Foreign Minister Taro Kono will go to Okinawa this weekend to propose that Japanese students in Okinawa be allotted places at American schools on U.S. military bases to improve their English skills and better prepare them for university, government sources said.
Japanese children are permitted to study at the U.S.-administered schools if there is vacancy, but few have been accepted.
Tokyo thinks the step could improve the relatively high unemployment rate among Okinawa’s youths and cool the long-running tensions between the central and prefectural governments over the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, an unpopular base, the sources said.
Kono will unveil the education proposal during a two-day trip to Okinawa starting Friday. He will request cooperation from Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga in person and separately with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of U.S. military forces in Okinawa.
The idea to integrate local students into the U.S. education system in Okinawa could see a backlash from islanders concerned that it could leave the bases further entrenched in the prefecture, making it even more difficult to remove them.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, and crimes linked to service members and base personnel, in addition to accidents involving military aircraft, are a constant source of resentment for many residents.
The jobless rate in Okinawa, especially among the young, is relatively high compared with other prefectures. The unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 hit 8 percent in fiscal 2016, above the prefecture’s average of 4.2 percent.
According to the U.S. State Department, there are two high schools on premises controlled by the U.S. military in Okinawa. Most of the other facilities have elementary and junior high schools for children of soldiers and other military personnel.