Why Okinawa remains frustrated 50 years later

Tokyo (AP) —Sunday Okinawa will celebrate its 50th anniversary after returning to Japan on May 15, 1972. Okinawa has completed 27 years of US rule after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II was fought on South Japan Island.

In Okinawa, where the presence of the US military is still high, the days are more painful than joy, and as China’s tensions increase, Japanese troops are being deployed more and more.

The Associated Press is paying attention to the frustration that remains in Okinawa 50 years after it returned to Japan.


What happened at the end of World War II?

The US military landed on the main island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, aiming for the mainland of Japan.

The fighting continued until late June, killing about 200,000 people, nearly half of whom were Okinawans, including students ordered by the Japanese army and victims of mass suicide.

Historians say Okinawa was sacrificed by the Japanese Imperial Army to protect the mainland. Until 1972, the island group was under US occupation for 20 years more than the rest of Japan.


Why was Okinawa occupied?

Recognizing Okinawa’s strategic importance to Pacific security, the US military planned to maintain its presence to thwart communism in Russia and the region.

The 1946 decision by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, separated Okinawa and several other southwestern remote islands from the rest of Japan, after the San Francisco Treaty came into force on April 28, 1952. Paved the way for US rule. Ends the seven-year US occupation in other parts of Japan.

According to the Okinawa Prefectural Archives, Hidenari Terasaki, an empire adviser, told MacArthur of the “opinion” of Emperor Showa that the occupation of Okinawa by the US military should continue to address concerns about Russia.

Okinawa’s economic, educational, and social development lags behind as Japan enjoys the post-war economic surge supported by the decline in defense spending due to the presence of US troops in Okinawa.


How does Okinawa remember US rules?

During US rule, Okinawans used dollars and, according to American traffic laws, required a passport to travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan.

The base-dependent economy has hindered the growth of local industries. The Okinawan local government had little decision-making power, and authorities had no access to criminal investigations of US military personnel.

Demand for return to Japan increased throughout Okinawa in the late 1950s over the confiscation of local land for US bases.

Many Okinawans have called for tax reform, wage increases and a better social welfare system to close the gap between Okinawa and the rest of Japan.

However, experts say the delay in returning, the large presence of the US military, and mismanagement of development funds from the central government are hindering the island’s economic development.


What are the main problems in Okinawa today?

Many people in Okinawa wanted Okinawa’s return to Japan to improve the economic and human rights situation. A year before his return, Chobyō Yara, the leader of Okinawa at the time, submitted a petition to the central government of Japan to release the island from a military base.

But today, under a bilateral security agreement, the majority of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan and 70% of military installations are in Okinawa, which occupies only 0.6% of Japan’s land. The burden increased from less than 60% in 1972 as the unwelcome US base was moved from the mainland.

Okinawa has the lowest average household income and the highest unemployment rate among the 47 prefectures of Japan. Governor Tamaki Denny of Okinawa said that returning the land occupied by the US military to the prefecture for other purposes would generate three times the income from the base on the main island of Okinawa.

Okinawa is facing noise, pollution, aircraft accidents and US military-related crimes because of its US military base, Tamaki said. According to a recent NHK TV survey, 82% of Okinawa respondents expressed their fear of being victims of base-related crimes and accidents.

Okinawa and Tokyo’s greatest commitment should be to move Futenma Air Station, a nearby U.S. Marine Corps base in a crowded neighborhood, into Okinawa rather than moving it elsewhere as many Okinawans demand. Is the claim of the central government. Tokyo and Washington initially agreed in 1996 to close the station after a high school girl rape by three US troops led to a large anti-base movement in 1995.

Despite 72% opposition in Okinawa’s 2019 referendum, Tokyo was forced to build a new runway in Henoko Bay off the east coast of Okinawa. Opponents cite environmental destruction, structural problems and soaring costs. However, the outlook for completion remains uncertain.

In early May, Mr. Tamaki adopted a new petition to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to drastically reduce the US military in Okinawa, immediately close the Futenma base, and abolish the construction of the Henoko base.

In addition to Okinawa’s concerns, there is the rapid development of Japan’s missile defense and amphibious capabilities on the remote islands of Okinawa, including Ishigaki, Miyako, and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.


How do you feel about Okinawa today?

The resentment over the presence of the US military is deep-rooted. Many Okinawans believe that their sacrifice enabled the post-WWII Japan-US security alliance.

There was also an ancient tension between Okinawa and mainland Japan, and in 1879 the islands were annexed. It used to be the independent kingdom of Ryukyu.

Professor Hiromori Maedomari of Okinawa International University claims that there are complaints of discrimination and that Okinawans are forced to “play the role of consumables to protect mainland Japan.”

Some have begun calling for independence from Japan.

Jinshiro Motoyama, 31, the main organizer of the 2019 referendum, saw many of Okinawa’s bases in the United States being part of everyday life, including the younger generation, as they saw their demands repeatedly ignored. People said they felt it was meaningless to speak.

There is concern that the risk of war may increase as ruling party lawmakers demand further military buildup amid heightened tensions around nearby Taiwan.

“I think the plan is based on the assumption that the people of Okinawa could be victims of the conflict,” Motoyama said.