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This chapter lays the foundations for later examinations of the conflicts that took place between living and dead labor in Okinawa. It will trace Okinawa prefecture’s inclusion into the Japanese nation-state qua empire from the 1870s in a manner that established it as a periphery—simultaneously inside and outside the Japanese nation-state—in political, economic and cultural terms via the Preservation of Old Customs Policy of 1879. As a result of this policy, the people of Okinawa were expected to fulfill their responsibilities to their traditional overlords whom the Meiji government transformed into its functionaries in charge of maintaining its authority within their old communities. This incorporation of the former Ryūkyū kingdom elites into the bureaucratic structure of the Meiji state exacerbated existing social tensions and prepared the ground for new conflicts that subsequent chapters will illuminate and trace.

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