AMERICA ABROAD lizzy santoro
AMERICA ABROAD the american militaryâ€™s occupation and involvement in okinawa,japan Lizzy Santoro
Photos and Writing by Lizzy Santoro Book Design by Frankie Romeo Appropriated Historical images are marked by dates and credits are located at the end Faculty Support: Sarah Malakoff, Victoria Crayhon, and Pamela Karimi
A special thanks to Dennis Branchaud for starting me down this path and helping me along the way. thank you to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Office of Undergraduate Research and all their faculty.
Without you, none of this would have been possible.
The relatively small nation of Japan hosts the single highest concentration of American forces abroad. There are five times as many American servicemen stationed in Japan compared to Afghanistan.1 This density is augmented even further due to the fact that 75% of the U.S. bases are located within just 0.6% of Japanâ€™s total landmass, in the small island of Okinawa.2 The history of how this phenomenon came to fruition can be summarized as another story of a smaller society being subjugated for the pragmatic needs of more powerful nations. Conversely, the story on the ground is a great deal more complicated than that. Over the course of seven decades, the cultural mixing, creation of international families and friends, and an interwoven economic association were inevitable outcomes. Conversely, the bitterness that resulted from decades of crime and indifference should not have been accepted as unavoidable.
Map of Okinawa and its surrounding countries to scale.
Army Navy Marines Air Force Training Waters
Map of the U.S. Military Bases that occupy Okinawa.
Monument to all the victims of WWII. Ginowan City, Okinawa.
Half a mile south of the entrance to Marine Corpsâ€™ Futenma Air Base.
American soldiers help Okinawan civilians after the Battle of Okinawa, 1945.
American iconography and English Signage are fairly common throughout Okinawa, but they are especially prevalent near the bases.
The Up-Side. Ginowan City, Okinawa.
17th Century to the 1970s: An Exchange of Ownership Until the invasion of Japan in 1609, Okinawa was an independent nation called the RyuKyu Kingdom. Small as it was, the Ryukyu Kingdom was recognized under international law, with its own monarchial government, and it acted within the international sphere by signing amity treaties with several nations, including the United States.3 Okinawa was a unique country with its own nuanced culture. Its language, religion, musical traditions, and culinary preference were all different from Japan.4 These cultural particularities can still be observed today, but they have been radically altered since Japan formally annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1872. Arguably, this is mostly due to the savagery and destruction caused by World War II. Okinawa suffered profoundly during the second World War, and, truthfully, the Japanese were no less violent than their American counterparts. Accounts of Japanese soldiers stealing food from citizens, forcing mass suicides, forcing 15-year-old Okinawan girls into combat nurse positions, and raping women exist parallel to stories of American soldiers bombing, forcefully seizing civilian land, and raping Okinawan women.5 Caught between two superpowers determined on a war of attrition and with no means of escape, Okinawa lost between 130,000 to 140,000 Okinawans of their civilians, which amounted to about a third of the islandâ€™s population at the time.6 Those who were lucky enough to return to their homes at the end of the battle found their homes and land in one of two conditions: either erased (by bombs, bullets, and fire) or
overtaken by American airfields and military bases. World War II marks the beginning of Okinawaâ€™s interaction with America, and it is a beginning stained with blood and originating in theft and war. Moreover, while it is true that more than 70 years has passed since the end of World War II, the war is far from ancient history in Okinawa. Evidence of the conflict can still be seen throughout the island, whether it be in the loss of all major original historical monuments, bullet holes in stone walls, or a 5-inch unexploded World War II ordinance that was found in 2016.7 World War II is very much in the collective memory of Okinawa, and it is important to appreciate how that history colors their view. When the war ended in 1945, all of Japan lost its sovereignty and independence to the United States of America. It was seen as necessary to prevent Japan from remilitarizing and as a natural punishment for waging a war. However, in 1952, Japan and America came together to negotiate the return of the Japan to the Japanese government. The San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952 was forged from these negotiations and was celebrated as a great success by both the central Japanese and American governments. The only party that was neglected was the island of Okinawa, which has made many Okinawans view the San Francisco Peace Treaty as an act of abandonment. â€œThe day is a memory that at the same time that Japan got renewed independence, Okinawa was discarded.â€?8
The San Francisco Peace Treaty was an ideal arrangement for both the Japanese and American governments. Mainland Japan was able to reclaim national sovereignty with their nation under good conditions. Japan also secured access to the American market to sell goods, the opportunity to focus on economic development without any responsibility to pay for an army, and attained protection against any possible aggressor, particularly communist forces which were surging around Asia during the 1950s. Simultaneously, the American government instantaneously assured that Japan would not remilitarize, prevented a communist revolution in Japan, and established an American military zone on the other side of the globe that aided their war efforts- particularly in the Vietnam War. However, the United States government refused to relinquish Okinawa due to its strategic importance for American Cold War strategy.9 Considering that this agreement was extremely favorable for both the central Japanese and American governments, the tiny island was probably seen as a small concession to make in order to reestablish Japanese independence. Nonetheless, this concession is perhaps the most significant explanation for why contemporary Okinawa houses more than 75% of the bases in Japan, despite its small size. Between 1952 and 1972, whenever a base on mainland Japan began to cause problems with the surrounding residents, the base would be moved to Okinawa because Okinawa was American territory. When the American government wanted to construct another base in the Asian Pacific region, the base was routinely built on Okinawa. During this time
period, the American government could establish a new base in Okinawa at will, and local resentment was inconsequential because no negotiations were required between Okinawa or Japan. Henceforth, the American government could use the island as it wished. The direct result of this arrangement was that the number of Americans and bases steadily increased between 1952 and 1972, due primarily to the Vietnam War.10 Shell-shocked soldiers either returning from or travelling to Vietnam were in a constant turnover, and these highly traumatized, amped up young men were responsible for the highest American crime rate to date in Okinawa.11 The most common crimes were prostitution and drunk driving, the latter of which was frequently the cause of many accidents and Okinawan deaths. Although, more serious crimes such as assaults, robberies, and even rape or murder committed by American servicemen against Okinawans were also tragically common. The sense of injustice felt by the Okinawans was compounded by the fact that Okinawaâ€™s civilian police had no jurisdiction over the American soldiers. That responsibility fell wholly to the military police (MPs).12 Additionally, crimes committed by servicemen were hardly ever tried in court and even more rarely was a conviction ever brought against an American serviceman. In 1970, a 54-year-old Okinawan house wife was killed by a drunk U.S. serviceman who struck her with his car. By this moment in time, a rage was steady accumulating over numerous injustices, and, without any avenue to make
Americans answer to the law, nearly 5,000 Okinawans resorted to violence in response to this womanâ€™s death and the deaths and rapes of those who preceded her.13 The Koza Riot of 1970 began by Okinawan civilians flipping a series of American owned vehicles and setting a number of them on fire. From there, the rioters quickly overpowered the MPs by setting additional cars on fire and by throwing bricks at Americans and at American military buildings. They then entered into American Kadena Air Base and ignited the building from within. By the end of the night, 80 cars had been burned and roughly 60 Americans were injured in the process.14 Certainly, the occurrence of the Koza Riot was a factor in Americaâ€™s decision to return Okinawa to Japan in 1972. While the reversion to Japan was a joyous moment for the Okinawan people, it was certainly bittersweet because the reversion did not include any reduction in American bases. When they ascertained this, the parades of celebrations quickly transformed into protest marches; however, this revelation and the protest marches that followed would only be the first of the many post-reversion disappointments and protests.15
After WWII, Christianity took root in Okinawa with Lutheranism being the most popular sect.
American soldiers entertain themselves in an Okinawan strip club. Koza, 1967.
A widow of a cab driver sits in her home. Her husband was killed by an American Serviceman near Gate Two Street, 1971.
Cabs line up on Gate Two street, which extends out of the U.S. Air Forceâ€™s Kadena Air Base in Koza, Okinawa. The street is lined with strip clubs, bars, and dancing clubs.
Two Okinawans take a picture with an American. On the weekends, Gate Two street attracts both young Okinawans and young Americans looking for some rowdy fun at night.
During the day and weekday nights, Gate Two street is essentially dead.
American fighter plane during the Battle of Okinawa, 1945.
Okinawan protesters gather outside Kadena Air Base to protest both the American base presence and the Vietnam War, 1969.
Suburb in Awase, Okinawa.
Okinawa City, Okinawa.
The U.S. Navyâ€™s Communication Base is located in a suburban area in Awase, Okinawa.
Current Burdens The memories of this fairly recent period act as a foundation for the list of grievances that the contemporary Okinawans have against the bases, which include: noise pollution, environmental pollution and contamination, traffic congestion, and lack of access to the large stretches of land that the bases occupy which inhibits Okinawaâ€™s potential economic development and urban planning. Arguably, however, the most poignant issue is crime committed by Americans associated with the military. Unfortunately, U.S. servicemen have been accused and charged with numerous crimes since the inception of the military bases in Okinawa. To the U.S. Militaryâ€™s credit, they have made several efforts and have implemented several provisions that have significantly decreased the rate of American crimes committed on Okinawan soil. In fact, the contemporary rate at which members associated with the military, including civilian contractors who work with the military and the families of soldiers, has dropped to half the rate that the Okinawan populace commits crimes.16 Among the Okinawan populace, 69.7 crimes are committed per 10,000 people compared to 27.4 crimes per 10,000 Americans associated with the military.17 However, according to many anti-base protesters, it is not the rate of crimes that is most important, but the fact that they occur at all. That they were committed by people who they do not believe should be there, by outsiders who will not leave. Even at a diminished rate compared to Okinawan residents, the number of crimes committed by Americans on
Okinawan soil has still climbed to nearly 6,000 since 1972, and that is the figure that anti-base Okinawans point to.18 It almost goes without saying that the vast majority of the Americans who are stationed in Okinawa or who work with the military are respectful, law abiding citizens that have made countless friendships within the local community; however, to many Okinawans, every single crime committed by an American in Okinawa is another affront to them, another reminder of their not so distant past of subjugation, and another tangible and visible instance of the central Japanese and American governments disregarding of them. This opinion is reinforced by the fact that some of the most horrendous crimes in Okinawaâ€™s recent history were committed by Americans. Indeed, just this year (2016), an American working for the military committed a crime that shook Okinawans to their core. In June of 2016, a U.S. Marine Corps (U.S.M.C.) veteran working on an American military base as a civilian contractor confessed to savagely raping and murdering a young Okinawan woman. Rina Shimabukuro, 20, was walking home early one evening when she was abducted, raped, strangled, and stabbed to death.19 This extremely violent crime was disclosed right on the heels of an American soldier raping a Mainland Japanese woman in one of Okinawaâ€™s main tourist centers, and it inspired tens of thousands of people to gather in June to demand the removal of American military bases and collectively mourn the young womanâ€™s untimely death.20
A makeshift memorial were erected in her memory where her body was found and countless rallies protested her death and the U.S. presence.21 Part of the rage that fueled the protests and indignation sparked by the crime was that it reminded Okinawans of an equally brutal crime that occurred only twenty years earlier. In September of 1995, a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl was savagely raped by three American soldiers. Not since the Koza Riots was the continuation of American bases in Okinawa in such serious doubt. Directly after the child’s rape, 85,000 Okinawans assimilated to protest against the U.S. presence and demanded a reduction of the military presence, some even argued for a complete removal.22 This anger was augmented by the fact that the U.S. military would not hand over the three suspects of the child’s rape to the local authorities. It was not until the three men’s guilt was officially determined, that the three men were surrendered to the local authorities.23 The massive protests also demanded rectifications to the inequalities and lack of protections that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) offered the Okinawan people when an American commits a crime.24 The protests that followed the 1995 rape are somewhat unique in that these protests successfully forced Tokyo and Washington D.C to make concessions. One of the more notable concessions was the adjustments to the SOFA agreement. SOFA is the agreement that is drafted between the central
governments of a host country and a foreign nation that wishes to station its military within its territory, in this case, Japan and the United States respectively.25 SOFA members, which includes military personnel, civilian contractors, and (in a limited sense) to their families, are granted certain privileges like diplomats and are not fully subject to a host country’s laws.26 However, the specific privileges SOFA members are granted is argued and agreed upon in a case by case basis according to whatever terms the central governments set.27 After the 1995 rape, Tokyo and Washington adjusted the SOFA agreement articulating that the U.S. military will give “favorable consideration” to the local authorities in cases of “heinous crimes,” including rape and murder, on whether suspects can be placed immediately into the custody of local authorities. Additionally, in response to the protest, Tokyo and D.C. agreed to remove the most problematic base (U.S.M.C. Futenma Air Base) from Ginowan City by 2004 at the latest.28 Although, this victory did not fully satisfy many Okinawans. In many respects, anti-base Okinawans view the current SOFA agreement to still be unfairly biased towards Americans. Firstly, the term “favorable consideration” suggests that American military officials can refuse to hand suspects of “heinous crimes” over to local authorities at their own discretion.29 Moreover, a SOFA member, per Article 17 of the agreement, is only under the jurisdiction of local authorities if they commit crimes while they are off-duty. If a SOFA
member is on-duty while they committed a crime within Japan’s territory, then they are to be under the jurisdiction of MPs and the Court Martial system.30 This arrangement has made many Okinawans skeptical over the execution of justice and has inspired protests calling for a revision of the SOFA agreement that will make all SOFA members within the jurisdiction of local authorities and courts, if a SOFA member commits a crime against a Japanese resident within Japan’s territory.31 Furthermore, a major Okinawan newspaper, the RyuKyu Shimp, argued that Japan’s SOFA agreement is not comparable to the SOFA agreements that the United States has with other host nations. Article 18 of the Japanese-American SOFA agreement stipulates that any physical property that is stolen by a SOFA member from a local citizen and is being hidden within the American base will be returned to local authorities; however, there are no stipulations within the SOFA agreement that allows for the seizure of debts.32 This proved problematic in 2006, when two U.S. military personnel robbed a taxi and later refused to pay the damages, amounting to 28 million yen ($280,000). After five years, the U.S. government agreed to pay a little less than 10% of the damages, leaving the Japanese taxpayers to pay the remaining 26 million yen ($260,000).33 The RyuKyu Shimpo illustrated that this agreement is not universal among all of America’s SOFA agreements. In fact, Germany and America’s SOFA agreement specifically states that if financial damages are levied unto a SOFA member, that the damages can be seized
out of that memberâ€™s salary.34 This provision ensures that a SOFA member in Germany cannot avoid paying damages that were levied upon them by a court, and many Okinawans who know of the provision wonder why it is not duplicated in the Japanese-American SOFA agreement. Okinawans were particularly critical of the fairness of the SOFA agreement in 2004, when a U.S.M.S helicopter from Futenma Air Base crashed into the Okinawa International University. 2004 was the year that the U.S.M.C. Futenma Air Base was supposed to be removed, but instead it was the year that an American helicopter caused large scale property damage to the university and the surrounding area. Due to Article 17.10 of the SOFA agreement, which prohibits Japan from searching, seizing, or inspecting U.S. military equipment, the local police and fire department were barred from trying to put out the fire or getting too close to the scene of the crash.35 This incident inspired both indignation that the crash ever occurred and bitter confusion over why local authorities were not allowed to do anything about a crash that occurred on their land. Suspicions of negligence were spurred as many locals wondered why not even the local police or fire department were barred from aiding in the cleanup and preventing the fire spread, and the incident served to further a general resentment over the U.S.M.C Futenma Air Base.36 Even before the crash, the U.S.M.C. Futenma Air Base was a highly controversial base. Firstly, it is located in Ginowan City, which is a major city located within the center of
Okinawa. The base itself was first built in 1945 and stretches over 5000 hectares of land, occupying about quarter of Ginowan Cityâ€™s total landmass.37 As a result of the urbanization that occurred around the base over seven decades, Futenma Air Base is currently centered within a densely populated metropolis that houses 88,000 residents.38 This certainty was not always the case. When the base was first built in 1945, it was in a fairly unpopulated field, and it was perhaps an unintentional evolution of time that produced this current problem. Since the U.S. military was almost the only significant contributor to the local economy in the first few decades of the Okinawa military arrangement, urbanization localized around the bases and resulted in cities growing around several of the bases on Okinawa.39 Regardless, however, the current problem of Futenma Air Base still remains. On a daily level, the base is viewed as a nuisance because of the noise pollution it creates, due primarily to the Osprey helicopters that Futenma Air base houses in droves.40 This particular helicopter is especially contested because it is extremely noisy and difficult to fly, and thus the most likely to crash. The latter is particularly worrisome because, due to the densely packed population of civilians around Futenma Air Base, the risks associated with military activities have significantly increased over the decades.41 Explained more plainly, every possible accident or crash has a substantive risk of killing multiple civilians, which is why Futenma Air Base has earned its reputation as â€œthe most dangerous airbase in the world.â€?42 This is an outcome that the U.S. military has been trying to avoid by agreeing to move the airbase in 1995. However, the relocation of the base is itself
a highly contested topic; consequently, more than 20 years after the agreement, the Futenma base remains firmly rooted in the center of Ginowan City. The central Japanese government resolved to move Futenma Air Base to Henoko, which is a rural town in the northern half of Okinawa. This decision to keep Futenma within Okinawa has been fiercely opposed in protests of tens of thousands of Okinwans.43 In the summer months of 2016, the protests in Henoko escalated to the point that police had to forcibly remove protesters from the intended construction site.44 Furthermore, according to referendums and surveys, close to 60 percent of residents of the Okinawa prefecture are against the relocation of Futenma to another town in the prefecture.45 They argue that keeping Futenma in Okinawa simply moves the problem, but does not resolve it.46 Moreover, some argue that since only 4% of Okinawaâ€™s land has been returned to Okinawans since 1970, that the transfer of Futenma off the island is only fair.47 Although, the opposition has been met with an equally strong force made up primarily of construction contractors and Japanese Diet members who wish to continue with the Henoko relocation plan.48 The American military has attempted to dissolve the gridlock by agreeing to relocate several thousand troops and their families from Okinawa to Guam, but only when Futenma Air Base is finally relocated.49 However, given the feverish pushback by local residents against the relocation to Henoko and the absence of any alternative plan to move Futenma Air Base somewhere off of Okinawa, it is unlikely that any such breakthrough will be made- short of the Japanese government continuously and forcefully rebuilding Futenma Air Base in Henoko.
A protester brandishes a poster with Japanese Prime Minister Abeâ€™s face hidden by an American flag bandana. March 2016.
Aerial view of Futenma Air Base. May 2012.
the highly controversial Osprey helicopters on Futenma Air Base can be seen over a sea of buildings.
Inside the Okinawa International University, which was struck by an American helicopter in 2004, a man points to a poster of the Koza Riots hanging on a Professorâ€™s door.
Aftermath of the 1970 Koza Riots.
An American MTR supply truck traverses on a main civilian road in Okinawa.
A student displays two images of the 2004 helicopter crash into the Okinawa International university. Within the universityâ€™s library, there is a room memorializing the 2004 crash with nearly a dozen binders full with images and newspaper articles published following the crash, as well as artworks created by students in the months following the crash.
American missile barrage during the Battle of Okinawa. April 1945.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Americans take cover behind a Shisa statue, Which is a traditional RyuKyu symbol of protection meant to ward away evil spirits and bad luck. 1945.
Shisa, like the one mounted on the wall of this downtown business, are located in pairs (with one mouth open and the other closed) at the entrance of nearly every Okinawan building.
Mass protests following the brutal rape and murder of an Okinawa woman, Rina Shimabukuro (20), by an American civilian contractor working with the military. June 2016.
Mass protests following the violent gang rape of Okinawan 12-year-old girl by three American servicemen in 1995.
Beneficiaries of the Bases Inarguably, both the Japanese and American governments would lose a great deal if the bases in Okinawa were to close down. The military arrangement between Japan and America is viewed by both parties as a crucial element in their nations’ security, and it is an alliance that the mainland Japanese government has been trying to strengthen over the past ﬁve years. Tokyo argues that the alliance with America has been instrumental in the development of Japan’s own defense capabilities and only has the potential to help Japan strengthen its Self-Defense Forces.50 Moreover, the deterrence eﬀect created by the presence of the nearly indomitable American military within their territory is viewed as the most eﬃcient strategy to protect Japan against its main threats: China and North Korea. Indeed, current conservative Japanese Prime Minister Abe argued, “any perceived weakening of the alliance would only embolden Japan’s regional rival, China.”51 This is the argument that is used to try to convince Okinawa that having the largest military force in the world on Okinawa is ultimately better for Okinawans, especially since China has become increasingly aggressive in the South Chinese Sea. Arguably, China’s expansionism in the South China Sea particularly threatens the Okinawa prefecture of Japan. Firstly, Okinawa is geographically closer to China that it is to Japan; therefore, if China were to become a strong, expansionist force in the next few decades, Okinawa may be one of the ﬁrst territories to be lost to China without a strong military presence on the island. Moreover, there is a historical argument that the
Chinese Communist Part (CCP) could reference, if they were to push for a “liberation” or annexation of Okinawa. Before Okinawa was annexed by Japan, it was a tributary state of China, and this fact has catalyzed a discussion within the CCP about whether Okinawa should perhaps be Chinese territory. Chinese Major General Luo Yuan made the following statement on Chinese state controlled media: “For now, let’s not discuss whether [Okinawa] belongs to China- they were certainly China’s tributary state. I am not saying all former tributary states belong to China, but we can say with certainty that the RyuKyus do not belong to Japan.”52 More extreme Chinese military oﬃcials have even claimed that the Okinawa should be Chinese territory, since the RyuKyu Kingdom paid tribute to the Chinese emperor before they were annexed by Japan.53 This theoretical threat escalated to a concerning possibility on September 26, 2016, when Chinese war planes ﬂew over the Miyako Strait, which is located in southern reaches of Okinawa. The Chinese war planes were technically neither within Japanese airspace, nor acting illegally; however, it was absolutely a calculated act by the CCP intended to make Tokyo extremely nervous.54 If asked, despite all the problems Okinawa experiences with Mainland Japan and Americans, nearly all of Okinawans would prefer to be part of Japan and consider themselves Japanese. Okinawans share the Japanese language with Japan (now that their indigenous language is nearly extinct), Okinawans are citizens of Japan, and the time of the independent RyuKyu
Kingdom is viewed as ancient history. In some respects, Okinawa is to Japan as Hawaii is to America. It was not always part of the central territory, but no one, not even people born in Hawaii, would argue that a Hawaiian is not also an American. The same is true for Okinawa. Consequently, it is perhaps in Okinawa’s best interest to be as protected as possible because if China were to seize Okinawa the attempted recapture of Okinawa by Japanese and American forces would perhaps be just as devastating to the Okinawans as the Battle of Okinawa was in 1945. This is one of many situations that Washington wishes to prevent by the continuance of American presence in Okinawa. Currently, the American government wishes to prevent any militarization or expansionism of either North Korea or China, and the placement of a large American force abroad is seen to be the most eﬀective strategy to combat North Korea and China and protect America’s Asian allies, including: Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Moreover, by having such a large military presence on the other side of the globe, American security is considered to be stronger and more poised to respond to any potential threats. In response to the relatively new threat landscape, the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review explained that U.S. military’s post 9/11 defense strategy has shifted to a new goal of augmenting the “…capacity, deployability, and mobility of American troops in order to act rapidly in crisis theatres.”55 The materialization of this strategy can be seen throughout Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, during which the
bases in Okinawa and Japan were used as stepping-stones from the U.S. military to the Middle East.56 Indisputably, having American bases in Japan furthers this relatively new defense strategy. Additionally, Japan is an ideal location for American bases due to “the strategic location,” the “comparative cost advantages,” and the highly developed, technical Japanese infrastructure.57 The United States also receives ﬁnancial assistance from the Japanese central government has provided towards the costs of American bases on its land, which has been dubbed the Sympathy Budget. In 2007, the Japanese taxpayers funded 75% of the costs of the American bases.58 As a result of these beneﬁts which are unique the Japanese arrangement, the United States is very unlikely to relocate its forces out of Japan. Moreover, in addition to the central Japanese and American governments, there is also a faction of Okinawans who are in favor of keeping at least some of the bases on the island. This faction is primarily motivated by the economic beneﬁts that the United States military brings to the Okinawan economy. “Many people in Okinawa [have] felt their economic life was embedded in a ‘base-dependent economy’ (kichi keizai).”59 In fact, the U.S. military bases are rated the third largest contributor to Okinawa’s economy due to the combined revenue that comes from rental fees paid for the land use, salaries and wages paid to about 9,000 Okinawans working as base employees, and the expendable income of SOFA personnel that is spent on the oﬀ-base businesses and local restaurants.60 In fact, U.S. military bases, are some of the most common workplaces for recent university
graduates, and these Okinawan base employees strongly oppose the closure of American bases unless there is compensation paid to them for their lost jobs.61 This is not to say that all of the base employees fully support the American military presence in Okinawa, but they realize that they will suﬀer greatly if the bases were to leave Okinawa, given the relative lack of other employment opportunities.62 In addition to the base employees that are directly supported by the American military there are also oﬀ-base service sector that are indirectly supported by the American military. There are numerous shopping areas and stores targeted speciﬁcally at Americans that countless Okinawans depend upon for income, such as: restaurants, bars, and clubs. Although, it is the subsidies granted by the central Japanese government that perhaps have an even greater eﬀect on Okinawa’s local economy.63 In an eﬀort to placate angry locals, Tokyo has accompanied state funds with major public works projects as compensation for hosting the American bases and to boost Okinawa’s relatively slow economy. Even with the increase in tourism, Okinawa is still deeply dependent on these subsidies for their economic stability. 64 The result of these national subsidies is a local economy founded on a high percentage of public works. Okinawa is ranked within the top ten in terms of the Gross Prefectural Product production from the construction industry out of the forty-seven Japanese prefectures.65 This trend is only possible with the continuous ﬂow of subsidies from the national Japanese government, and a signiﬁcant percentage of the subsidies are only given in exchange for the perpetuation of the American bases in Okinawa.66 Moreover, Okinawa is seen as
more susceptible to succumb to economic pressures and incentives than many of Japan’s wealthier prefectures. Given that Okinawa has the highest unemployment rate in Japan and an average income that is 26.4% lower than Japan’s national average income, Okinawa is more likely to protect whatever income they do have even if it causes them great hardship. 67 However, the economic and political situation in is rapidly evolving in such a way that Okinawans may no longer depend on the American bases for income in the next decade or so. Tourism is progressively replacing base revenue as the major driver in Okinawa’s economy, and Okinawa is beginning to develop its own economic sources independent from the American military. In the past thirty years, the number of tourists and the amount of tourism-related revenue has tripled. In 2014, nearly 6.5 million tourists from South Korea, Mainland Japan, Taiwan, and China have visited Okinawa bringing in about $4 billion in tourism-related revenue.68 This eﬀect is partly due to the fact that ﬂights to Okinawa from mainland Japan, South Korea, and China have only gotten cheaper and more eﬃcient. Consequently, the demand for hotels, restaurants, and stores targeted at tourists are showing substantial growth, which resulted in 78.6% of Okinawa’s total labor force being within the service sector.69 Whether this new development will have any inﬂuence on Tokyo’s or Washington’s decision to keep the current amount of bases on Okinawa is of course yet to be seen.
At the entrance of a failed business stands a replica of the Statue of Liberty. In some respects, Okinawaâ€™s economy is still dependent on American income. Consequently, there is often pushback from the business communities when the military implements stricter curfews or restrict service membersâ€™ off base activities for long periods of time. Many businesses were forced to close down after the military fiercely restricted its service membersâ€™ off base liberties, which were implemented as punitive and preventive measures following the gang rape of a child in 1995.
Food is one of the more obvious instances of cultural hybridization in Okinawa. American influence in food includes: hot dogs, spam, canned corn, and taco rice.
American food chains such as Red Lobster, McDonaldâ€™s and Kentucky Fried Chicken are very popular in Okinawa.
Many Okinawan businesses are marketed directly at Americans, but they are often equally as popular among locals.
An American rides his bike just outside of American Village, a shopping center that is marked by Okinawaâ€™s most famous Ferris wheel. American Village is located just a few hundred feet away from the American Army base Camp Lester.
American Village is a prominent outdoor shopping center that attracts Americans, Mainland Japanese, South Koreans, and Chinese alike.
The residence of an American situated in Okinawan suburbia.
An American father with his young daughter at an Eisa performance, which is a popular showcase of traditional RyuKyu dance and music.
Discrepencies Between Macro and Micro Realities
It is important to grasp that there are two different, concurrent realities. At the macro level, there are fierce political debates about how necessary the bases are in Okinawa, whether the Okinawan people have been subjugated by American and Japanese superpowers, and whether the bases do more sharm than good- but there is also a less polarized micro reality.
Most Americans are just doing their jobs. They were given relatively no choice to be stationed in Okinawa and are just fulfilling their duty as honorably as possible. Simultaneously, most Okinawans are just living their daily lives as best as they can, and as harmoniously as possible with their
American neighbors. It would be foolish to argue that there are not innumerable social networks made between Okinawans and Americans comprised of both friends, international families, and coworkers. It is not necessarily wrong to simultaneously believe that most American soldiers stationed in Okinawa are good and that the bases as a whole are unjust, but it is first important to concede that it would be equally unjust to categorize all Americans living and working in Japan as evil. While believing this, it is also necessary to acknowledge that an Okinawan is not wrong to be extremely resentful towards the military as a whole, given the long and often bleak history of the United States in Okinawa. What should be done to alleviate the grievances of Okinawans without putting Japan, Okinawa, or America at risk is a political discussion, but the acceptance of varying positions as equally valid is necessary to reach that conclusion.
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