“The Beach Is Closed, but Not to Us”: Pandemic Experience and Social Boundaries in Rural Okinawa
Keywords:COVID-19 pandemic, ethnography, social behaviour, kinship, Okinawa
This article offers an anthropological and ethnographic perspective on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected and shaped rural community social behaviour in Kayo village during Japan’s first official state of emergency, April 7th to May 6th, 2020. It draws from observations and informal conversations with villagers during this period. First, it discusses the researcher’s experience of living in a rural village in northern Okinawa during the state of emergency and addresses the position of the ethnographer during the pandemic. It explores the Japanese concept of uchi/soto (inside/outside), to discuss the insider/outsider dynamics that characteriseeveryday social life in Okinawa. Secondly, it engages with Marshall Sahlins's (2013) idea of kinship as 'social mutuality' to consider how the pandemic invites us to rethink interpersonal relationships, space negotiation, and social boundaries, and how the latter are reconstructed and negotiated according to the new situation (emergency state). The example of Okinawa rural communities shows how rural populations can reconceptualise their environment and practices during the pandemic. It allows us to understand how notions of space, accessibility and kinship are reshaped into subtle boundaries between locals and outsiders in order toregulate access.
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