See that my grave is kept clean: ritual continuity & spatial resistance along Futenma's inverted periphery

In the proposed article, I aim to examine the ongoing role and relevance the ancestral tombs of Okinawa: a unique form of spatial engagement enacted by citizens, especially in the face of continued United States military presence. Imposing and ever-present throughout the island, the tombs, by way of their construction, attendance, and maintenance, are a dynamic social gathering space between the dead and the living: a vital collective project of stewardship that precedes – and now endures past – the recent history of war, occupation and rampant urban modernization. Here, I propose to examine their scope and socio-political role as a form of ritual continuity, placing particular emphasis on the sites of contestation and negotiation located along the “inverted” periphery of the controversial Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City. Futenma, notably, is a base surrounded on all sides by twentieth-century urban expansion, and a symbolic site of the ongoing struggle for demilitarization. Key to this reading of the tombs as sites of witness amid prolonged American presence is a superimpositional analysis of the Futenma edge condition as site of political demonstration throughout the postwar period until present day.

The “network” of funerary architecture becomes a veritable institution of stalwart resistance, both consolidating and transforming a front-line protest of base presence. The construction and maintenance of tombs provides a continuum of Okinawan livelihood. As the anthropologist Christopher Nelson explains, ancestral tombs constitute "fields of action, in which meditational rituals [are] performed, and the basis of action, a reservoir of power from which the strength of the individual, household, and community derive, and into which they invest their energies."

Expropriated by American forces at the end of World War II, the territory that comprises Futenma was indiscriminately razed, destroying some tombs and burying others; surviving structures ended up arbitrarily on either side of the fence, with visitation rights granted through Japan-American 'good neighbour policy'. In some cases later on, the boundary fence was even transposed, allowing tombs to be reincorporated by rightful landowners and thus ‘returned’ into the city. New, sentinel-like funerary structures, too, were erected by landowners whose property directly abuts – and often extends into – current base grounds. Often as large as surrounding homes, the tombs are key physical elements inhabiting this inverted frontier, an area infrastructurally paralyzed by base presence, and haunted daily by the byproducts of noise, pollution and crime.

Juxtaposing text with fieldwork photography, and drawing from Japanese and English source materials, I wish to demonstrate how, beyond their monolithic physical presence, the construction and maintenance of tombs is also a precise performance of citizenship and memory-building — thus inciting participatory action in history itself. The discrete individual actions that connect ancestral spirit to living body, spanning both traditional and contemporary space-making, combine to demonstrate a community act of active vigilance, continuing to withstand the gross interruptions and injustices that a half a century’s worth of large scale military presence has wrought.
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