Insights from Yara Tomohiro (1)

Yara Tomohiro is a former Okinawa Times editorialist, freelance writer and journalist, expert on the US marines in Okinawa, and most importantly, owner of the lovely Southern Village hotel in Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa. From July 29 to August 12, I stayed at Southern Village in a reasonably priced, very comfortable tatami mat room. Mr. Yara (who speaks fluent English) and the staff there were all very kind. There is a cafeteria within the hotel complex serving lunch daily, with a variety of dishes, including daily specials, for only 650 yen each. Everything I had there was delicious, especially the vegetable curry. There is also a variety of ice cream available at any time of day or night for only 150 yen. What more could you ask for? I highly recommend Southern Village to visitors to Okinawa, especially if you are renting a car. Even if you don’t have a car, it is conveniently located close to the Kishaba highway bus stop, with express service to the airport, central Naha, Ryukyu University, and also north to Nago. This review of Southern Village represents my honest, unsolicited opinion. Now moving on to more serious matters…


Shortly after I arrived at Southern Village, Mr. Yara allowed me to interview him. Later, he treated me to a lecture, complete with slides, on the US base issues, the history and function of US marines in Okinawa, and the content of the so-called “rebalance” of US troops in the Asia-Pacific region, part of the Obama administration’s so-called “Pivot to Asia.”

Mr. Yara’s view is that the US base problem in Okinawa is not an issue of national security or international relations, but rather an issue of sociology; namely, structural discrimination by Japan toward Okinawa.

Mr. Yara explained to me, “I am not anti-America, I am not anti-China, I am not anti-military or anti-military base. If the US wants to have lots of military bases, that’s up to them. Just don’t put them all in Okinawa.” I asked if this was because of issues such as crime, and he responded, “There are just too many. There is the issue of crime, and the bases also cause great economic disadvantage. When you look at the pros and cons, the cons are overwhelming, economically and in other ways. The US marines employ altogether around 3,000 Japanese citizens to work on the bases. The [new resort mall in Kitanakagusuku] Aeon Mall employs around 3,000 people. Just think about it. When you compare military bases to a [solid] commercial, economic base, there’s no comparison.”

Author Hyakuta Naoki was harshly criticized for saying that the two Okinawan newspapers need to be “crushed,” but less attention was given to the fact that his remark was made in response to an LDP member’s comment that the Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo newspapers are “completely taken over by left-wing forces.” This recalls US military claims in the 1960s that activists calling for reversion of Okinawa to Japan were all communists. Okinawa is far from the hotbed of leftism it is made out to be. In fact, many people in Okinawa are quite conservative, including the current governor. When I asked Mr. Yara what he thinks of Governor Onaga, this was his reply.

“I have put a lot of hope in Governor Onaga. I think he’s [Okinawa’s] first chance…and last. Up until now, since the end of World War II, the US bases have always been at the center of Okinawan politics, and people were split into two camps, for and against. That has been the case for 70 years. But Onaga is right in the middle. He recognizes the importance of the security alliance. He is willing to accept some level of base presence. He just argues that the relocation of Futenma to Henoko is unacceptable. That opens up room for discussion. Until now, base opponents haven’t even bothered to debate with base proponents. And people who support the bases have always thought it was pointless to try to argue with people who are anti-base. So there has been no debate between the two sides. But now that Onaga, who is right in the middle, has become governor, it might be possible to start a discussion. That’s why I have hope. Once we can start discussing things, I really don’t think Okinawa’s base problem is that complicated. Let’s think about the function of the US marines. If you think about the role they serve, there’s no reason they have to be based in Okinawa. So let’s see if there’s another place. Well, [mainland] Japan doesn’t want them. So lets move them somewhere that people are willing to accept their presence. The US and Japan can share the cost. There, wasn’t that easy? It’s not hard at all. We should be able to talk about it rationally, reasonably. But until now its just been pro vs con, yes vs no, all or nothing. No negotiation. There has been no platform for debate.”

I commented that many in mainland Japan and in the United States view Onaga as an extremist, and asked how to explain that he really isn’t.

“So what if people think that? The people in the US who think that are just the Japan handlers [in the government]. And in Japan, it’s just the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, people like that. Just a very small number of people. How many people in the United States have even heard of Governor Onaga?”
“Very few,” I admitted.
“That’s right. Those people just like labeling. That’s all it is. I don’t think we need to worry about it. Onaga should just keep saying what he’s been saying. It’s just a small circle of people who look at him as an extremist. Really, he’s not talking to them, he’s talking to the people. For the people. By the people!”
“How democratic,” I commented.
“Yes, that’s democracy. It’s just people who hate democracy who want to label him [as an extremist.]”

However, Mr. Yara also emphasized the broader issue of structural discrimination of Japan toward Okinawa. When I asked why he thought the Futenma replacement facility had to be built at Henoko, this was his response.

“It didn’t really need to be in Okinawa. There was the rape case in 1995, and at that time, the US said a replacement could even be located in Hokkaido. They said it could be located anywere. It was the Japanese government who insisted that they put the replacement facility in Okinawa. There’s much less public opposition to putting a base in Okinawa. If it were on the mainland, there would be much, much more opposition, and it would put the US-Japan security treaty and alliance in danger. But Japanese people think of problems in Okinawa as though they were problems in a foreign country. It’s discrimination. Structuralized. The US sees that, they see the discrimination against Okinawa, and they decide that Okinawa is the best place to put their bases. Even if there’s a problem, it won’t become a problem on a national scale. Okinawa’s problems are just Okinawa’s problems. That makes it much easier for the US military to be here [than in other parts of Japan].”

I asked if he thought the base in Henoko would end up being built.

“It’s likely. It might be impossible to stop it. But even if it’s built, the ‘Okinawa issue’ won’t end. Japanese and American people are making a big mistake. Because the Okinawa issue will continue to be a problem, the US and Japan will always have to spend time in their relationship dealing with it. That’s very unhealthy. There’s a lack of democracy. Okinawan people will always feel antagonized. It’s just not wise.”


In a future post, I will elaborate on what I learned from Mr. Yara about the function of the US marines in Okinawa and the details about the US military “rebalance,” and its implications for Okinawa and Japan.


If you take the highway bus from Naha to Southern Village, you will walk down this path, surrounded on both sides by Camp Foster’s barbed wire fence, to get out to the main road.

The Best Course Available: Book Review

After returning from Okinawa, I wanted to do as much reading as possible on Okinawa to learn more and try to solve some of the questions that arose during my trip, as well as before and after. My school is quite small, and Okinawa-related books in our library are limited. I requested some books through inter-library loan, and in the meantime checked out one of the books I could find–The Best Course Available, a detailed account by Kei Wakaizumi, a secret negotiator on behalf of Prime Minister Sato Eisaku regarding the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control.


The original Japanese version of this book was published in 1994, with the English published in 2002. The English version is not a translation per se, but rather an English version written by the bilingual author. The English version is 359 pages (including notes) and quite detailed, but apparently the Japanese version is even longer and more detailed.

In 1969, academic expert on international relations Kei Wakaizumi offered his services to Prime Minister Sato to conduct secret negotiations with the US in order to achieve a “nuclear-free, mainland-level reversion” of Okinawa by 1972. On the surface, he was successful, but the reversion included a secret promise to allow the introduction of nuclear weapons into Okinawa “in time of great emergency”(pg 236), and anyone who has been to Okinawa knows that in terms of base presence, it is nowhere near “mainland-level”. I feel that the struggle for many Okinawan people remains the attempt to achieve parity with mainland Japan, and a great deal of resentment arises from the fact that the Japanese government seems determined to ensure that conditions in Okinawa remain eternally inferior.

In 1969, Nixon had just been elected President of the United States, and Henry Kissinger was appointed head of the National Security Council. Wakaizumi conducted extensive, secret negotiations with Kissinger over several months leading up to the November 1969 summit between Prime Minister Sato and President Nixon, even going so far as to write a script for the two heads of state to act out during the first day of the summit, during which they were to discuss the reversion of Okinawa.

While the official communique released after the summit declared that Okinawa would be returned “in a manner consistent with the policy of the Japanese government”(pg 198), presumably including the application of the “three non-nuclear principles” (defined by Prime Minster Sato in his 1974 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture as the policy “that we shall not manufacture nuclear weapons, that we shall not possess them and that we shall not bring them into our country”). However, immediately after finishing their discussion, President Nixon, following the script written by Wakaizumi and Kissinger, invited Sato to a small room adjacent to the meeting room on the pretext of wanting to show him some pieces of art. (The reason for using this “small room” was to hide the secret nuclear deal from the interpreters, which as an interpreter I find quite amusing.) They then closed the door and signed a top-secret document declaring that “in time of great emergency the United States Government will require the re-entry of nuclear weapons and transit rights in Okinawa with prior consultation with the government of Japan”(pg 236). The US originally intended the wording to be “prior notification,” but Wakaizumi worked hard to get it changed to “prior consultation.” Of course, the document also states that “The government of Japan…will meet these requiremets without delay when prior consultation takes place,” making the use of “consultation” rather than “notification” a matter of form and not substance.

The reason for this secrecy was to avoid a public uprising from a Japanese population vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons at a time when universities were already in a state of disfunction due to massive student protests (Sato apparently considered these student protests “the hardest or most trying event of his seven years and eight months in office.” They recalled the protests of ten years earlier, also against the US-Japan security treaty, which forced the cancellation of President Eisenhower’s planned visit to Japan and ended up leading to the fall of the Kishi Nobusuke administration.) The Japanese government (that is to say, the LDP) has consistently followed a policy of accomodating US demands while frequently feigning ignorance or lying outright to the Japanese people. A recent example is the 2012 deployment of MV-22 Osprey on Okinawa, which people suspected long in advance, but which the Japanese government denied until immediately prior to the actual deployment. Another example is the fiction that Futenma Air Station will close “within five years” if base construction at Henoko proceeds smoothly–something the US has denied outright, but which the Japanese government keeps dangling in front of Okinawa in an attempt to obtain approval of the Henoko base construction.

Since I already knew about the secret nuclear agreement, the most surprising thing about this book was the textile issue, which kept popping up with surprising tenacity. It seemed that just when talks about the nuclear issue were getting tense, someone would always say, “but the really important issue is textiles!” During his election campain, Nixon captured the southern vote by promising to force Japan to voluntarily restrict exports of textiles to the US in order to protect the US textile industry. This was clearly the primary issue from the US perspective, far more important than the reversion of Okinawa or the issue of nuclear weapons there. Not so much for the sake of the US textile industry, but rather to protect Nixon’s image and prestige. A section heading in Chapter 10 emphasizes “textiles were indeed the stumbling block,” and Chapter 12, “The Textiles Question,” is entirely dedicated to the issue. Apparently President Nixon “warned (irrationally) that unless an agreement on textiles were reached between the two countries by October 15, 1971, he would invoke the ‘Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917,'” and Japan just barely made the deadline, “formally plac[ing] restrictions on Japan’s trade” “despite fierce opposition from the entire [Japanese] business community”(pg 328).

I was a bit perplexed by what a large portion of the book was taken up by the textile issue. However, readers such as myself, likely much more interested in Okinawa and nuclear weapons than in textiles, will be consoled by the fact that Wakaizumi himself was just as perplexed and frustrated by the persistence of the textile issue, which he describes as causing both sides to pay a price “seemingly out of all proportion with the actual economic significance of the textiles problem [itself]”(pg 329).

Riveting as it may be to read a thrilling account of political intrigue after the fact, we must wonder what kind of secret agreements are being carried out between the US and Japanese governments right now. Or maybe there isn’t really all that much to wonder about. Despite all the efforts to maintain secrecy about the nuclear deal in 1969, the truth of the reversion was suspected by many. Yara Chobyo, Okinawa’s first elected postwar leader, observed accurately, “The absence of any clear indication that reversion will be completely nonnuclear is undoubtedly a ruse allowing for the introduction of nuclear weapons during an emergency”(pg 306). If people realized the truth, what was the point of the secrecy and lies? I still struggle to understand the answer to this question.


Wakaizumi, Kei. The Best Course Available. University of Hawai’i Press, 2002.

7/30 Interview with Shimabukuro Jun

From July 21 to August 12, 2015, I visited Okinawa and met with academics, journalists, writers and activists to learn more about the political situation there and issues surrounding the US military bases. I hope to share some of what I learned on my blog. I am still in the process of transcribing recorded interviews, so I will post here bit by bit as I go.

On July 30, I met Shimabukuro Jun, professor at the University of the Ryukyus and active member of the All-Okinawa Council (Shimagurumi Kaigi). Below is a portion of my interview with him, translated from Japanese to English. My notes are in italics.


What are some of the problems going on in Okinawa now?

Right now, the All-Okinawa Council is working on reaching the United Nations regarding human rights violations in Okinawa [caused by the US bases]. These documents describe the ways in which human rights are being violated at Henoko and Futenma. The land for the bases here was originally privately owned, but was seized during war and turned into bases which are still here today. The US military now conducts military training to their hearts content on land where people used to live, very close to where people still live. Every day numerous military aircraft fly over people’s houses. [MV-22] Osprey [aircraft] are known to have a high likelihood of causing accidents, and there are no clear zones [at the ends of the runways]. It’s unheard of for an airfield not to have clear zones. It’s not accepted, normally. [As you can see in the photograph, in the areas where there should be clear zones at the ends of the runways,] there are houses, gas stations, etc. There’s even an elementary school. It’s unbelievable. It’s a severe violation of the human rights of the people who live here. Normally there are clear zones at each end of a runway [as you can see in this other photograph].

There are also US bases in Italy and Germany, but of course there are clear zones at the end of their runways.

What about in South Korea?

I’m sure they have clear zones too. It’s basically unheard of for a runway not to have a clear zone.

And in mainland Japan?

Of course. It’s only in Okinawa where they don’t have them.

Okinawa is small. In terms of land area, it’s smaller than Hiroshima City. It’s about as big as Sapporo. The entire island, that is. They say that the northern part of Okinawa is “isolated” or a “remote area,” but if you look on a map, it’s actually very close.

[This other document] is about a request we are making for a Special Rapporteur from the UN to come to Okinawa. She is scheduled to come to Okinawa between August 15 and 17, and we will have her look at the situation for herself. (UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz visited Henoko and spoke on human rights and self-determination as they relate to Okinawa at a seminar at Okinawa University on August 16.)

In terms of [human rights violations at] Henoko, there are three major issues—right of assembly, freedom of the press, and environmental rights. And then, this is one of our main arguments in the All-Okinawa Council, there is the issue of self-determination. Okinawan people, after more than 100 years of education made to assimilate them as ‘subjects of the Emperor,’ now tend to view themselves as Japanese. But actually Okinawa was forcefully annexed by Japan, and Okinawan people could well be called an indigenous or native peoples. In Japanese, “indigenous” tends to have a connotation as being uncivilized, or backwards, so people in Okinawa tend not to want to call themselves indigenous, but we want to emphasize that this image is incorrect. The word “indigenous” itself is not even so important, but the fact is that Okinawan people can be described using that political, historical concept. And as such, there are rights guaranteed to us by the United Nations. The UN has a Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples, which guarantees collective rights to land, etc. There are actually similar provisions in the Japanese constitution, but our idea is to instead base our work on the UN recommendations for human rights.

The US government insists that the Henoko relocation issue is a Japanese domestic issue.

In September 1947, the US and Japanese governments decided between themselves that Japan had sovereignty over Okinawa. The US military, the Pentagon and other military entities, claimed that Okinawans were different from Japanese people, and that Okinawa should be liberated from Japan. But they insisted that Okinawans had no capacity for self-governance, so Okinawa must remain eternally under US military rule. However, in 1946-47, there were people in Okinawa saying that Okinawa should become independent. Thus the US worried that if there was a group within Okinawa with the power to take back their own sovereignty, the US would then have to negotiate directly with Okinawa [with regards to the bases, etc.] So they insisted that Okinawa had no right to sovereignty, no right to self-determination, and that sovereignty over Okinawa would remain with Japan. And ever since then, everything relating to Okinawa has been decided by the Japanese government, or else the US government. Okinawa has had no right to have any say. We need to end that.

The Japanese government claims that the US military needs the Henoko base, while the US government claims that it was a decision made by the Japanese government. [No one is willing to take responsibility.]

Exactly. The US hypocritically claims that if the Japanese government had an alternative plan, they would be willing to listen. The Japanese government just doesn’t say anything. Well, of course they don’t. That has been part of the fundamental structure of the Japanese government since the end of the war. The setup has been for the US military to base itself in Okinawa, and from there, to protect Japan. Of course we don’t know if they really will. According to the US-Japan Security Treaty, the US military has no obligation to protect Japan. After all, the US won the war (laughs). But Japanese people assume that since we’re giving them so many bases, the US will just have to protect us. We’re giving them all these bases and all this money, of course they will protect us. People just assume that. That’s why there have always been so many bases in Okinawa. The US says that the bases don’t necessarily need to be in Okinawa, that they could be anywhere in Japan, and I think they’re serious when they say that. But if Japan is willing to give them all this land and all this special treatment in Okinawa, they’re happy to take it. But as a matter of rights, the occupation of Okinawa is illegal. It violates the Hague Convention. It’s a violation of international law. This land was taken unilaterally, so it’s ridiculous to say that in exchange for returning it, we have to give them something else. They don’t have the right to demand another base. Thieves don’t have that kind of rights.

During the Hatoyama administration, Japan tried to refuse [the Henoko relocation], but the US government refused to listen.

I don’t really understand the situation that occurred during the Hatoyama administration. Did Hatoyama say that he wanted the Okinawan bases to be closed? No, he was saying that he wanted to relocate them somewhere else in Japan. The truth is, there’s no need to relocate the marines anywhere in Japan. The Japanese government just wants the marines in Japan because they think they might help us if there were a conflict. They just think it—in reality, the marines wouldn’t help us at all (laughs). But the Japanese government thinks they might, so they want to keep them here. But nowhere besides Okinawa will agree to take them (of course, Okinawa hasn’t exactly agreed either), so they end up being put in Okinawa. The truth is, within Japan, the US has several crucial bases—Sasebo, Yokota, etc. But in Okinawa, aside from Kadena, none of the bases are really that important. The marines aren’t important at all. The marines don’t need to be in Japan at all. So Hatoyama should have demanded that the marines leave Japan altogether, and offered to do something in return, I’m not sure what, but something, anything other than offering more bases. But I don’t think Hatoyama ever said that.

Then there is the issue of the Japanese government bureaucracy. The bureaucracy really wants to keep US bases in Japan. But the Japanese government never proposes anything themselves. The US-Japan joint consultative committee is basically just the US making proposals and Japan saying “yes, sir!” (laughs)

What do you think about the marines in Okinawa being transferred to Camp Pendleton in California?

Pendleton is near San Diego, right? It’s entirely possible, especially since the marines aren’t really that necessary to begin with. But the Marine Corps are very good at defending themselves as an institution. Many marines have lost their lives, so the ones who are left have quite a lot of political power, especially in Congress. There are only three major marine forces—I and II Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF) are based on the East and West coasts of the United States, and III MEF is based in Okinawa. Usually one force has more than 50,000 members, but III MEF in Okinawa is much smaller. So if III MEF left Okinawa—I think Pendleton must be where I MEF is based—the marines will lose one crucial organizational structure and one important post—the commander of III MEF, I assume, an important post. They would hate that.

What about Australia? Australia is huge; Okinawa is tiny.

I think moving them to Australia is a fine idea. But I think Okinawa is more fun for them, and I think they like it here. They can do whatever they want and hardly ever get taken to court when they commit crimes.

Okinawa is a resort area, and there are lots of people here. They can go out drinking at night. It’s fun. If they were based near some small town in the desert of Australia, it would probably be boring. But Australia is big, it has oceans and deserts, and there aren’t that many people living there. So it would solve a lot of problems. It would probably just be boring for the US service members.

Regarding self-determination…

Things relating to Okinawa have always been decided bilaterally between the US and Japanese governments. The governments have always insisted that Okinawa has no right to self-determination. But the United Nations has always argued that Okinawa has the right to self-determination. So the most important thing is to use that argument to convince Okinawan people—Okinawan people need to believe that they are capable of becoming independent.

How do you think you can make them believe that?

That’s what I’ve been working on for the past fifteen years (laughs). The first important thing is that the term “right to self-determination” has finally taken hold in popular discourse. Originally it wasn’t used in a public way. But in the past two or three years, it has come to be used. Of course I think the people who use it don’t really know what it means. It’s often used to mean the same thing as “jichiken (autonomy)”. Of course it does refer to autonomy, but the Japanese “jichiken” has a much narrower meaning than the English “autonomy”. It just refers to rights allowed to a local government by the central government. I always try to explain that that’s not what self-determination means, that it’s a much larger concept. I use Scotland as an example. And eventually, one of the Okinawan newspapers started to run a regular series on the meaning of self-determination. But the biggest turning point was in the election last year when candidate (now governor) Onaga Takeshi started to use the term self-determination—not autonomy, but self-determination. He insisted that Okinawa has to decide its own policies based on its right to self-determination. And the Henoko base construction is a violation of Okinawans’ right to self-determination, so if the prefectural assembly were to pass a resolution based on that concept, I think Okinawa would be able to convey to the world that there has been a major change and we have awakened to our own right to self-determination. And I think that would have a big impact on Okinawan people.

A lot of people, especially young people, think that China is a threat.

You have to understand the concept of constitutionalism here. With the debate over the new security legislation, a lot of Japanese people have finally started to talk about constitutionalism, but before that it seemed like nobody cared about constitutionalism or understood its importance. Constitutionalism isn’t taught in schools. The most important thing about constitutionalism—this is John Locke’s social contract theory—is that each individual has certain inalienable rights that may not be violated by state power or anything else. People then give up a portion of those rights in order to form a state. But the power of the state is entrusted to it by the people, and so the people are sovereign. The most important way the people exercise their sovereignty is by creating a constitution. That’s constitutionalism. The most important thing from a constitutionalist perspective is drawing up a bill of rights. The people must announce their rights, announce their right to draw up a constitution, and then they make the constitution and form a state. What Okinawa needs to do is to announce that we comprise a people with the right to form our own constitution, and to form our own government. If Okinawa were to do that, just think of Tibet, or Inner Mongolia. If minorities, indigenous peoples in China were to exercise their right to self-determination based on constitutionalism, China would fall apart. So China would have to join together with the Japanese government to prevent Okinawa from becoming independent. Otherwise, it would mean the end of China as a unified country. So China would never support Okinawa gaining independence, or even a high level of political autonomy, based on constitutionalism. Of course, Chinese people don’t understand constitutionalism either, and of course Japanese right-wingers don’t understand it. So they say that China is behind Okinawa’s independence movement, and things like that. But the very principles upon which Okinawa would become independent would also lead to the breakup of China.

Aside from the United States and Europe, Japan was the first country to base itself on the principles of constitutionalism. Of course, Japan based itself on Prussian constitutionalism, based on the theory that sovereignty is held by the state, which is a denial of John Locke’s social contract theory. Japan’s constitution was a product of compromise. But Ito Hirobumi, one of the creators of Japan’s constitution, understood that ensuring fundamental human rights is at the heart of constitutionalism and is the main goal of creating a constitution. So constitutionalism is extremely important for Japan. If Japan’s government weren’t based on constitutionalism, it wouldn’t be accepted in the international community as a modern nation-state. That’s why Japan has always accepted constitutionalism and international law. Of course in the 1930s the Japanese military renounced constitutionalism, because they believed only the Emperor could justify their position. But after the war we returned to constitutionalism. Now the Abe administration tells China they should respect constitutionalism, when they aren’t respecting it themselves. They don’t understand the meaning of constitutionalism, don’t understand its importance.

So the idea of fearing China is based on a lack of understanding of constitutionalism. The Chinese state-owned newspaper, the People’s Daily, has approached me, but I told them, I don’t meet with organs of state propaganda (laughs). There’s no use in meeting with press from a country that doesn’t allow freedom of the press. Of course, there’s no use meeting with the Yomiuri or Sankei (Japan’s two conservative newspapers) either (laughs). Anyway, there’s no way that the All-Island Council would get close to China.

Do you think it was good that Okinawa was returned to Japan [in 1972]?

If I had to make an absolute judgement, I think almost everyone thinks it was a good thing. Some things got better after reversion, especially Okinawa’s fiscal situation. Of course the bases are still a huge issue. But before reversion, US soldiers could kill a person and say, “I thought he was a pig,” and they wouldn’t be convicted. That is no longer possible, so in that sense, things have improved. But fundamentally, essentially, things haven’t changed much. I think a lot of people are still quite dissatisfied about that.

If the Henoko base construction is pushed forward, I don’t think Okinawans will ever give up. They won’t give up even if the base gets built. They will always feel some animosity, some sense that they are being ruled by oppression. So even though people might feel positively about Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, there could easily be a rising sense that Okinawa needs to gain independence.

Governor Onaga Meets U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy

On June 19, Governor Onaga Takeshi of Okinawa met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo.

After their meeting, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo published a statement claiming that in the 40-minute private meeting, Ambassador Kennedy “reiterated that the plan to expand Camp Schwab avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma and is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns.” The Embassy’s statement was essentially a slightly rephrased version of the recent statement published by the U.S. State Department after State Department officials met with Governor Onaga. That statement claimed that “U.S. officials reiterated that the plan to construct the FRF is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.”

According to NHK World News, “Onaga told reporters that he felt the ambassador was willing to work with him, but added that she spoke like she was reading a memo about the US government’s stance on the relocation plan.”

A Ryukyu Shimpo article reporting on the meeting explained one key point Onaga made at the meeting, regarding getting permission from the U.S. military for the Okinawa prefectural government to enter the temporary restricted zone where the landfill is to be constructed in order to carry out a survey of damage caused to coral reefs in the area up until now. However, according to the Ryukyu Shimpo article, which is presumably based off Governor Onaga’s press conference following the meeting, Ambassador Kennedy made no reference to the Henoko relocation during their discussion, and only said that “the continued presence of the U.S. military in Japan is necessary,” a statement with which Governor Onaga has never disagreed.

An Okinawa Times article on the meeting also reports that according to Governor Onaga, Ambassador Kenendy made no reference to “Futenma” or “Henoko” during the meeting, only expressing the importance of the U.S. presence in Japan to both countries’ national security.

When Governor Onaga visited Washington DC, he did not reveal the details of most of his meetings until after the fact. Apparently, this was a demand from the U.S. side in order to avoid excessive attention. The actual content of those meetings, as well as of Onaga’s meeting with Ambassador Kennedy, remains unknown. It seems essential that the same statement be regurgitated time after time, and that any serious thought, dialogue, or flexibility be avoided at all costs.

According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report on Japan-U.S. relations published April 23, 2015, “Failure to implement the Futenma relocation could solidify an impression among some American observers that the Japanese political system struggles to follow through with difficult tasks.” (pg.22)

It is starting to seem like the issue is not one of what is in the best interest of Japan or the United States, let alone Okinawa, but rather one of proving that “what we say goes” and that flexibility is not an option.

Okinawan Delegation to Washington: Part 2

Experts on Japan commented on the importance of such a large delegation accompanying Governor Onaga to the United States, as it reflected the fact that opposition to the Henoko base construction reflects the feeings of a majority of Okinawans and is not just a matter of Governor Onaga’s intransigence. Congress members thanked the delegates for explaining the situation in Okinawa and conveying their views on the matter. Reports in some Japanese newspapers derided the trip as a failure and claimed that Onaga and the rest had been “rebuked” by the United States, but these reports did not reflect the experience of the delegates.

On the night of June 3, Governor Onaga held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, at which he described his impressions of the trip. He stated that he had travelled to Washington aware that U.S. officials would not change their stance easily, and had been prepared to hear that the Henoko base “must” be built. However, he emphasized the significance of the trip as lying in the fact that he was able to express Okinawa’s position and discuss the situation with many people, and expanded his network in both Hawaii and Washington, DC.

After Governor Onaga finished his press conference, the rest of the delegates held their own press conference, though without English interpretation. Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member and delegation leader Toguchi Osamu’s remarks at the press conference can be seen on Youtube. He explained that the delegates had met with 15 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 23 of their staff members, as well 7 senators’ staff members, 10 think tank members. He described the overarching purpose of the delegation as being to express to U.S. officials that Okinawa would absolutely not allow the construction of the Henoko base. He echoed Governor Onaga’s view that through their visit, understanding of the situation in Okinawa had deepened among U.S. officials and others they spoke with. He spoke about how the delegates had explained that all of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa were built on land forcibly seized by the military, and not a single one was provided willingly by Okinawans. The delegates further explained that if the new base construction is pushed forward forcefully, Okinawan public sentiment, which currently accepts being host to U.S. military bases and primarly objects to the construction of a new base, could turn against the presence of bases altogether, which would have negative implications for the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member and delegate Yamauchi Sueko posted the following report:

“People are questioning the success of the governor’s visit to the United States.
Because we are trying to put a stop to a project that was decided by the central governments of the U.S. and Japan, it’s only to be expected that the U.S. side would be tense and put forth a hardline stance!
However, we took the first step to break down that wall!
Some people ask how we expected to make any demands without first revoking or cancelling the land reclamation permit.
However, even if they have some idea about Futenma, the reality is that few U.S. congress members and others understand the Henoko relocation issue.
When we explained that 83% of Okinawans are opposed to the relocation plan, about Okinawan people’s experiences over the past 70 years and why opposition to the new base has grown so strong, when we showed them pictures of protesters risking their lives at sea and in front of Camp Schwab in order to prevent the constuction, and pictures of the 5/17 rally, many of the people we met with opened their eyes wide in surprise, listened to us seriously, and agreed that a plan that does not have the understanding of the local people should not proceed.
Next time, we’ll have entered into a new stage of development, and our discussions will be even more cutthroat!
I can see light in the future.
I’m working to prepare for the next step forward!
It’s very encouraging that [scholar] Terajima Jitsuro said on TV that our visit to the U.S. deserves attention.
I hope the people of Okinawa will give their utmost support to the governor as he works to conduct his own diplomacy to break through this national issue!
Everyone has an opinion about what should come first and what should be our priority.
All the opinions I’ve heard make a lot of sense to me.
In any case, the governor is currently working on this issue from many different angles, and has now come to a point where he must make a crucial decision.
Please keep giving him and us even more support and attention!”

Because of the complex historical relationship between Japan and Okinawa, it is critical that communication continues between Okinawa and the United States regarding this issue. However, a continued and concerted effort on all sides will be needed to solve this problem peacefully, democratically, and justly.


Delegates and staff on June 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Okinawan Delegation to Washington: Part 1

English-language news media, most notably the Washinton Post, recently reported on Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi’s recent visit to Hawaii and Washington, DC to express his opposition to the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko, Nago. Senator John McCain as well as the U.S. State Department released statements immediately after their meetings with Governor Onaga declaring their unwavering support for the Henoko relocation.

Along with Governor Onaga, a delegation of more than 20 representatives from Okinawa, including mayors, prefectural assembly members, city council members, and business leaders also visited Hawaii and Washington DC at the same time. In Washington DC, the delegates split into groups and for three days followed a busy schedule attending meetings with members of congress and their staff, as well as think tanks and other organizations and individuals. The delegates worked tirelessly to explain the current situation in Okinawa and express their and the majority of Okinawans’ opposition to the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko or the construction of any new base in Okinawa.

Their explanations included details of the environmental havoc that would be wreaked upon the pristine Henoko sea and the coral and sea life therein; the overwhelming opposition to the construction on the part of the Okinawan people, represented by last year’s series of elections and ongoing protests, including the 5/17 rally attended by 35,000 people; the forceful nature with which the Japanese government is currently proceeding with construction and use of force and violence by police and coast guard members against protesters at Henoko; the 70-year history of Okinawa, which makes up less than 0.6% of Japan’s land mass, being forced to host nearly 74% of all U.S. military exclusive use facilities in Japan; the fact that the Japanese government refuses to listen to Okinawa and fails to express the actual situation to their counterparts in the United States; the fact that U.S. military bases actually impede economic growth in Okinawa, rather than contributing to the economy, a common but mistaken belief; and more.

Many members of congress and congressional staff were not aware of the situation in Okinawa at all, so in that sense, the delegation provided an important opportunity to spread awareness among U.S. law-makers who have at least some voice in determining U.S. policy and thus ought to know what the issue surrounding U.S. bases overseas.

Many expressed sympathy and offered their support, but expressed there was likely little they could do to affect the situation.

Others argued that while the Henoko base is not necessary from the perspective of security, defense, or military strategy, politically it is the only option. It was the job of the delegates to explain that actually, politically, it is NOT an option. Okinawa cannot be taken advantage of yet again just because they are perceived as politically weak.

Some argued that the base is necessary because of the threat from China and North Korea. However, many, if not most, experts disagree with this view. Building a base in Henoko will not affect deterrence or protect Japan against China or North Korea. The delegates had to assure proponents of this argument that no, actually, they have no interest in being annexed by China–but there is no sensible reason to believe that closing Futenma without relocating it within Okinawa would invite China to invade. For one thing, all the other U.S. bases in Okinawa would probably prevent such an occurrence.

Structural Discrimination Toward Okinawa (Facebook post)

Sometimes I fall under the illusion that we are experiencing a second Battle of Okinawa.
“Shattering jewels”…
The other day, I had coffee with an LDP Diet member who is close to the Chief Cabinet Secretary at a hotel in Naha.
This is what he told me.
“The Abe administration isn’t going to back down regarding the Henoko relocation.
The fact that Governor Onaga used to be in the LDP just makes him even more detestable.
Something must have happened to him in the past.
It would actually be more convenient for us if he were to take the issue to court.
There’s no way we’d lose, and the construction would continue the whole time.”
What about the will of the Okinawan people?
“In the last three nation-wide elections, LDP candidates ran on the platform of moving Futenma to Henoko. And they won. We have the support and understanding of the Japanese people.” *
The small will once again be squashed for the sake of the large.
70 years ago, Okinawa was burned to the ground. It was turned into a sacrificial stone for the defense of Japan.
And now, yet again…
In June of 1945, while Okinawa was being destroyed, in Tokyo…
As Navy Admiral Ota Minoru committed suicide in the Navy air-raid shelter in Tomigusuku on June 13…
The final match of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament was being held at the Ryogoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo.
And after the war, Okinawa was used as a pawn for the sake of Japan’s independence, forced under the oppressive rule of the United States military.
Then when anti-base movements gained ground on the mainland, the marines in Gifu and Shizuoka were moved to Okinawa.
In 1956, the year that the marines came to Okinawa, the Japanese Economic Planning Agency announced that Japan was “no longer in the ‘post-war’ era,” and pushed forward into an era of rapid economic growth.
From 1969 to 1972, the U.S. was considering removing the marines from Japan altogether, but the Japanese government implored them to keep the marines on Okinawa.
In 1996, after the incident in which three U.S. servicemen raped a young girl, the United States considered spreading their troops throughout Hokkaido and the main islands of Japan, but the Japanese government rejected this idea.
In 2012, the U.S. came up with the idea of moving 1,500 marines to Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture as part of their military realignment, but Japan rejected this as well.
And now, Okinawa is yet again being annihilated for the sake of Japan’s defense.
Officials in Washington have stated it clearly. “Stationing of U.S. troops is essential for Japan’s defense.”
Is the treatment Governor Onaga received in Washington, DC any different from how we have been treated for the past 70 years?
The U.S. has long been aware of the structural discrimination in Japan toward Okinawa, and determined that if they put their bases in Okinawa, it wouldn’t cause any major issues within Japan (Civil Affairs Handbook, 1944, compiled by the Naval Affairs Office).
What do we have to do to save Okinawa from this structural discrimination and be able to promise Okinawan children a bright future?
The essence of Okinawa’s problems is discrimination that has become structuralized.
Because it is structural, the people who engage in discrimination don’t even realize that they are part of the problem.
When they do realize it, it is positively affirmed within societal consciousness and solidifies.
What Governor Onaga is now asking is whether that is a characteristic suitable to a country that prides itself worldwide on being an advanced nation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re conservative or progressive, for or against the bases, laborer or business person.
People can’t live when their pride is denied.

Yara Tomohiro, June 5, 2015

* In the last three nation-wide elections, LDP candidates promoting the Henoko relocation won in Japan as a whole, but received very little support in Okinawa. However, the central government views these victories as a sign that they have the support of the Japanese people as a whole, even if most in Okinawa are opposed.