By Ikue Kina, ASLE-Japan Liaison, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa
The International Symposium on Literature and Environment in East Asia (ISLE-EA), held last year on November 21-23 in Okinawa, was a great success, with more than 80 participants from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, the U.S., and Australia. As a local conference organizer, I still recall the warm, subtropical weather in Okinawa in November and my pleasant excitement of greeting participants I had only met online and finally seeing them in person. When they arrived at Naha Airport, I escorted them on a 70-minute bus ride to Meio University, the conference venue, in Nago City.
The two-day schedule for the conference, entitled “Unsettling Boundaries: Nature, Technology, Art,” which opened following a pre-event film showing, was absolutely packed, with three plenary lectures and individual/panel presentations going on in four simultaneous sessions. The three lectures—by Professor Katsunori Yamazato, who is a former president of ASLE-Japan, a Gary Snyder scholar, and now president of Meio University; Professor Keijiro Suga, ASLE-Japan’s current president and an award-winning writer/poet; and Professor Ursula K. Heise, former ASLE-US president and celebrated environmental critic from UCLA—were all inspiring and fascinated environmental scholars by showing both the path along which we have come and the direction in which we are heading. (Some of the contents of ISLE-EA can be viewed at www.isle-ea.asia until the site is closed.)
Our choice of Okinawa to be the location for the 2014 ISLE-EA was based on reasons both geographical and political. Known as a group of subtropical “resort” islands located in the southernmost part of Japan and only 630 kilometers away from Taiwan, Okinawa has easy access from East and Southeast Asian countries and, therefore, can embody a geographical “boundary” that can act as a threshold rather than a dividing line between Japan and the rest of Asia. We also hoped that the participants would witness that Okinawa also manifests the aspect of “unsettling boundaries” by viewing the local struggles against the construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko, a community located a few steps away from the venue of the conference. Fifty participants joined a field trip to Henoko, the very site of resistance calling for environmental justice, and witnessed local protests against both the Japanese and U.S. governments in an attempt to stop the destruction of the rich biodiversity of an ocean area famous as a cradle of numerous kinds of wildlife, such as the dugong.
The 2014 ISLE-EA ensured the continuous commitment of the ASLE network in East Asia in identifying and exploring East Asian perspectives and practices in order to tackle broader, more global environmental issues. Through ISLE-EA, we hope to have more opportunity to learn about “connections” so that we can truly understand there is no boundary between the local and the global.