Recently, I visited Okinawa for the third time, all trips being related to my support for Okinawa’s struggle against their being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Japan. Okinawa used to be a small, peaceful kingdom surviving on trade with parts of current China and Japan till the early 17th century when it was invaded by the Satsuma clan, the military/feudal ruler at that time of the southern part of Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan, and became a tributary state of Satsuma. Then, it was annexed by Japan a few years after the emperor was restored as the almighty ruler of the country in 1868. The Okinawans’ suffering really started around this time and continues even today as they are treated unfairly by the central government in Tokyo.
During the final months of WWII, Okinawa became fierce battle grounds where civilians were caught in fighting, though most cities in other parts of Japan were indeed carpet-bombed by US war planes. The Japanese military leaders made sure the hell-like fighting in Okinawa would continue for as long as possible in order to prevent the US forces from reaching the main Japanese islands. In other words, the Okinawans were used by their own government as human shield, so as many as 25% of civilians there were reported to have perished. When Japan surrendered unconditionally, the Okinawans who survived the war were put in camps for some time while the US forces confiscated their land to build bases and air fields throughout the island. So when they were released, they had little land to live on, and many had no choice but to work for US bases to survive.
In the meantime, Japan was allowed to be independent in 1952 at the signing of the treaty of San Francisco with a condition that Okinawa remain under the US. There were many US bases throughout Japan since 1945, but with exceptions of some air and naval bases in the main islands, the rest were gradually relocated to Okinawa.
The Okinawans suffered under the US military rule. They did not enjoy the kind of human rights enjoyed by the Japanese in the main islands. They were not protected by US law, either, even though they were under the US administration. For example, if US servicemen committed crime as serious as rape or even murder, they were usually not punished under the protection of the Japan-US territorial agreement. Thus, the Okinawans had to put up with injustice as they had no one to turn to.
The Okinawans’ patience reached the limit, resulting in their revolt against the US military rule, especially in the latter part of 1960s, which finally led to the return of their island to Japan in 1972. They had wished for their island to be free from US bases as most main-land Japanese enjoyed since 1952. To their great disappointment, however, the status of US bases remained unchanged. That was why Okinawa until a few years ago hosted 74% of all the US bases existing in Japan. Recently, a large sub-tropical forest in northern Okinawa was returned to Japan, reducing the portion of bases in Okinawa to about 70% today. This forest used to be a training ground for young Marines in guerrilla warfare before they were sent to Viet Nam in 1960s.
The island of Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of the total land area of Japan, yet they are forced to host 70% of US bases under the Japan-US security alliance. This is because the Japanese government still imposes heavy burden on the Okinawans for maintaining the security treaty with the US. One can imagine how much noise associated with so many US bases around that the Okinawans have to put up with and crimes involving young servicemen away from home who are outside the Japanese penal system.
One of the US airfields in Okinawa is in Futenma (see above, the photo from daisala.blogspot.com) for the Marines, and it is situated in a densely populated area. Naturally, when an accident occurs, the residents in the area have to pay a heavy price, and accidents happen too often. It is therefore said to be the most dangerous airfield in the world. That’s why the Okinawans have been demanding that the Futenma base be closed and the land be returned to its original owners. They want to see its replacement, if necessary, to be built elsewhere outside their island, but the Japanese government has been unable to find any other prefecture willing to host a new US base.
In Okinawa, there is a huge air base in Kadena for the US Air Force (see above), the largest US air field in Asia (from http://www.okinawatimes.co.jp). However, the US Air Force and the Marines don’t seem to wish to share the base. So as a replacement for Futenma, PM Abe keeps pushing for the construction of a new and larger US air field in Henoko, Okinawa, facing a pristine bay of Oura (see below, from Wikipedia), rich in coral reef and marine animals unique to the area.
PM Abe is destroying the precious and fragile environment by trying to landfill the bay with rocks and earth to be brought from other islands, even as far away as from Honshu. This would surely lead to environmental destruction of not only Oura bay but also other islands where rocks and earth are to be removed in huge quantity.PM Abe justifies his imposition of a new US base on Okinawa on the ground that other prefectures do not accept a new US base. But the Okinawans have been saying “no” to this proposal clearly and loudly for the last 20 years. Why doesn’t PM Abe or LDP, which has ruled Japan most of the time since WWII, listen to the desperate voices of the people of Okinawa and respect their wishes? It’s time and the duty of all Japanese to demand that equality and respect be accorded to all fellow citizens.