Chinen Seishin’s Jinruikan
A poster for a 2014 production of Jinruikan
Chinen, Seishin. Jinruikan. 1978. Okinawa bungaku sen. Tokyo: Bensei Press, 2003. 244-274.
Chinen, Seishin. The Human Pavilion. Trans. Robert Tierney. Islands of Protest: Japanese Literature from Okinawa. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2017. 231-91.
First published in 1976, Chinen Seishin’s Jinruikan [The Exhibition of Human Races] is a comic play based on the Jinruikan Exhibit, in which Okinawans, Ainu, African-Americans, and Koreans were put on display in an exposition held in Tennōji, Ōsaka in 1903. At the time, many Okinawans were angry not so much because human beings were put on display; rather, they objected to being lumped together with Taiwanese, Ainu, and other minorities. In other words, Okinawans inadvertently revealed their biases against other minorities. In 1978, the play won the Kishida Drama Prize, which can be said to be the Akutagawa Prize of Drama. Today, the play continues to be performed periodically in Okinawa.
There are three characters in the play: a man and a woman brought to the Jinruikan exhibit from Okinawa, and a man who trains them. The theme of the play is discrimination and assimilation. The trainer discriminates against the strong accents and looks of the Okinawan people. In addition, he prohibits them from using dialect and tries to plant militaristic ideas in their minds. The two Okinawans are dissatisfied with him, but they are afraid to disobey. This expresses the situation of Okinawans who lived in Okinawa during the time of Japanese Imperialist education.
The play also presents examples later examples of Japanese discrimination towards Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa, which involved many Okinawa residents, took place from March to June in 1945. Towards the end of World War II, Japan sacrificed Okinawa for the defense of the Japanese mainland. The strategy of sacrificing Okinawa was called suteishi-sakusen, or sacrificed stone strategy. As a result, sixty-five thousand soldiers from the mainland, thirty-thousand soldiers from Okinawa, and ninety-four thousand citizens of Okinawa died.
The play recreates scenes from the Battle of Okinawa, the time under US rule, and the time surrounding Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. For example, the play depicts mass suicides, the massacres of residents, and so on. Along with these changes, the characters change their roles. At the end of the play, the trainer dies, and the Okinawan man becomes a trainer. The final line, spoken by the new trainer, is the same as the opening line of the play—suggesting that history repeats itself.
2. Character List
The trainer 調教師ふうな男
The trainer trains two Okinawans. He also plays the role of a national schoolteacher, a mental hospital doctor, and a young Okinawan man named Kamā. At the beginning of the play he says that he opened the Exhibition Hall of Human Races in order to eliminate prejudice and discrimination. However, he obviously discriminates against Okinawans, Koreans, African Americans, and others. Ironically, he is Okinawan, though he tries to hide this fact. Since he received unjust treatment for being Okinawan, he tries to live as a Japanese. He prohibits the two Okinawans from using Okinawan dialect and trains them to become Japanese. Finally, he dies when the potato explodes.
Okinawan man 陳列された男
The Okinawan man is exhibited in the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. Previously, he was in prison in Okinawa. He also plays the roles of a student of a national school, a depressive, a member of the Tekketsu Kinnōtai Student Corps, a young Okinawan man named Kamī, and a trainer. Although he is dissatisfied to be treated like a slave, he cannot go against the trainer. When the trainer dies, he takes a tyrannical attitude. Before that, he follows the trainer’s commands obediently. When the trainer dies, the Okinawan man takes his place.
Okinawan woman 陳列された女
The Okinawan woman is also exhibited in the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. Previously, she was working at a house of prostitution in Okinawa. She plays the roles of a student of a national school, a paranoid, an old woman named Ushī, and a member of the Himeyuri Student Corps. She has given up on life, like the other people in the Exhibition Hall. Therefore, she makes fun of the Okinawan man who talks about going against the trainer. Even after the trainer dies, her position in the Okinawan exhibit does not change.
3. Plot Summary
Act 1 (96-8)
After a narrator announces the opening of the Exhibition Hall of Human Races, the trainer appears on stage. He talks to the audience and says that discrimination is produced by ignorance and prejudice. He adds that fundamental human rights must be respected, and that discrimination should never be allowed. He claims that this is the goal of the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. Finally, he explains that the Exhibition Hall exhibits African Americans, Jews, Koreans, Ainu, Indians, and Ryūkyūans.
Act 2 (98-100)
The trainer enters the Ryūkyūan Hall, where an Okinawan man and woman are displayed. Addressing the audience, the trainer exaggeratedly explains the features of their bodies, and discusses their peculiar manners and customs. For example, he says that the Okinawan’s eyes suffer from neurosis, and that they have coarse hair like wire. He also says that Okinawans do not lock their houses, mainly eat potatoes, and eat cycad sago, a poisonous plant. As the trainer is explaining, the two Okinawans obediently follow his directions. When his explanation about Okinawa is finished, he goes away to the African American Hall.
Act 3 (100-4)
As soon as the trainer leaves, the Okinawan man suddenly changes his attitude. In Okinawan dialect, he says he will punish the trainer someday. The Okinawan woman looks down at the man and laughs scornfully at him. The man and woman talk about how to live in Okinawa. The woman says that life at the Exhibition Hall is the same as life in a prison. However, the man says that prison life was more humane. He complains that they are treated like slaves at the Exhibition Hall. He says they should sue the trainer, who deceived them and brought them here. Of course, this is impossible. Suddenly, Jashikibushi, an Okinawan folk song, is played, and the two Okinawans begin to dance.
Act 4 (104-7)
The trainer hears the Okinawans making noise and reappears. The Okinawan woman urges the Okinawan man to tell the trainer about his dissatisfaction, but the Okinawan man does not. The trainer notices that they are planning something, so he goes to leave. Before he does, the Okinawan woman tells him what the Okinawan man said, and the trainer gets angry and hits the Okinawan man. The Okinawan woman argues that the trainer’s promise to educate them has not been kept. However, the trainer says that two Okinawans are studying cultural anthropology by hearing explanations about other races in the hall.
Suddenly, the scene changes to a national school. The trainer plays a teacher, and the two Okinawans play students. The teacher lectures about militarism and urges the students to cultivate a spirit that respects the cultures and traditions of Japan.
The teacher expresses repulsion for Okinawan dialect and prohibits the two Okinawans from speaking it. Moreover, the teacher has them chant, “Long live, the Emperor!” However, they don’t pronounce these words well, so the teacher puts a hōgen fuda (dialect penalty card) on the Okinawan man’s neck. After that, the class ends, and he leaves.
Act 5 (108-9)
After the teacher leaves, the Okinawan man gets angry with the woman for telling the trainer what he said. He chases her, but then the Okinawan woman leans over him, and the scene changes to a prison. The Okinawan man recalls when he was in prison in Okinawa. The conversation between him and a warden in the prison is reproduced.
The scene returns to the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. The trainer appears and reads the Okinawa governor’s greeting for the Ocean Expo. During the announcement, the Okinawan man plays the sanshin without making a sound, and the Okinawan woman begins to dance. The narrator says that soldiers were playing the musical instrument without making any sound at midnight during the wartime period. He adds that the Okinawan man’s performance expresses the unheard voices of the victims of the war.
Act 6 (109-13)
Suddenly, the scene changes to lunchtime at an elementary school. The trainer puts a potato on the table, but the Okinawan man does not eat it, so the trainer gets angry at him. After the Okinawan woman finishes eating, the trainer asks her to entertain the African American in order to protect the country. Then, the Okinawan man sneezes “fa-kusu!” while the trainer is talking, and the Okinawan woman says, “Kusukue-hya-!” The trainer gets angry with the Okinawans for using Okinawan dialect again, and he hits the Okinawan man.
The scene changes to a bar, and the trainer becomes weak-looking. The trainer tells the two Okinawans about his past. He explains that he couldn’t get promoted because of rumors that he was an Okinawan. Although he insisted that he was Japanese, the Japanese didn’t believe him. The two Okinawans comfort the trainer, who then urges the Okinawan man to eat the potato again. The Okinawan man again refuses, causing the trainer to get flustered.
Act 7 (114-7)
The scene changes to an interrogation room. The trainer commands the Okinawan man to give his name and his unit, but the Okinawan man misunderstands the question. Instead, he vividly describes the mass suicide of his relatives, which he witnessed. The trainer says that he will stop talking, but the Okinawan woman begins to talk instead. She says that she worked in inferior conditions in Okinawa. Then the Okinawan man talks about the massacre of Okinawans by the Japanese army. After this, the song “Chondara-” and the sound of a drum can be heard, and the Okinawan man and woman begin to dance.
Act 8 (117-9)
The scene changes to a mental hospital. The trainer plays a doctor. He says that there are many psychiatric patients in Okinawa because they experienced the miserable war. He says that the Okinawan man is depressed, and that the Okinawan woman is paranoid. He says that the war continues for such psychiatric patients, and that their main objective is to bring an end to the war for them.
Act 9 (119-23)
A loud explosion is heard, and the scene changes to the commander’s room in an air-raid shelter. The trainer plays the commander; the Okinawan woman plays a nurse in the Himeyuri Student Corps; and the Okinawan man plays a member of the Tekketsu Kinnōtai Student Corps. The commander tries to rape the nurse and shoots the Okinawan soldier on suspicion of spying. Then he kills a baby who is crying, so that they will not be discovered by the enemy. After that, the Okinawan soldier who had been killed suddenly stands up and asks for instructions from the commander. However, the commander orders him to die and stop being a burden to the Japanese army.
Act 10 (123-6)
Suddenly, the Okinawan man asks the trainer, “Are you Kamā?” In this scene, the Okinawan man plays a young man named Kamī, and the Okinawan woman plays an old woman named Ushī. The three persons lived in the neighborhood in the past and meet again. Kamā asks about his wife, and the woman tells him that his wife died. Kamā asks to be allowed to die with those who are going to kill themselves. Although they try to die using a hand grenade, it does not explode. When they examine the grenade, it turns out to be a burnt potato.
Act 11 (126-8)
The voice of the enemy urges them to surrender and come out of the air-raid shelter. The trainer tries to make a surprise attack on the enemy, but the Okinawan man and woman ask to be allowed to die together. However, the trainer becomes a teacher and admonishes them to live. He tells them that although everything was burned to the ground during the war, plants will soon bud on the burned field. He tells them it is important to live and to contribute to the reconstruction of their hometown.
Act 12 (128-30)
A demonstration calling for the reversion of Okinawa to Japan can be heard, and the Okinawan man and woman leave the air-raid shelter. The trainer is now alone. He picks up the potato and says that if the ugly plant had a lovely form like an apple, the history of Okinawa would have been different. After stating this, he gnaws at the potato. However, he spits it out immediately and throws it on the ground. Then, the potato explodes and the trainer dies.
The Okinawan man and woman appear from their hiding place. The man says that the trainer was punished for fooling the Okinawans—even though he himself was an Okinawan. Then the Okinawan man takes the trainer’s seat and picks up the whip and hat. He repeats the line that the trainer said at the beginning of the play. Thus, the play returns to the start of the play. Lastly, the narrator says that history is repeated.
4. Symbolism and Imagery
The potato 芋
A potato appears in the drama many times. The trainer says that Okinawan are made of potato because they eat it as a staple food. The suggestion is that Okinawans are ugly like potatoes. He gives them potatoes for their meal. Also, he sometimes compares Okinawa to a potato. For these reasons, the potato becomes a symbol of Okinawan as seen by Japanese. Moreover, the potato is compared to a hand grenade. At the end of the play, the trainer dies from eating the potato. In this way, it also becomes a metaphor for Okinawans’ rage against discrimination.
The whip 鞭
The whip, which the trainer uses, is a symbol of Japanese power used against Okinawans. Historically, Okinawans were often forced to play get other Okinawans to assimilate into Japanese society.
The characters 登場人物
The play is obviously an allegory about Okinawa’s relationship to Japan. The trainer represents Okinawans who assisted Japan in getting other Okinawans to assimilate. Like many Okinawans, he wants to be Japanese and tries hard to assimilate into Japanese society. However, he is unable to get promoted because of discrimination against Okinawans. In this sense, he also represents Okinawans who have faced discrimination and prejudice in Japanese society.
The Okinawan man and woman represent ordinary Okinawans, who have suffered in a variety of ways. For example, the Okinawan man becomes a member of the Tekketsu Kinnotai Student Corps and a student in a national school. In addition, he puts himself in the trainer’s position. In this way, he represents Okinawan discrimination within Okinawan society. Similarly, the Okinawan woman represents the suffering of ordinary Okinawan women. For example, she plays the role of a prostitute, a maid for an American military’s family, and a member of the Himeyuri Student Corps. Unlike the man, however, she does not become a trainer. This suggests that Okinawan women have not been able to take positions of power, nor have they been perpetrators of violence.
The play is based on the Jinruikan Incident, which refers to the 5th exhibition in Tennōji, Osaka in 1903. Thirty-two people, including Ainu, Taiwanese, Okinawan, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Javanese, Bengal, Turk, African, were exhibited wearing ethnic costumes at the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. The main story takes place in the Ryūkyūan Hall of that exhibit. Early in the play, the trainer says, “Good evening, everyone. Thank you for coming to the Exhibition Hall of Human Races” (96). The trainer also says, “There are people of various races in the Exhibition Hall of Human Races: African Americans, Jews, Koreans, Okinawans, Ainu, Indians, etc…” (97). This is an accurate description of the Exhibition Hall of Human Races. The exhibit became a problem because Okinawan and Chinese protested.
Although the main setting of the play is the exhibit in Osaka, the play often jumps through time and space. For example, sometimes the setting suddenly changes to the wartime period or the postwar period of Okinawa. Chinen uses this technique to raise questions about Okinawa’s unequal relationship with Japan through history. For example, the play refers to mental disease in Okinawa as a result of having experienced the war, the slaughter of Okinawan residents by Japanese soldiers during the war, and mass suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.
The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America (the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty) also reveals Japan’s discriminatory attitude towards Okinawa. Although the constitution, law, and system for protecting popular rights existed in Japan, there were no such provisions for Okinawa under US rule. While the Japanese government supported Okinawa financially, the special law for base construction in Okinawa was also enacted. The Japanese and US governments threatened the residents of Okinawa, and forcibly took their land for base construction. After the war, especially in the early stages of the US occupation, crimes against Okinawans by US soldiers, such as homicide, injury, robbery, rape, and arson, occurred frequently. Most victims had no choice but to swallow their resentment. In 1955, the violent murder of a six-year-old girl and violence against an eight-year-old girl by US soldiers caused much resentment in Okinawa. After that, human rights protests were often held. In spite of the protests, US soldiers’ crimes increased rapidly with the expansion of the Vietnam War. After a traffic accident involving a US serviceman, Okinawan residents’ anti-American feelings erupted in the Koza Riot, which occurred on December 20, 1970.
In her review of the play in War, Women and Memory in the Play “Cafe Rycom,” Yonaha Akiko argues that the play describes Japanese discrimination and the compulsory assimilation policy of the Japanese government. Yonaha mentions that the dignity of the weak is often destroyed by those in power. In this play, the scenes change sometimes, and characters cross the lines of time and space. For example, the play refers to the mass suicide and slaughter during the Battle of Okinawa and atrocious crimes under US rule. The suggestion is that the war still continues in Okinawa. Yonaha also describes how power is retained. The most powerful person referred to in this play is the Emperor, but Japanese politicians and the army actually ruled Okinawan, and US soldiers controlled Okinawa under US rule. In the play, the Okinawan man and woman act various roles of those ruled. The Okinawan man becomes a Japanese soldier, a young Okinawan man, and a member of the Tekketsu Kinnoutai Student Corps. However, at the end of the play, he becomes a trainer. The Okinawan woman plays the role of a maid for a US soldier’s family, a prostitute, and a member of the Himeyuri Student Corps. Yonaha point out that this means that men can become rulers, but women never have such a chance.
In The Reasoning of Jinruikan by Chinen Seishin: The Fight of the Language, Shinjō Ikuo also argues that the play describes Japanese discrimination. He emphasizes that Okinawa did not object to the exhibit; rather, it objected to having Okinawans displayed alongside Taiwanese and Ainu people. Shinjō points out that the play shows that Okinawans are not only discriminated against but also discriminate against others. Having been discriminated against, Okinawans learned how to discriminate against others. In short, the Jinruikan Incident reveals the chain of discrimination that lurks beneath the surface in Okinawan society.
Shinjō also mentions the principle of human universality discussed by the trainer. This principle means that all human beings are equal. However, the principle also implies that human beings who are not the same must be eliminated. Shinjō points out that the trainer says that human beings are all the same but then tries to make the spectator’s concern turn to the differences in the exhibited races. Shinjō points out that Chinen exaggerates the unification of language humorously in this play.
Assimilation and Discrimination
The Exhibition Hall of Human Races raises important questions about discrimination and the assimilation of Okinawa. The trainer says that they opened the Exhibition Hall of Human Races in order to eliminate discrimination caused by prejudice. However, he despises Okinawan people and Okinawan customs. Similarly, he says that all human beings are the same, but he mocks the differences in the exhibited races. On the other hand, he himself has received unjust treatment from Japanese. For example, he was not promoted because of the gossip that he is an Okinawan.
From around 1910, the number of Okinawans moving to mainland Japan to work increased. Okinawa suffered even more during the early Showa period depression, which is sometimes called sotetsu-jigoku (cycad sago hell), in reference to the fact that some desperate Okinawans resorted to eating the toxic plant.
From about 1920, factories on mainland Japan put out signs that read, “Not hiring North Korean or Okinawans.” A large majority of Japanese did not teach or know the history or culture of Okinawa, leading many Japanese people to hold prejudicial views of Okinawans. Because of discriminatory policies, Okinawans were forced into cheap labor, with men working in civil engineering, offices, sawmills, and other unpleasant jobs, and Okinawan women working in spinning mills and other areas. In addition, employers often seized Okinawans’ passports so that the workers would not be able to change their employment. Employers often made Okinawans pay for their uniforms when leaving a job. As a result of such discrimination, some Okinawans committed suicide. Although there was great pressure for Okinawans to assimilate to the lifestyle on the mainland, differences in lifestyle and dialect made it difficult for Okinawans to hide their identities.
In Chinen’s play, the trainer prohibits the two Okinawans from using Okinawan dialect, so that they will assimilate to Japanese society. The assimilation of Ainu and Okinawans was important for the Japanese government, and reflects the thoroughness of Japanese imperialist education. The Japanese government tried to eradicate the Okinawan language through education. The use of the hōgen fuda, a humiliating label placed on students who used the Okinawan language, is a typical example. When a student used Okinawan dialect in school, the person wearing the hōgen fuda would stand up and put the label on the latest offender. The use of the hōgen fuda greatly damaged Okinwans’ pride in their native language and caused them to develop a strong inferiority complex. On the other hand, many parents wanted their children to be able to speak the standard language and supported the hōgen fuda policy. They realized that proficiency in standard Japanese was the key to finding employment and a successful life on the mainland. They also knew that speaking the Okinawan language would cause their children to be strongly discriminated against.
Furthermore, the Japanese government was opposed to teaching about famous Okinawans or about Okinawan history in school. They also persecuted researchers of Okinawan history. The were worried that the Ryukyuan king, a rival to the power of the Japanese Emperor, would appear in research and education if Okinawan history was taught. Ironically, such policies caused resentment and became a hindrance to the formation of Okinawan’s national consciousness.
Chinen’s play, then, focuses on the discrimination against Okinawans by Japanese. During the Jinruikan Incident, Okinawans protested being displayed with Taiwanese and Ainu people in the exhibit, which points out that Okinawans were not only discriminated against but also discriminate against others. In short, the play shows the chain of discrimination.
8. Discussion Questions
1. Why does Chinen have the trainer directly address the audience?
2. Why doesn’t Chinen more clearly express the fact that Okinawans discriminated against other races?
3. How does the trainer assimilate into Japanese?
4. Why is the trainer so cruel to the Okinawans—even though he is Okinawan himself?
5. How do the Okinawan man and woman react differently to the treatment they receive?
6. What are some of the historical events that are referred to in the play? How do those events relate to the Jinruikan Incident?
7. Why does Chinen use traditional Okinawan songs in the play?
8. Describe the humorous elements of the play. In what ways does the humor distract from or intensify the serious point that the play is making?
9. What does the ending of the play suggest?
10. How do you think an Okinawan audience would react to the play? How about a mainland Japanese audience?
9. Works Cited
Chinen, Seishin. Jinruikan [An Exhibition of Human Races]. Tokyo: Kokushokankōkai, 1994. Print.
Engeki jinruikan jōen o jitsugen sasetai kai. Jinruikan: fūin sareta tobira [Jinruikan: The Sealed Door]. Ōsaka: At works, 2005. Print.
Matsushita, Hirofumi. “Yamanoguchi Baku’s ‘Kaiwa’ kara Chinen Seishin Jinruikan e” [Yamanoguchi Baku’s “Kaiwa” and Chinen Seishin’s Jinruikan]. Review of Literature. Article15: Okinawan Literature After the War. 25 Aug. 1997: 14-21. Print.
Okamoto, Keitoku. Okinawabungaku no chihei [The Horizon of Okinawan Literature]. Tokyo: Sannichishobō, 1981. Print.
Okamoto, Keitoku, and Takahashi, Toshio. Okinawa bungakusen [A Selection of Okinawan Literature]. Tokyo: Benseishuppan, 2003. Print.
Shinjō, Ikuo. “Chinen Seishin Jinruikan ron: tashaka o meguru kotoba no tōsō” [The Reasoning of Jinruikan by Chinen Seishin: The Fight of Language]. Nihon tōyō bunkaronshū (6): 75-124. Mar 2000. Web. 02 May 2012.