The Wild Wild West of Naha

by Sean Wong

oldnahaThe year of 1912 marked the end of the Meiji era of Japan and the beginning Taisho.  It was also during this time that Japan embarked on an expansion through military conquests. It was during this time that Dai Sensei Yagi Meitoku grew up as a child. Okinawa’s position in the East China Sea had long been valued as a military and commercial hub. The ports along Naha City along the south western coast of Okinawa would host sailors from all over Asia including the Japanese Navy. The focus of these visitors often led to a red light district in Tsuji on the west part of Naha.

Okinawa had only been annexed as a part of Japan in 1879. Prior to this, the generation before lived under military rule of the Satsuma Samurai Clan. Dai Sensei’s generation was the first in over 200 years to live as free men and women with the right to vote. Part of being Japanese during its expansion is the tradition of conscription. Dai Sensei had been an avid budoka practicing both Judo and Karate on alternate days. He also held physically demanding jobs such as pulling a rickshaw and being a stevedore. As a result he was easily accepted into the military.

In the United States during this time, African-Americans were still being lynched and segregation was law. Ironically, in Japan, being Ryukyuan also carried the stigma of being less than “pure” by some extremists. Part of the accepted Japanese expansionist propaganda was the elitism of the Japanese and the assimilation of other cultures. This also meant the attempt by the Japanese government  to eradicate the Okinawan language. Thus prejudicial tension existed and Dai Sensei was no stranger to this while being a part of the military.

It has been documented and confirmed that Okinawans were ill treated. While in the military, Dai Sensei became inspired Ghandi’s passive resistance. He often sang traditional Okinawan folk songs that would irate his seniors.

On one occasion, while having a meal, a first class soldier struck Dai Sensei in the face three times with his slipper. Apparently, he didn’t like Dai Sensei’s table manners. Dai Sensei’s subconscious defensive reaction caused this soldier to fall backwards. Retaliation by lower ranks was unheard of and this surprised the first class soldier. In an attempt to command submissiveness, the first class soldier attacked Dai Sensei more than once. However, because of Dai Sensei’s training, he instinctively defended himself without malice. The soldier finally picked himself off the floor screaming at Dai Sensei and finally retreated. For some reason, the head “han”cho did not punish the young Yagi although it was well within his power to do so. After this incident, no superior officer meddled with Dai Sensei.

Despite incidences like these, Dai Sensei was still proud to be Japanese. He would go on to be a law enforcer through out Japan as a policeman and a customs officer.