The 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan came with a price — the continued use by the United States of sprawling military bases and other facilities in the prefecture to protect Japan and maintain peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

The patience of Okinawa's residents who have had to live with the specter of aircraft accidents and aircraft noise pollution is wearing thin amid the overwhelming presence of the U.S. military, which effectively occupies 18 percent of the main island. Antimilitary sentiment has remained particularly strong in the prefecture, the site of one of the bloodiest World War II battles in the Pacific and a U.S. occupation that lasted until 1972.

But 40 years on, security experts say Japan, including Okinawa, is strategically more important than ever to the U.S., especially amid China's increasing military might and the growing budgetary constraints on Washington.