interestingly, one of the key symbols of this “gentleman’s agreement” between benevolent America and its Okinawan friends was a collective commitment to Okinawan women’s liberation, including suffrage. This vision of American and Okinawan men working together to improve conditions for Okinawan women was one of the important official images that testified to U.S.-Ryukyu friendship.

But all was not as it seemed. The U.S. military faced a paradox: officials were concerned about the spread of venereal disease among their troops, but they nevertheless wanted local prostitutes to sexually satisfy their servicemen. In response, Okinawan businessmen promoted red-light districts near bases in the early 1950s; they believed that establishing such districts would not only be profitable, but also help protect Okinawan women from sexual assaults. In order to serve U.S. military men, local bars and restaurants were required to pass hygiene tests that qualified them to receive licenses (known as Approved signs, or A-sign licenses). This A-sign system, which allowed the U.S. military to outsource the management of prostitution to Okinawan men, stands as one iteration of the hidden side of “U.S.-Ryukyu friendship.”

The controversial rape and murder of Yumiko-chan in 1955 challenged this double-faced fiction of U.S.-Ryukyu homosocial friendship because it called into question the U.S. military’s official role as protective liberator of Okinawan women. It was important to maintain a benevolent image of the occupying forces because the Okinawan people had already been frustrated by the forcible seizure of private lands to construct American military bases, leading to the first “All-Okinawan Fight” in 1956. In response, Okinawan and American elites worked together so that the Okinawan people’s anger over the Yumiko-chan incident might not deepen their antagonism toward the U.S. military.

Yoshiko Kamimura (left) and Hurt’s defense attorney (right) chatting during a break in court proceedings. Kamimura testified that she spent the night of the Yumiko-chan incident with Hurt and she saw blood stains on his pants. The media portrayed Kamimura, a waitress at a café frequented by the U.S. servicemen, as Hurt’s “lover,” thereby jeopardizing respectable U.S.-Ryukyu friendship. Picture from “Zubon niha kekkon ga: najimi no jokyū tekipaki shōgen” [Blood stains on his pants: Hurt’s lover testified], Ryukyu Shimpo, 24 November, 1955.

To depoliticize the incident, Okinawan elites—including representatives of the Government of Ryukyu Islands, President of Ryukyu University, and editors of Okinawan local newspapers—employed deliberate rhetorical strategies. For example, they called the Yumiko-chan rape “the first incident of its kind” and emphasized its exceptional brutality, overshadowing the innumerable sexual assaults on Okinawan women that had occurred since U.S. military landed in 1945. They also distanced “normal” U.S. serviceman, who were ostensibly friendly towards Okinawans, from the murderer by claiming that Sergeant Hurt must be a psychopath. Vonna F. Burger, the Civil Administrator of the USCAR (United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands), responded to these efforts by expressing “sincere regrets” and acting on the Okinawan people’s demands for a prompt arrest, a criminal investigation, and the strengthening of nighttime military patrols. Okinawan and American elites thus cooperated together to turn the crisis into an opportunity to strengthen friendship between them.

“Respectable” Okinawan and American women also mobilized the fiction of homosocial ties to divert the Okinawan people’s anger away from the U.S. military. For example, an American women’s group visited the victim’s family to convey their condolences. By showing American women as mothers worrying for Okinawan children’s safety, these American women employed the rhetoric of shared maternal responsibility to transcend critical national differences. As a result, they were able to reframe and depoliticize the incident; the public now saw it as a crime against an innocent child by a stranger, instead of a crime against an Okinawan civilian by a U.S. serviceman. The editor of a local Okinawan newspaper called on American and Okinawan women to cooperate, asking both groups to advocate for female self-defense and to band together to protect their children from strangers.

A member of the RYCOM (Ryukyu Command) women’s group teaches a disabled Okinawan woman to crochet. Female family members of U.S. servicemen played an important role in the image of U.S.-Ryukyu friendship. Picture from “Egao torimodosu Shizuko-san” [Shizuko smiling again], Ryukyu Shimpo, 30 September 1955.

Okinawan leaders created a hierarchical division among Okinawan women in order to maintain this homosocial bond. They distinguished “respectable” Okinawan women from “fallen” prostitutes; the former were aligned with their American counterparts while the latter, whose sexual submission to male U.S. serviceman contradicted the ideals of U.S.-Ryukyu friendship, were excluded from the Okinawan community. At the meeting of the Ryukyuan-American Community Relations Advisory Council to discuss measures to prevent crimes against children, the president of the Okinawa Women’s Association, Mitsuko Takeno, claimed,

“[Okinawan women] respect their virtues more than they respect their life […] You might say that there are thousands of women selling their bodies but these women are doing so because of their ignorance. Besides, they are not true Okinawans.”

According to Takeno, the incident was in part the result of American servicemen’s inability to distinguish between innocent, respectable Okinawan women and “ignorant” prostitutes. To prevent such an atrocious incident from happening again, Takeno sought to clarify to American servicemen that not all Okinawan women were prostitutes.

The U.S. military thus strategically used both male and female fictions of homosocial U.S.-Ryukyu friendship to stabilize the occupation. On an international level, the fiction of homosocial U.S.-Ryukyu friendship helped the U.S. mask its actions as an occupier and distinguish itself from European colonial powers. Locally, this trope realigned Okinawan loyalties in order to preserve the U.S. military occupation. Okinawan elites maintained this fiction by foregrounding images of “respectable” Okinawan women working together with their American sisters and concealing the presence of “fallen” prostitutes. If historians use only heterosexual metaphors that monolithically imagine the occupied as victims of rape or other forms of social subordination to interpret military occupation, they fail to capture how U.S. officials used homosocial strategies to disguise the reality of American imperialism and the complicit envolvement of Okinawan elites. By contrast, a homosocial model can complicate the binary of the oppressor and the oppressed and offer a more nuanced understanding about how the U.S. occupation was sustained and contested during a volatile moment in the history of Okinawa.


Yuki TakYuki Takauchiauchi is a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. Her research is on histories of gender, sexuality, and the U.S. Empire in the twentieth century. Her research has appeared in Gender and Sexuality: Journal of the Center for Gender Studies, ICU and also in Pacific and American Studies.



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