During the interwar period, Japanese intellectuals and ideologues across the political spectrum looked inward and to the past to locate social relations, aesthetics, rituals, and experiences that distinguished Japanese modernity from its Euro-American counterparts. Many of these attempts to understand the specificity of Japanese modernity operated from an ahistorical conception of social relations in the countryside that neglected the vast transformations these sites underwent through processes of enclosure and dispossession that the state enacted after 1868. Yaeyama, an island chain under the jurisdiction of Okinawa prefecture, was celebrated by ethnologists and folklorists during this time as a treasure trove of Japanese culture. This essay traces the relationship between the valorization of Yaeyama arts in the interwar period and the organization of a small group of poets, teachers, and activists who formulated radical visions that challenged these ossified representations of the region and its people.

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