Ryukyu Underground

I came across this fascinating article over at the website of the Japan Policy Research Institute: A Wild Start: Okinawa in the 1970s

“Gate Two Street and BC Street in Koza City was where the best wide-open bar district action was, except for the majority of Afro-American servicemen. Some of those guys did party with us Euro-American and Latino-American servicemen and go bar hopping with us, but most GI Soul Brothers stuck to “The Bush.”
The Bush was an all black environment. The Soul Brothers had nearly completely segregated themselves out of all the other bar districts on The Rock a long time before I got there.
Oh, that probably isn’t correct. I bet that they had been segregated out of the light-skinned GI’s bar districts way back in the beginning of American troop occupation of the island. Then the black guys had liked what they were left with, because they had made themselves a place of their own that fit their lifestyles and cultural tastes, so they kept it.”


“Only Okinawans worked in the civilian bars on The Rock. In a Gate Two/BC Street type of A-Sign bar, there were bartenders, bar bouncers and doormen who were all good at fighting Karate style. When a fight started in an A-Sign bar, between a GI, or GIs, and one of the Okinawans working there, if the GI, or GIs, didn’t give up, back off and get the hell out of there real quick, or get knocked unconscious right away, the unfortunate GIs got the crap Karate kicked out of them by some, or all, of the Okinawan men working in that bar. If any of the fighting occurred outside a bar, then the bouncers and doormen from the other bars in the immediate area came over and jumped into the action and backed up their brethren Okinawans; that way any other GIs in the immediate area would be discouraged from jumping in on the side of the unfortunate GIs. If any GI got knocked on the ground by the bouncers, then the Okinawans all took turns kicking the poor guy.”


“When the bar, brothel, massage parlor girls were eighteen years old, after studying hard during twelve years of going to school, six days a week, for eleven months a year, life as they had known it was over. If any girl ran away from the mamasan/papasan, who held her in bonded servitude, the Okinawan cops went and fetched her back. It’s a small island, after all: where was she going to hide for long?”

Go read the whole thing.
Actually the thing that drew me into the article to begin with was the mention of the Asapen Spotmatic camera. I borrowed one off of Nam’s dad for a while (he left it at her place when he came to visit her at Tenri U) when I first started working in Osaka and wasted many rolls of film with it, but I still love that camera. Old guys would stop me on the street all the time with comments like, natsukashi, na! (“that sure brings back memories!”) And when I took it to a camera shop for repair, the guy did it for free and complimented me for being so old school! I kinda felt like shit because I barely knew how to use it at the time, but his praise sure sure put a smile on my face…

1 thought on “Ryukyu Underground

  1. The majority of the working girls’ fathers had borrowed money from the mamasan or papasan who owned the bar, brothel or massage parlor in order to — and this is a direct quote from two different sweet young ladies with whom I had just made prepurchased love — “fix-a da house-a, buy-a da car.”
    Reminds me of a story I read about Cambodia where a guy knew of a family that sold their daughter’s virginity so that they could get a TV for their dilapidated shack. Depressing.

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