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