Okinawa marks 50-year end of US rule amid protests

TOKYO – Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Sunday urged the Japanese central government to do more to reduce the US military presence in the southern archipelago as it marked the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan after 27 years of American rule, amid frustration and bitterness at a lack of mainland support.

Tamaki said Okinawa has come a long way since the devastation of World War II and nearly three decades of US rule, which ended with the return to Japan on May 15, 1972. But the tiny archipelago’s years-long requirement that the mainland share its security burden remains unresolved.

“I call on the central government to share with the entire nation the importance of Okinawa’s reversal and the importance of a lasting peace that Okinawa has long yearned for,” Tamaki said.

The anniversary celebrations took place simultaneously at two locations — one in the Okinawa city of Giowan, home to a controversial US air station, and the other in Tokyo. The separate ceremonies symbolize the deep gulf in views of Okinawa’s history and ongoing suffering.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he takes Okinawa’s concerns seriously and will make efforts to ease the strain while continuing to maintain US military deterrence in the islands.

Kishida and his islands minister were in Okinawa, where hundreds of protesters held a rally on Saturday calling for faster reductions in US forces amid growing fears that Okinawa is becoming a frontline in the conflict amid rising tensions in China could become. More protests were planned on the outskirts of Okinawa on Sunday.

Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy US presence and Tokyo’s lack of efforts to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between mainland Japan and the southern archipelago.

Because of the US. Okinawa faces stresses such as noise, pollution, accidents and crimes related to American troops, Okinawa officials and residents say.

Adding to Okinawa’s fears is that Japanese missile defenses and amphibious capabilities are being increasingly deployed on Okinawa’s outer islands, including Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.


Okinawa was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, killing about 200,000 people, almost half of them Okinawans.

Okinawa was sacrificed by Japan’s Imperial Army to defend the mainland, and many Okinawans are skeptical that the Japanese military would protect them in future conflicts, experts say.

The US military maintained its troop presence in the archipelago 20 years longer than most of Japan, until 1972, due to Okinawa’s strategic importance to Pacific security to deter Russia and Communism.

Many Okinawans had hoped that returning the islands to Japan would improve the economy and human rights situation, as well as basic loads.

Today, the majority of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security pact are located, and 70% of military installations are still located on Okinawa, which accounts for just 0.6% of Japan’s land. The load has increased from less than 60% in 1972 as unwelcome US bases moved off the mainland.


In his online speech from his Tokyo palace, Emperor Naruhito acknowledged that “many problems” remain on Okinawa and said, “I hope that people, including the younger generation, will have a deeper understanding of Okinawa.”

His retired father Akihito, dedicated to atonement for the scars of the war waged on his father Hirohito’s behalf, was almost hit with a Molotov cocktail during a visit as crown prince in 1975, but continued to show a special interest in Okinawa.

US President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to visit Japan next week, hailed the strong US-Japan alliance and their shared values ​​and vision.

“I am deeply grateful for Japan’s unwavering support for democracy, freedom and the rule of law, and for Okinawa’s contribution to promoting these ideals,” Biden said in a statement.

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that a US naval base in a crowded neighborhood, Futenma Air Station, should be relocated inside Okinawa, rather than being moved elsewhere, as many Okinawans are calling for.


Tokyo and Washington initially agreed to close the station in 1996 after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three US military personnel sparked a massive anti-base movement.

In early May, Tamaki submitted a petition to the Kishida government and the US Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, calling for a significant reduction in the US military in Okinawa, the immediate closure of the Futenma base and the elimination of a new base in Henoko were requested.

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

The central government’s development fund has improved Okinawa’s infrastructure since reunification, but local industry growth, largely stymied during US rule, is still largely confined to tourism.

Today, Okinawa has the lowest average household income and the highest unemployment among Japan’s 47 prefectures. If land captured by the US military is returned to the prefecture for other uses, it would bring Okinawa three times more income than the island now generates from bases, Tamaki said recently.


The Okinawa authorities regularly face US denials in criminal and environmental investigations.


This story corrects the location of the Okinawa ceremony to Ginowan, not the prefectural capital, Naha.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Okinawa marks 50-year end of US rule amid protests

Joel McCord

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