Forty-one years have passed since Okinawa reverted from U.S. administration to Japan on May 15, 1972. But Okinawans are far from happy. The heavy presence of U.S. military bases — occupying nearly 20 percent of Okinawa Island’s land area — continues. In addition, Okinawans are more affected by tensions of arising from the Japan-China territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which are part of their prefecture.
Okinawans may feel that Japanese living on the mainland do not understand their frustration and stress. To prevent a schism from growing between Okinawans and the rest of Japan, mainland Japanese should be more keenly aware of Okinawa’s history — especially the hardships brought by World War II — and current base-related issues.
The Battle of Okinawa lasted from the end of March to late June 1945, killing some 200,000 people — nearly half civilians. About a quarter of Okinawa’s 500,000 residents died as a result of the battle.
In 1996, Japan and the United States agreed on the reversion of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma, located in the midst of Ginowan City in the central part of Okinawa Island, and is often called the most dangerous airport in the world due to its urban location. Japan and the U.S. are now pushing a plan to move the Futenma functions to the less populated Henoko area in Nago City in the northern part of the island. Most Okinawans, however, want the functions moved out of their prefecture.
On March 22, the Defense Ministry submitted to the Okinawa prefectural government an application for land reclamation off the Henoko coast area, a necessary procedure to build a Futenma replacement facility. This move only strengthened an impression among Okinawans that the government in Tokyo is sacrificing their interests to maintain smooth relations with the U.S.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exacerbated Okinawan people’s pain by holding a ceremony on April 28 to commemorate April 28, 1952 — the day that the San Francisco Peace treaty took effect, ending the U.S. Occupation. But on that day, the Okinawa, Amami and Ogasawara islands were administratively separated from Japan and placed under U.S. control, marking the start of a process in which U.S. bases were consolidated in Okinawa. On April 29, Japan and the U.S. agreed to add 12 more MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotar aircraft to the Futenma base this summer despite Okinawan opposition.
On May 13, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, said that he had recommended to a U.S. Marine Corps commander at Futenma that marines make greater use of the prefecture’s adult entertainment shops (fuzoku). This thoughtless, nonsensical idea is an insult to Okinawan dignity.
If the current situation continues, the schism between Okinawa and the central government will deepen. To prevent this, Mr. Abe must rethink the Henoko plan as well as strive to reduce the burden posed by the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.