US Military Bases in Okinawa

In yesterday’s “Japanese Society” class, we learned and had a discussion about Okinawan identity and the topic of the discussion turned to the American military bases. And the discussion reminded me the experience I had when I visited Okinawa and talked with the people there last summer. So I would like to write about the experience.

I took a three-day trip to South Okinawa by myself and learned about the military base issue. Before the trip, I had thought that the people in Okinawa had been annoyed by the bases and American soldiers and had expected to see demonstrations against the bases at various places. But I was wrong. Although there are a lot of military bases and American soldiers in Okinawa, when I asked them how they felt about it, their responses were quit different from what I thought it would be: although they said that it had better be removed, they do not seem to belief that it would really come true. Except those who have participated in campaigns against the bases, ordinary Okinawan, such as housewives, salaried workers, farmers, bus drivers and students, they did not demand the removal of the bases.

To be sure, when something happens like the rape of a girl by an American soldier in 1995, they become furious and demand that the bases should be removed. However, in their daily life, they don’t really care about that. They talked with me about the bases jokingly.

I think it’s because they have no choice but to accept the bases. In the video we watched in the class, a lady said that Okinawan can’t live without bases, because they depend on bases for their livelihood. For example, Okinawan government can get grants from the Japanese government and the residents can get jobs. Under such a condition, if they protest against the bases, they have to give up their jobs as well. For the Japanese governments and the people in other prefectures the relationship between America and Japan is a very complicated matter, I think.

I found it’s only an image constructed by the historical education in Japan and the mass media. I’m not meaning that bases should be accepted, but we shouldn’t forget that there is a great gap between what the people in Okinawa think about the base issue and what other Japanese people think about it.

by Yukari Deguchi

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3 thoughts on “US Military Bases in Okinawa

  1. As you say, there is a great gap between people in Okinawa and the rest of Japanese about the US military bases. But at the same time, there are diverse opinions even in Okinawa, and it makes more difficult to reach the consensus about this issue.
    This consequently means we should not assume that all Okinawans demand the bases be removed.

  2. The causes why the gap of image occurred may be mass media followed up those people strongly oppose against the U.S. bases. Actually, I was thinking that most of all Okinawan people wanted the government to remove the bases. After once I went to Okinawa and visited to the bases, I felt that not many people really wanting removal, like you did.
    I found out the fact from your post, what there are many types of people in Okinawa who think many ways about the U.S.bases. The most difficult point of this problem would be that only removing the bases is not actual way to end up this issue. I think this argument may be needed more and more discussions.

  3. Really? I partly agree on your idea, but for some parts I’d disagree.
    Do they really not care about the US bases even though the issue puts their safety at stake? I don’t think so. I mean, some might not care but most Okinawans do. Would you feel ok to have foreign bases near your house? Even though they have killed many of their friends and relatives in past? I wouldn’t.
    I have a friend from Okinawa and often see him angry at government’s security policies (regarding Okinawa) Also, I have seen several campaigns to collect signatures for a petition to remove the bases out of Okinawa. So I think they DO care.
    Yukari, you say Okinawans were talking jokingly, but as far as I would imagine, there’s nothing they could do but telling the story like a joke. It is their daily lives – they were born there and cannot help. They have had and will have to just endure unless government makes any change in policies.
    So what I wanted to say is that please do not see just the surface of the issue. I don’t think that’s the way people you talked in Okinawa wanted you to understand.

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