Although Okinawa is now under the political administration of Japan, its history has been shaped under the influence of Chinese, Japanese and, most recently, American military domination. Moreover, both Okinawans and the Japanese of the mainland, recognize that Okinawa is differentiated from the rest of Japan by its individual history and distinct cultural practices. One of the most recognizable products of Okinawan culture is karate, at base a martial art but also a cultural practice inscribed with relationships and ideas inherited from wider Okinawan society. At the beginning of the 20th-century this practice was brought to mainland Japan. This paper examines how localized cultural practices, such as karate, might be modified when transitioning to different social contexts, and what such modifications indicate about the nature of cultural practices. Through modification, Okinawans were able to incorporate their martial art into the traditions of the Japanese mainland. In cooperation, the Japanese government sought to assimilate the Okinawan people and enfold karate into their promotion of the imagined homogeneity of Japan. The active agency of both parties reveals that this interaction was a negotiation between the samurai core-subculture of Japan and the karate practitioners of Okinawa, rather than simply a one-sided assimilation.
Johnson, Noah C.G.
"The Japanization of Karate?: Placing an Intangible Cultural Practice,"
Journal of Contemporary Anthropology:
1, Article 4.
Available at: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jca/vol3/iss1/4