Politician retracts slur against indigenous Okinawans

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    NAHA–An Okinawa assemblyman was forced to apologize after he was accused of insulting the island’s indigenous people by associating their traditional dress with “rags” and suggesting they wore “very dark” faces.

    Moriyuki Teruya, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Okinawa prefectural chapter, sparked the controversy during an assembly session Oct. 2 when he criticized the attire worn by Keiko Itokazu, a local representative in the Upper House of the Diet, when she attended a U.N. conference in New York on indigenous peoples in September.

    “It would have been appropriate if (she) had attended wearing rags and making her face look very dark, instead of wearing a (noble person’s) traditional outfit of the Ryukyu Kingdom,” Teruya, 58, said.

    Opposition parties immediately lashed out at Teruya’s remarks, saying they put down Okinawa’s traditions and history.

    Itokazu is head of the Okinawa Social Mass Party. She attended the U.N. conference to highlight strong local opposition in Okinawa to the construction of a U.S. military base there.

    Facing a firestorm over his remarks, Teruya told the assembly’s plenary session on Oct. 10: “(My comments) were inappropriate. I apologize and take them back.”

    He added, “I am Japanese and meant to make it clear that I do not see myself as a descendant of the Ryukyu Kingdom, but the way I put it was inappropriate.”

    In Okinawa, differing interpretations of the history surrounding the kingdom and its relations with Japan’s main islands often spark heated political debates.

    In the gubernatorial election in November, Hirokazu Nakaima, the 75-year-old incumbent, stressed the importance of collaborating with the central government over U.S. military bases and other issues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP endorses the governor.

    But Takeshi Onaga, 64, Nakaima’s main rival and a former mayor of Naha, has ardently argued Okinawa has the “right of self-determination,” citing the island prefecture’s distinct history. He has gained support among opponents of the U.S. military bases.

    The Ryukyu Kingdom prospered from 1429 through 1879. It developed a distinct culture, largely influenced by China, the Korean Peninsula and countries in Southeast Asia.

    It was eventually dismantled by the Meiji government and annexed as part of the southern islands to make them part of Japan.

    Source: The Asahi Shimbun