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: https://twitter.com/robkajiwara/status/1495306785787285506

“Building a Just World Order” Interview with Alfred de Zayas

Interview with Dr. Alfred de Zayas, professor of the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law and high-ranking United Nations official. He was the original UN Independent Expert for a Democratic and Equitable International Order. He is also a former senior lawyer with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Secretary of the Human Rights Committee, and the Chief of Petitions. Zayas has authored a number of books in several languages. His latest book is “Building a Just World Order” published by Clarity Press. In it he discusses what is being referred to as the Zayas Principles of International Order, and he mentions Luchu’s (Okinawa’s) right to self-determination multiple times. 





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