The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Okinawa and the delicate relationship with mainland Japan and America

Okinawa and the delicate relationship with mainland Japan and America

Joachim de Villiers and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In history the Okinawan people were independent and traded openly throughout the region and they preserved their own distinctive culture, language, religion, and other aspects of culture. However, like many smaller ethnic groups the history of Okinawa is one of being “swallowed up” and aspects of Japanization taking place. The end product is that native speakers of Okinawan continue to decrease and powerful political elites in Tokyo and Washington desire to maintain powerful military bases in Okinawa.

Of course, this is an over simplification because major investment from Japan also took place and the standard of living increased for all nationals irrespective of ethnicity since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. However, negative policies of the past, which applies to dictates over language and so forth, remains in the “psyche” of Okinawan people.

Therefore, despite Japan being democratic it is like the United Kingdom whereby the Welsh people believe that their language was dismissed and the same applies to their culture by the dominant English in history. Events may have moved on but if the United Kingdom suddenly put the vast majority of military forces from a different nation into mainly Wales, then the people of Wales would feel the same. Therefore, policies need to be handled with care and sensitivity when national issues and cultural issues are at stake and leaders in Tokyo need to bare this in mind.

Okinawa and Japan is united in modern history and this will never change and clearly the vast majority of Okinawans understand the need to have military bases on Okinawa. However, it is clear that the vast majority of American military bases are concentrated on Okinawa and not throughout mainland Japan. This policy seems unfair to many individuals and this policy by the government of Japan isn’t helping because the burden should be more equal.

Also, the Cold War era and recent power politics between major nations like America and China is increasing the burden on the people of Okinawa. Indeed, the government of Japan is also caught up by the real geopolitical game being played by America and China when it comes to maritime power. Therefore, any weakness in Tokyo is condemned by Washington because political leaders in America believe that they have been patient enough. This applies to the stalled relocation of a United States military base.

The views of America will obviously be very different because this nation could rightly claim that it is their sons and daughters who are on the frontline of defending Japan from any military aggression. If you look back in history with regards to militant Maoism during the Cultural Revolution, hostilities between Japan and North Korea, and an expansionist Soviet Union, then clearly America does have a point.

This perhaps is the real tragedy because in modern times the people of Okinawa and the central government in Tokyo, alongside the military of America, have got more in common and share similar values. Times have moved on apart from the military angle and even this is vague because many Okinawans understand the importance of American forces. Therefore, relations on the whole are positive but the percentage of American troops based on Okinawa compared with the rest of Japan is a major stumbling block.

It is worth mentioning that after the March 11 tsunami hit Japan the military of America did a magnificent job. This applies to search and rescue and “being a friend” during a very difficult time for Japan and this also applies to helping with reconstruction, when it was most needed. Also, Americans fully participate in the local economy of Okinawa and bring many jobs and clearly local relations have developed in many fields.

Therefore, when a senior defense official from Japan comments about “rape” this turned the clock back once more because it appears that political leaders in Tokyo are not taking the opinions of the Okinawans into consideration. The vast majority of Japanese nationals and Okinawans understand that America doesn’t have any ill will towards the government of Japan or Okinawa. However, the central government in Tokyo isn’t helping when so much emphasis is being put on Okinawa without any real dialogue being based on equality.

The recent comment by Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, was a disgrace and the Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima responded by stating that “My mouth would become tainted (if I made a comment).”

It is reported that Tanaka asked, “Would you say, ‘I will rape you,’ before you rape someone?” This comment was given about the contentious relocation of American military forces in Okinawa. Therefore, once more Tokyo, and not America, have increased passions on Okinawa which accounts for roughly 70% of all American forces based in Japan.

Ironically, it may be in the interest of President Obama to reach out to the Okinawan people directly because the central government in Tokyo isn’t doing a good job. However, this is most unlikely because this would infringe on the sovereignty of Japan. Therefore, the battle will continue and the armed forces of America and the people of Okinawa deserve proper policies being enacted by the government of Japan.

If the residents of Okinawa witnessed an equal burden with mainland Japan then this would help greatly. Or if major concessions were given to Okinawa with regards to economic free zones, greater cultural awareness, and so forth, then a solution may be found which benefits everyone.



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