• SHARE

NAHA, Okinawa — Japanese police, whose only new equipment for the event are 23,200 pairs of sunglasses, have effectively caused anti-U.S. bases demonstrations at the Okinawa G8 Summit to flop badly.

On second thought, the police should not get all the credit, or blame.

“Sure, having American bases occupy one-fifth of the prefecture’s land nearly 50 years after the war is an affront to Japanese sovereignty,” says Tetsuo “Babe” Sasaki, who makes a living selling used cars on the fringe of downtown Naha. “The 26,000 American military men and their dependents are usually good neighbors but, hey, this is supposed to be Japan, not outside the gate at Camp Pendleton in California.”

Sasaki, who “did a couple of years” at Sophia University in Tokyo, asks rhetorically, “But where are the Japanese politicians to lead us to something better? In the Philippines, the Senate voted to take back Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Air Base and the U.S. gave them up.”

Junko Terada, a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and cochair with Sasaki of the Okinawa Political Club, says, “The constituency for change here is weak.

“It takes a rape to get anybody out in the street protesting,” she says.

The U.S. servicemen on Okinawa are generally better behaved than their peers anywhere in the world, statistics show.

The marines and air force have worked hard to win back the public’s trust after the rape of a local school girl by three servicemen in September 1995. A curfew in the area of the crime went into effect but was lifted last year.

It was reimposed last week after a 19-year-old marine was arrested on charges of indecency and unlawful entry after he allegedly entered a house and fondled a 14-year-old girl.

The incident, coming just before the G8 summit, was reported to have “shocked and outraged Japan and renewed calls for the U.S. military to leave Okinawa.”

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono called in U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley and scolded him for the incident as Kono’s face is at stake if anything untoward happens during the July 21-23 summit, bringing together leaders of Japan, United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Russia.

Some 7,000 “outraged” citizens took to the streets and another protest was set for about 10,000.

Okinawa’s geography, 100 patrol vessels, 20 aircraft and helicopters and the wearers of those 23,200 sunglasses — discomfort from the sun’s intense ultraviolet rays, was claimed by police — have kept the numbers of foreign demonstrators at bay. Apathy on the part of local citizens is a factor.

The students who clogged the grounds of the Diet building in 1960 to protest with passion the signing of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty have raised families by now. Their children know about the issues of bases and sovereignty only from history books.

Michiko Kamba, 22-year-old daughter of Chuo University Professor Toshio Kamba died as a result of injuries battling with police after crashing through a Diet Building gate that year.

Many of today’s young Japanese women, with no leadership from politicians or the media, seem more concerned with yellow hair, white lipstick, platform shoes, and other Shibuya fast-lane accouterments.

My first Japan story, as a reporter still in his 20s working for the Christian Science Monitor, was to wade into the crowds as rightist students clashed with Zengakuren leftists and Rengo unionists surging against police.

More than 300,000 demonstrators surrounded the Diet Building that summer of 1960, pushing the nationwide total to above 800,000.

I didn’t understand the subtleties of the issues at the time but I wrote what I saw and it made the front page in Boston.

How different were those demonstrations and other circumstances that resulted in the cancellation of the visit to Japan of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.

This time, President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. President to visit Okinawa since its reversion to Japan. The only diplomatic cancellation this time around was by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who gave priority to Middle East negotiations. By the way, those Japanese press reports that Miyazaki city fathers scrapped a plaque honoring her out of pique are pure hogwash.

Can Okinawa become something bigger and more prosperous if and when the bases are gone or in some kind of cooperative relationship between U.S. and Japanese military forces? It is a complicated scenario.

Taizo Watanabe dared to think about it. The former Foreign Ministry spokesman who then served as ambassador to Indonesia and Egypt, said a few years ago: “Make Okinawa into an information island, with low land prices for new technological ventures.”

A combination of Japan’s Bit Valley and California’s Silicon Valley might be promoted there. But alas, Okinawa’s infrastructure, from water to universities, is insufficient.

Just as the “MASH” series trivialized U.S.-Korean relations, Okinawa received the Hollywood treatment in a 1956 motion picture “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” scripted from John Patrick’s successful Broadway play, about the rehabilitation of an Okinawan village by the U.S. Army.

Glenn Ford saves the day with a keen comic touch but Marlon Brando plays an Okinawan interpreter in one of Hollywood’s most flagrant miscastings.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW