Ôta Chôfu was a prominent Ryukyuan journalist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, famous for his founding of the Ryûkyû Shimpô, the first newspaper in Okinawa, and for his involvement in the Kôdô-kai Movement, advocating the maintenance of hereditary rule of Okinawa under the heirs to the royal family of Ryûkyû.
Life and career
Ôta was born in Shuri, and in 1882 became one of the first Okinawan students in the Meiji period to be awarded a scholarship to study in Tokyo. After studying at Gakushûin and Keiô Universities, he returned to Okinawa in 1893, and helped found the Ryûkyû Shimpô.
Following the abolition of the Ryûkyû Kingdom and annexation of the islands by Japan as Okinawa Prefecture, politics and economics in Okinawa quickly came to be dominated by Japanese from the other prefectures. Many government bureaucrats, including Chôfu's father, engaged in peaceful protest, simply ceasing to work and refusing to aid the new officials in taking over responsibilities and activities. Ôta Chôfu also watched as native Okinawan merchants began to be pushed out by merchants from other cities who began to exert a monopolistic influence over the marketplace. He notes, in his writings, how a considerable amount of funding flowed into Hokkaidô, also recently formally annexed by Imperial Japan, and that many public works projects, the building of infrastructure, etc. were undertaken there, while Okinawa received little funding or infrastructure construction from the central government at this time. While Hokkaidô had considerable natural resources and the Ainu living there posed little political opposition, Okinawa had little natural resources, and "a large population divided and uncertain in its political and cultural loyalties".
During the Sino-Japanese War, Ôta was a member of the pro-Japanese Kaika-tô ("Enlightenment Party"), and was in his journalism, very critical of the pro-Chinese Ganko-tô ("Stubborn Party") within Okinawa. Ôta also helped found the Kōdô-kai, a group devoted to protesting for continued native Okinawan, not Japanese, leadership of Okinawa; the group in particular sought to see the former king of Ryûkyû, Shô Tai, instated as governor of the prefecture, and to see the position pass down through his lineage, as the throne would have. As editor-in-chief of the Ryûkyû Shimpô, Ôta also led the paper in opposing the Freedom and People's Rights Movement (Jiyû minken undô) led in Okinawa by, among others, his former fellow scholarship student, Jahana Noboru.
In his journalism, Ôta reported and commented on a wide variety of subjects, including the state of education in Okinawa and economic problems. He was particularly critical of the maintenance or exhibition of distinctly Okinawan customs which fed mainland Japanese stereotypes of Okinawans as uneducated or culturally backwards, writing that Okinawan tattoos, among other practices, were something to be ashamed of. Beginning around 1903, Ôta promoted the establishment of agencies in Osaka and elsewhere, including a Sugar Dealers' Association, aimed at helping Okinawans enter the otherwise Japanese-dominated markets.
He would later go on to serve as Okinawan representative in the prefectural assembly, and as mayor of Shuri (beginning in 1931), but remained a journalist throughout his life. After leaving the Ryûkyû Shimpô for a time, he was invited back in 1930 to serve as company president. He also served as vice president of the Okinawa Overseas Association (Okinawa kaigai kyôkai) for a time, traveling to Hawaii in that capacity in 1925, and wrote three books, including "Fifty Years of Administration in Okinawa Prefecture" (沖縄県政五十年, Okinawa-ken sei gojûnen).
- "Ōta Chōfu". Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia"). Ryukyu Shimpo Publishing. 1 March 2003. Accessed 11 September 2009.
- "Ōta Chōfu." Okinawa rekishi jinmei jiten (沖縄歴史人名事典, "Encyclopedia of People in Okinawan History"). Naha: Okinawa Bunka-sha, 2002. p15.
- The other four students who received the same scholarship opportunity at this time all became prominent leaders and important Okinawan historical figures. These four men were Jahana Noboru, Takamine Chôkyô, Nakijin Chôshin and Kishimoto Gashô.
- Kerr, George. Okinawa: The History of an Island People (revised ed.). Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2000. p398.
- Kerr. p402.
- Shinzato, Keiji, et al. Okinawa-ken no rekishi (沖縄県の歴史, "History of Okinawa Prefecture"). Tokyo: Yamakawa Publishing, 1996. p192.
- Kerr. p417.
- He is also quoted as writing: "If we had much of anything in Okinawa that was worthy of national pride, then it would have the power of changing other people when we openly engaged our 'national customs'; unfortunately, that is not the case. So we must be careful not to make a display of our most striking and unique customs." Ben Kobashigawa, “Okinawan Issei Identity: Pride and Shame among the Early Immigrants,” in Ronald Nakasone (ed.), Reflections on the Okinawan Experience, Dharma Cloud Publishing (1996), 36.
- Kerr. p430.
- Mitsugu Sakihara, "Okinawans in Hawaii: An Overview of the Past 80 Years," in Uchinanchu, University of Hawaii (1981), 109.