It seems there is increasing attention to Okinawan history recently. Okinawa is such an obviously interesting place for its own rich cultures, languages, customs, and complicated historical relationships with Yamato Japan and surrounding countries. The complexity should not overwhelm comparative historians, however, because there are a couple of advantages in studying the Okinawan history even only for a short period of time.
First of all, there is a tight community of Okinawan studies scholars who are very approachable, and many materials are available even from Tokyo. The library of Hosei University’s Institute for Okinawan Studies is a great place to find basic materials, and probably to get to know people.
Second of all, Okinawa’s prefectural and municipal governments have been devoting a lot of resources to organizing local sources. Almost everything they collect and publish are available at the Okinawa Prefectural Library in Naha. If you are doing postwar histories, the Okinawa Prefectural Archives is the place to go to. I spent most of my time in the Prefectural Library. Generally speaking, there are not many documents left from the prewar period because of the magnitude of the Battle of Okinawa as well as the occupation by the US forces afterwards. For many issues and years, the only sources are newspapers (琉球新報, 沖縄タイムス, 大阪朝日付録九州沖縄版, 沖縄新報, 沖縄毎日新聞 etc) preserved mainly in Tokyo or Kyushu and the old people who lived through that period. I realize that the Okinawan officials are indeed desperate to collect everything left when I saw this:
They collected about 300 pages of newspapers that were used as wrappers of botanical samples between the 1910s and 1930s in Kyoto University.
To those who want to know the backgrounds of the major newspapers ( in Okinawa, Ota Masahide (大田昌秀)’s “Okinawa no minshu ishiki” (『沖縄の民衆意識』1995) is a must read although the focus is the Meiji period.
Many municipal governments, like in Miyagi but often even more eagerly, have a city history section which regularly publishes new studies. I contacted Nago city history section. Their city history is one of the most thorough ones, and like other cities in Okinawa, they indexed and re-published newspaper articles and organized all the available statics related to Nago in three volumes. The republished version of newspaper articles is much easier to read than the original bad printing, of course. Nago city also distributed an index list of “newspaper articles related to education in Nago before 1945,” which came in extremely handy for my research. Besides that, I don’t know if this is really doable for other cities, but they publish contacts of senior citizens of the city — in case you are looking for the elderly to interview, I guess…
The staff at the Nago history section is also very helpful in introducing local historians to me from the local Meio University (名桜大学) and in responding to my additional request for a copy of a couple of newspaper articles that I could not find in the Prefectural Library.
You could also visit the national Ryukyu University, whose library is one of the oldest in Okinawa. I found a few issues of 沖縄教育 that were missing from the reprinted version and random village youth periodicals there. But overall their collection is not as thorough as the Prefectural Library, and it is less conveniently located. If you suddenly need to refer to English publications, Ryukyu University is the place to go to.
Shimoina in Nagano Prefecture is probably the most popular site of research because of its rich local sources, but it seems there is an equivalent of Shimoina in Okinawa — Ogimi (大宜味）village in Kunigami (the Northern one third of Okinawa). To be precise, rather than a lot of materials left, there are more historians who write about this village from early on. Besides their very well-written 大宜味村誌, Fukuchi Hiroaki (福地曠昭) has written a number of works based on many oral interviews and his own experiences of growing up in the village in the 1930s and 40s. Ogimi, in a way, is a peculiar case because the youth created a “soviet” in the village in 1931. 山城善光 was one of the leaders in this movement, and he wrote a memoir “Yambaru no hi” (『山原の火』1976）as well. When I visited Ogimi village last summer, they just created a new village history office. Kin (金武）village is also gaining more and more attention because that village produced a large number of immigrants.
I do not need to convince others about the importance of Okinawan studies. Neither do I need to persuade Okinawan people to engage in local histories. I was totally impressed by their continuous efforts, and I hope they will get attention and admiration that they deserve.