National

'Nothing has changed': Ex-Ryukyu official reflects on effort to reduce Okinawa's U.S. base burden

JIJI

A former official of the now-defunct Ryukyu government is disappointed that U.S. bases remain concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture despite a proposal made before its 1972 reversion to Japanese control.

The prefecture on Wednesday marked the 47th anniversary of its return to Japanese administration from U.S. rule, which took place nearly three decades after Japan’s defeat in World War II.

“Nothing has changed,” said Kamenosuke Taira, 82, who was involved in making a proposal calling for the reduction of U.S. bases while he was a Ryukyu government official.

While the rest of Japan recovered its sovereignty in 1952 upon the effectuation of the San Francisco peace treaty with victorious powers, Okinawa was under U.S. control until the reversion.

Over the subsequent two decades, campaigns demanding Okinawa’s return to Japan intensified as crime and accidents involving U.S. service members occurred one after another.

Ahead of Okinawa’s return to Japan on May 15, 1972, as agreed on at a 1969 meeting between Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and U.S. President Richard Nixon, the Ryukyu government made the proposal over the bilateral Okinawa reversion agreement.

“We strongly hope Okinawa will be returned as peaceful islands without a military base,” the proposal said, calling for an unconditional and full return to Japan.

Nevertheless, the Sato-Nixon agreement said that U.S. bases in Okinawa would remain. “We thought there would be no hope for Okinawa’s future if the reversion was made as agreed,” Taira said.

On Nov. 17, 1971, Chobyo Yara, chief executive of the Ryukyu government, went to Tokyo to submit the proposal to the Diet. But the reversion accord was railroaded through a special committee of the House of Representatives that day.

Voices of protest rang around the venue for a ceremony marking the reversion, held six months later in Naha, the prefectural capital.

Looking back at the ceremony he attended, Taira said: “Tears welled up as I saw a crowd of protesters in rain gear. I recall it each time I go by the venue.”

During the two decades leading up to the reversion, U.S. Marines were transferred to Okinawa from such areas as Gifu and Yamanashi prefectures. Okinawa continues to host a majority of the U.S. bases in Japan.

“We wanted to live under a Constitution that guarantees human rights,” Taira said.