Why Frustration Remains in Okinawa 50 Years After US Occupation – NBC Chicago

Okinawa marks Sunday the 50th anniversary of his return to Japan on May 15, 1972, which ended 27 years of American rule after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II was fought on the southern island of Okinawa. Japan.

The day is being marked with more bitterness than joy in Okinawa, which is still burdened by a heavy US military presence and now sees Japanese troops increasingly deployed amid rising tensions with China.

The Associated Press takes a look at the frustration that still lingers in Okinawa, 50 years after their return to Japan.


American troops, attempting to conquer mainland Japan, landed on the main island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.

The battle lasted until the end of June and killed an estimated 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawan residents, including students and victims of mass suicides ordered by the Japanese military.

Okinawa was sacrificed by Japan’s imperial army to defend the mainland, historians say. The island group remained under US occupation for 20 years longer than most of Japan, until 1972.


The US military recognized Okinawa’s strategic importance to the security of the Pacific and planned to maintain its troop presence to deter Russia and communism in the region.

A 1946 decision by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur, cut off Okinawa and several other remote southwestern islands from the rest of Japan, paving the way for US rule beyond April 28, 1952. , when the Treaty of San Francisco came into force. , ending the seven-year US occupation of the rest of Japan.

According to Okinawa Prefectural Archives, Imperial adviser Hidenari Terasaki told MacArthur of Emperor Hirohito’s “opinion” that the US military occupation of Okinawa should continue to address concerns about Russia.

Economic, educational, and social development in Okinawa lagged as Japan enjoyed a post-war economic boom that was aided by lower defense spending due to the US military presence in Okinawa.

Koji Sasahara/AP Photo

File photo: Relatives of the victims of the Battle of Okinawa in the last days of World War II touch the Peace Cornerstone memorial in Itoman city on Okinawa island in southern Japan , on June 23, 2005. Okinawa on Sunday May 15, 2022 , marks the 50th anniversary of his return to Japan on May 15, 1972, which ended 27 years of American rule after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II on the southern island of Japan.


During US rule, Okinawans used the dollar and followed US traffic laws, and any travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan required a passport.

The dependent economy of the base hampered the growth of local industry. The local government of Okinawa had little decision-making power and the authorities had no access to the criminal investigation of US military personnel.

Demands for reversion to Japan increased in the late 1950s in Okinawa over the confiscation of local land for US bases.

Many Okinawans demanded tax reform, wage increases, and better social welfare systems to correct the disparities between Okinawa and the rest of Japan.

But the delayed rollback, heavy US military presence and poorly managed development funds from the central government have hampered the island’s economic development, experts say.


Many in Okinawa hoped that the island’s return to Japan would improve the economy and the human rights situation. A year before the reversal, then-Okinawa leader Chobyo Yara filed a petition asking Japan’s central government to free the island of military bases.

Today, however, most of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and 70% of military installations are in Okinawa, which represents only 0.6% of Japanese territory. The load has increased from less than 60% in 1972 because unwanted US bases moved from the mainland.

Okinawa’s median household income is the lowest and its unemployment is the highest of Japan’s 47 prefectures. If land seized by the US military is returned to the prefecture for another use, it would bring in three times more revenue for Okinawa than the island now gets from bases, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said.

Because of the US bases, Okinawa faces noise, pollution, plane crashes and crime related to US troops, Tamaki said. A recent NHK television poll showed that 82% of respondents in Okinawa expressed fear of being victims of base-related accidents or crimes.

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that a US Navy base in a crowded neighborhood, Futenma Air Station, be moved within Okinawa rather than elsewhere as many Okinawans are demanding. . Tokyo and Washington initially agreed in 1996 to close the station after the 1995 rape of a girl by three US servicemen led to a mass movement against the base.

Despite 72% opposition in the 2019 Okinawa referendum, Tokyo has forced the construction of a new runway in Henoko Bay, off the east coast of Okinawa. Opponents have cited environmental destruction, structural problems and skyrocketing costs. But the prospects for completion remain uncertain.

Tamaki adopted a new petition in early May demanding Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government significantly reduce the US military in Okinawa, immediately close the Futenma base, and scrap the construction of the Henoko base.

Adding to Okinawa’s fears is the rapid deployment of Japanese amphibious and missile defense capabilities on Okinawa’s outer islands, including Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.


Resentment over the heavy US troop presence runs deep. Many Okinawans believe his sacrifice made the post-World War II Japan-US security alliance possible.

There are also longstanding tensions between Okinawa and mainland Japan, which annexed the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of Ryukus, in 1879.

There are complaints of discrimination and claims that Okinawans are forced to play an “expendable role in protecting mainland Japan,” said Hiromori Maedomari, a professor of politics at Okinawa International University.

Some people have started calling for independence from Japan.

After repeatedly seeing their requests ignored, many Okinawans, including younger generations for whom US bases are part of their daily lives, feel there is no use talking, said Jinshiro Motoyama, 31, a key organizer of the Okinawan referendum. 2019.

There are concerns that calls by ruling lawmakers for a further military buildup amid rising tensions around neighboring Taiwan could increase the risk of war.

“I am afraid that plans are being made on the premise that the people of Okinawa may be the victims of a conflict,” Motoyama said.

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