Problems with racial representation in Hollywood and Japan

Actor Yuki Matsuzaki wrote an insightful thread about the problems with Asian / Japanese / mixed race representation in both Hollywood and Japan:

Why I hated Cobra Kai’s Okinawa (mis)representation

Cobra Kai Okinawa misrepresentation

I really hated the Okinawan (mis)representation in Cobra Kai. Here’s why:

First, they filmed the “Okinawa” portion in Atlanta – about the most non-Okinawan place they could possibly find. They were obviously trying to parody the American Village shopping center in Chatan Town, Okinawa.

Out of all the places they could have possibly chosen to represent Okinawa, they chose the most American place of all – literally the American Village. So now millions of Americans and others watching around the world think that THIS is Okinawa…….and Okinawans like me have to listen to tons of dumb Americans (who contact me unsolicited) say things like “Isn’t Okinawa just completely Americanized now???” No, Jim, you just need to stop relying on American tv shows to be your form of education.

The American Village was deliberately created with an “American theme” in order to please U.S. soldiers, as well as to provide a diversion (or change of scenery) for locals. It is certainly not representative of average Okinawan society. It’s literally like an American theme park.

In fact, I heard that the American Village was modeled after a location in San Diego. Not sure if that’s true or not. To be clear – the American Village is NOT a real village, it’s a shopping center. But the terminology tends to confuse foreigners (including the Japanese).

This would be like filming at Disneyland Tokyo and saying “this is Japan!” It’s very misleading and not representative. But most viewers are too ignorant to know the difference, and too insensitive to care.

Now for my biggest complaint: the lady says that the village was struggling economically which is why they turned it into a mall. The reality is that Okinawa’s economic problems are a DIRECT result of the US military bases. The show conveniently omits this crucial fact.

Cobra Kai’s Okinawa misrepresentation is harmful to Uchinanchu (Okinawans)

Cobra Kai actually blames the economic problems on the villager’s crops dying, which is a straight up lie. Actually Okinawa’s agriculture is very successful in the areas that the U.S. / Japan militaries haven’t stolen to build military bases on (or poisoned the water). So Cobra Kai portrays the U.S. as the ‘hero’ who ‘rescued the poor Okinawans from economic hardship,’ even though it is the U.S. (and Japan) who deliberately forces poverty onto Okinawans so that they can suppress us from rising up and restoring our sovereignty.

This propaganda / misinformation is perpetuated by U.S. media, promoting U.S. militarism & imperialism, while harming Uchinanchu (Indigenous Okinawans). They have erased the voices of Okinawans & spoken for and over us about Okinawan issues. This is unacceptable.

Cobra Kai claims that the shopping center brought “modern homes.” Karate Kid II was set in 1986. That wasn’t that long ago. “Modern homes” definitely were the norm all across Okinawa back then. Okinawans were NOT living in ‘grass huts’ in 1986. This is white savior mentality.

Cobra Kai’s Okinawa misrepresentation speaks for and over the voices of Uchinanchu (Indigenous Okinawans), where ~90% of the population opposes the illegal U.S. and Japan military presence

Btw I don’t know who this actress is, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t Okinawan.

The lady claims that the villagers “aren’t upset about what happened to their homes” because “they’re happy they have jobs.” This is extremely condescending & it erases the truth that YES people are struggling to make a living but that doesn’t mean people aren’t upset about it.

The lady says “Yes, there are alot of changes… we used to have a Subway, now we have a Jersey Mike’s!” Again, super condescending, and it erases the reality of what Okinawans have to struggle with on a daily basis. Yankee Go Home!

Cobra Kai’s Okinawa misrepresentation erases Uchinanchu (Indigenous Okinawan) struggles against the illegal U.S. and Japan military occupation

Side note – although I haven’t been going out much due to the pandemic, I’m pretty sure there’s no Jersey Mike’s in Okinawa. I checked their website, and they don’t list any. If you’re going to say a store name, at least say something we actually have in Okinawa.

Btw while American Village does take up a large portion of Chatan, there are still other parts of town where actual locals still live and carry on the traditions while struggling against the US military. However, they pretty much are ignored by the entire world outside of Okinawa.

I’m pretty sure the song they were playing was Japanese – NOT Okinawan. While Japanese songs are occasionally played / danced to in Okinawa, this is the ONE song that the show chose to represent Okinawa, and they chose a Japanese song. Disgusting misrepresentation.

Cobra Kai’s Okinawa misrepresentation “Tinsagu nu Hana”

The actress, Tamlyn Tomita, said that she contacted the LA Okinawa Kenjinkai to learn the choreography to “Tinsagu nu Hana.” However, the song that was played in the show was definitely not Tinsagu nu Hana.

Furthermore, Tinsagu nu Hana, while very popular, is not normally a song that is danced to. In fact I can’t recall a single time I’ve ever seen any dances to this song in Okinawa (and I’m part of a Luchu dance group).
Maybe it’s an Okinawan American dance 🤷🏻‍♀️ idk.

I don’t know what garden they’re in (probably in Atlanta), but I’m pretty sure it’s a Japanese garden – NOT Okinawan. And yes, there are some major differences between the two.

Cobra Kai’s Okinawa misrepresentation

I guess Tomita deserves some credit for the attempts she made to include Okinawan culture & language this time around, however, it doesn’t change the fact that she sold herself out in Karate Kid II, which of course is harmful for Okinawans.

I give credit where credit is due. Tomita speaks far more Uchinaguchi (Okinawan) than anyone in the original films did – including Mr. Miyagi. Tomita did a good job with this.

Cobra Kai Tamlyn Tomita Uchinaguchi

To summarize, the ‘representation’ of Okinawa in Cobra Kai is an erasure of Okinawan struggles against the illegal U.S. & Japanese military occupation of Luchu. It promotes U.S. imperialism & militarism while harming Uchinanchu (Indigenous Okinawans) & erasing our voices.

Further reading:

Link to original tweet:




在处理国际关系时可能会出现文化和语言的碰撞,使相互交流和理解变得困难。使用“桥梁语言”可以帮助改善跨文化交流,而今天英语可以说是最常用的, 全世界有超过13.4亿的人说英语。所以有些人相信,要在跨国商务或文化的沟通中“只要会说英文,不需要学习其他语言”。但是,这种说法存在很多问题,我认为理解其他语言也很重要。

多种语言进行交流的能力对于跨文化和国际关系很重要。仅仅依靠英语是不够的,因为它限制了你的跨文化理解。夏威夷原住民Noenoe Silva等学者已经证明了语言和文化之间的联系。如果不了解母语,就不可能真正了解一种文化。因此,理解多种语言对于跨文化理解和国际关系非常重要。这有助于顺利改善国际关系,化解矛盾和误解。


历史上,包括琉球在内的许多国家都使用汉语作为桥梁语言。然而,与英语不同,世界各地的人们可以自愿选择参与使用汉语。甚至西方学者,如Anthony Reid, 也表示汉语作为桥梁语言的历史传播是由于中国贸易和跨文化交流的普及,而不是通过军事力量,因此中国语言和文化与其它语言和文化可以和平共存。与英语的传播相比,这是一个重要的区别。未来我认为中文会再次成为重要的桥梁语言,甚至可能超过英文。

通过理解多种语言,我们可以与世界各地的人们进行更有效地沟通和理解。进入21世纪,汉语可以再次获得其作为重要国际桥梁语言的历史地位, 中文和许多其他语言可以和平共处。这将增加贸易、发展和跨文化交流,是每个人的双赢局面。