Unfortunately, when international attention focuses on Okinawa, it usually is in the wake of a tragedy associated with the U.S. military presence, be it a crime or an accident. Last month’s suspected murder of an Okinawan woman by an American serviceman and his suicide led to some stories in Washington and Sydney stereotypically headlined “Okinawans Eager to Expel U.S. Troops.” However, recent research that an Okinawa-based colleague, Daniel Chinen, and I conducted for the East-West Center into the attitudes of 20 to 45-year-old Okinawans paints a far more complex picture.

Our study was supported by the private U.S.-Japan Foundation and involved dozens of interviews and an anonymous online survey of about 200 “millennial plus” Okinawans. It showed a broad consensus around the beliefs that Okinawa hosts more than its fair share of foreign military bases and that Tokyo does not give due regard to Okinawan views. There was wide support also for increased access to the U.S. bases, enhanced relations between U.S. service personnel and local communities, and more dialogue on Okinawa base-related issues. There were also far more positive than negative perceptions of U.S. military service personnel, who were most commonly described as “friendly” and “helpful.”

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