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CSUMB Students travel to Japan to work on Okinawa Memories Initiative

There are caves everywhere in Okinawa. Some are tunnels, hundreds of meters long, carved by people preparing for the bloodiest battle in all of World War II. Most caves, however, are the natural products of underground rivers seeping through Ryukyu limestone. To go inside these caves and experience the darkness and silence is to imagine the experiences of those many people who died there. This is one way that researchers can come one step closer to understanding the history of the place. Today, Okinawa is a vibrant, cosmopolitan place, intimately linked to other parts of Asia. And yet the war, in which one-third of Okinawan civilians died, can still be felt in many places and conversations.

In the summer of 2019, two CSUMB undergraduate students, Kai Jones (Japanese Language and Culture) and Kyle Hill (Japanese Language and Culture, Global Studies), joined Dr. Dustin Wright, Assistant Professor of Japanese Culture and Language, on a month-long research trip to Okinawa, the archipelago prefecture in Japan's far southwest. Dr. Wright is the Associate Director of the Okinawa Memories Initiative (OMI), a collaborative public history project that is based at the University of California, Santa Cruz and directed by Dr. Alan Christy. Kai and Kyle both received travel and research support from OMI and a UROC Humanities and Social Science Scholarly and Artistic Research Grant. Though OMI was founded at UCSC (where Dr. Wright completed his Ph.D.), the project now includes students and faculty from CSU Monterey Bay and CSU East Bay.

OMI team-members standing in front of the Okinawa Prefectural  Archives
OMI team-members standing in front of the Okinawa Prefectural Archives site.

Reflecting on his experience, Kyle said “this summer I did archival research with Dr. Dustin Wright and I gained experience setting up and execution of exhibitions. As a group we also conducted oral interviews, as well as went to a multitude of sights, events and museums. These experiences working in a professional environment and with professionals within their field of study was a life changing experience. It gave me a new insight into academia and what I could do in the future with my academic career."

Kai focused on his filmmaking, writing that he"had the privilege of working with professional documentary filmmakers who inspired me to make my own creative videos about the OMI experience. I also learned what it means to work abroard with a student-faculty research team. Living in a different country can be difficult, but I really had a beneficial experience. I would definitely suggest going to Okinawa if one is interested in military occupation, art history, or video documentation." Be sure to check out one of his short OMI videos, "Lenses"!

OMI members prepare to enter tunnels dug for the Haebaru Army Field Hospital
OMI team members prepare to enter tunnels dug for the Haebaru Army Field Hospital, where many Japanese soldiers and Himeyuri Student Nursing Corps students lost their lives during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
I would definitely suggest going to Okinawa if one is interested in military occupation, art history, or video documentation.
Kai Jones

If you'd like to learn more about Okinawa and ways that you can join the research team, check out the UROC research opportunity page and contact Dr. Wright.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center

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