Suspended in time: Okinawa's continuing struggle
by Reiko Teshiba (2002)

This paper was written for Professor Tyrene White's Political Science 64: American-East Asian Relations.


Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture of Japan. It is part of the Ryukyu archipelago that lies between Kyushu, the southernmost island of mainland Japan, and Taiwan. Okinawa comprises 160 islands that span 250 miles from north to south and 625 miles east to west. The Ryukyu Kingdom, which had enjoyed tributary relations with China since the 14th century, was absorbed into the Japanese state during the Meiji era. After the devastating Battle of Okinawa, one of the worst battles ever fought for the United States and Japan, the United States occupied Okinawa for 27 years. Okinawa was finally reverted back to Japan in 1972, but, in a sense, the occupation never ended, because Okinawa still houses three-fourths of the American forces in Japan. As a result, many Okinawans feel that Tokyo and Washington have always exploited them. The Okinawa issue lies at the nexus of the complex relationship between Okinawa, Tokyo, and Washington. In this paper, I examine the various aspects of the Okinawa problem, beginning with a short history. This paper places special emphasis on the relationship between Okinawa, Tokyo, and Washington after the February 1995 Nye Report and the rape of a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl by three servicemen seven months later.

A Brief History of Okinawa

In the 14th century, the Ryukyu Kingdom established tributary relations with China, although it refrained from interfering with local matters. The Ryukyu Kingdom profited from the trade and incorporated much Chinese culture into its own. In 1415, the Ryukyu Kingdom became a Japanese tributary under the Ashikaga Shogunate. Toyotomi Hideyoshi insisted that the Ryukyu Kingdom send supplies for his expedition to Korea in 1592-6. Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified the Japanese mainland in 1603, declared the Ryukyu Kingdom a part of Shimazu Iehisa's domain in 1609. Shimazu was the lord of the Satsuma province and sent troops to Ryukyu to assert his control. But he allowed the Ryukyu Islands to retain a semblance of independence, as well as its tributary status with China (Itoh 119-20).

During the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the central government declared formal sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, incorporating them as Okinawa prefecture in 1879. China did not recognize the Ryukyus' incorporation into Japan until the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 (Egami 829). In 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry had actually stopped by at Naha, the capital of Okinawa, on his way to Edo, to establish a forward base for supplies such as coal and water. Perry thought Okinawa would be an alternative for American merchant marines in the event that Japan refused to open any of its ports to the United States (Yamaguchi 99). Because the Meiji government was concerned about Okinawa's vulnerability to foreign threat, it implemented a strict assimilation policy, especially in language and education. The Ryukyu dialect is structurally similar to standard Japanese, but the two are not mutually intelligible. The government encouraged Okinawans to give up their local traditions. It levied higher taxes on Okinawa than on the mainland, but prevented the prefecture from sending representatives to the Diet until 1922, 22 years after incorporation (Itoh 121). Some Okinawans willingly learned standard Japanese after Japan won the Sino-Japanese War, but mainlanders constantly discriminated against Okinawans.

This prejudice was also prevalent in the army. Okinawans began to be conscripted into the Imperial Army after 1894. In World War II, Okinawans served courageously against advancing American forces. The Battle of Okinawa, which lasted for three months, was the worst battle for Japan in the Pacific as well as one of the bloodiest battles in American history. Okinawa was chosen by the United States as the last "stepping stone" in their island-hopping strategy, with the eventual goal of invading the mainland (Watanabe 18). Some 14,500 Americans and 234,000 Japanese noncombatants and soldiers were killed in the battle (Johnson, Blowback 38). Okinawan conscripts might have represented as much as one-third of Japanese defenders (Sarantakes 8). The Japanese Imperial Army told civilians that since the Americans would kill them anyway, they should die honorably instead. Okinawans jumped from cliffs or were forced out into enemy fire by army officers. This extreme devotion to Japan may have been a result of the desire to lessen the "psychological gap" between Okinawa and the mainland and the desire of Okinawans to become Japanese (Watanabe 9). Japan scholar Steve Rabson notes that in the "most outrageous betrayal of the Okinawans' determination to assimilate, Japanese soldiers shot thousands at point-blank range in their anger over defeat, accusing the Okinawans, sometimes on the basis of a few words uttered in dialect, of being spies" ("Assimilation Policy" 144). As Chalmers Johnson points out, many Okinawans think that Emperor Hirohito sacrificed them unnecessarily in order to gain leverage in extracting more acceptable surrender conditions from the Allies, a pattern that was to be repeated in the future (Blowback 38).

After Japan's surrender, Okinawa was treated separately from the mainland. While Japan regained its independence in 1952, Okinawa was occupied by the United States until 1972. Because the United States lacked a clear sense of the purpose or duration of the occupation, the military occupation was very disorganized. Naha, for example, remained a "field of rubble" for years after the war and Okinawa "quickly developed a reputation as an assignment to avoid and became a dumping ground for incompetents" (Sarantakes 28-9). In 1946, the Okinawa Assembly and judicial system were created. The Okinawa Gunto (archipelago) Government and the Government of the Ryukyu Islands (GRI) were established in 1950 and 1953, respectively. But in reality, these structures had little political power and the Okinawan civil administrator could not enact any significant changes without the approval of the U.S. commanding general.

Okinawa gained in importance as a strategic post when the Communist threat in East Asia became more tangible with the Chinese Communist Party victory in 1949. When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Okinawa served as an important American airbase. Bombing missions by B-29s all flew out of Kadena Air Force Base. Kadena is the largest American base in the Asia-Pacific region today. In addition, atomic bombs for use in Korea were temporarily stored in Okinawa until military strategists realized that they were too close to the Soviet Union and recommended their transfer to Guam (Sarantakes 67). The San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 established "residual sovereignty" for Okinawa, while the occupation of Japan ended soon after ratification of the treaty (Sarantakes 59). Residual sovereignty meant that Japan would have legal claim to the islands, whose inhabitants would be Japanese citizens, but the United States would control and administer Okinawa (Sarantakes 58).

The United States began to build permanent military facilities on Okinawa and demanded Japan to give up more agricultural land so the bases could be expanded (Egami 829). In 1951, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) decided to acquire farmland by lease contracts, but when the landowners resisted, it sent armed troops to forcibly remove farmers from their land. USCAR officials also bulldozed the Okinawans' houses in order to build military facilities. By 1955, the United States occupied about 12.7 percent of Okinawa's land area, of which 44 percent was farmland. On Okinawa, an island with few natural resources, most people relied heavily on farming to earn a living. The USCAR also sponsored an emigration program between 1954 and 1964, during which 3200 Okinawans were sent to Bolivia, lured by the prospect of owning their own land. Once at the settlement site, the emigrants discovered that there was no housing, as they had been promised by USCAR. There was not even drinkable water. In addition, the settlement was located on the flood plain of the Rio Grande, forcing the Okinawan emigrants to flee to a number of settlements until they built Colonia Okinawa, where their descendants still live today (Amemiya, "The Bolivian Connection" 55-60).

During the long, drawn-out discussion of reversion, Okinawa's interests were supposedly represented by Tokyo, which was pro-American because it favored a continuation of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. It was under Prime Minister Sato Eisaku that reversion took place. Although he was committed to returning Okinawa to Japan, Sato personally had no problems with the military bases remaining in Okinawa after reversion (Sarantakes 134). In his meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Sato suggested that the United States return all of the Ryukyu Islands except Okinawa. Sato visited Okinawa, making him the first post-war prime minister to visit the island, in an effort to mobilize support for his idea of reversion while preserving the alliance. But organizations such as the Reversion Council, Okinawa Teachers' Association, and Okinawan People's Party were unhappy because they had hoped to use reversion as an opportunity to close the military bases and end the alliance (Sarantakes 137-8). Sato then poured money into Okinawa, increasing economic aid by 40 percent in 1966. This amount was doubled the following year. Japan's aid to Okinawa increased 50 percent in 1968 and another 50 percent in 1969 (Sarantakes 139). Money from Japan surpassed that of the United States, angering Americans, who thought that Tokyo was weaning Okinawa away from the United States and toward Japan.

The onset of the Vietnam War complicated the process of reversion. Beginning in 1965, Okinawa-based B-52 bombers took off from Kadena. The United States found the bases in Okinawa necessary and Johnson wanted Japan to assume more responsibility for its national security (Sarantakes 155). Amidst the unstable international situation, Sato and Johnson reached an agreement that Japan would convey its desire for Okinawa's return "within a few years" while the United States would agree to reversion without a firm commitment to any date (Sarantakes 161). Meanwhile, in Okinawa, the first popular election for chief executive was held on November 11, 1968. Yara Chobyo of the Okinawa Teachers' Association, who advocated immediate reversion, won the election with 53.4 percent of the vote (Sarantakes 163). Richard M. Nixon was elected president during this time. The Nixon Doctrine called for a more multilateral foreign policy that would encourage Asian countries to shoulder greater responsibility for their national defense. Sato and Nixon reached an agreement that Okinawa would be returned in 1972 and the military bases would fall under the framework of the security treaty. It also banned the reintroduction of nuclear weapons on Okinawa (Sarantakes 173). In historian Nicholas E. Sarantakes' words, the reversion process was a "diplomatic triumph for Japan and the United States" because Japan regained Okinawa and the United States maintained the political status quo in East Asia (175). He points out that the primary reason why the United States agreed to return Okinawa was so the security alliance, which it resolutely believed was the basis of regional stability, could be maintained. But Okinawa's problems were not over as long as the military bases remained.

Okinawa Today

Currently, there are 39 bases on Okinawa, representing 75 percent of all American military bases in Japan (see Appendix I). Two-thirds of the 47,000 military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa. But the prefecture comprises only 0.6 percent of Japan's territory, which means that Okinawa bears an extremely unequal share of the burden of the military bases in comparison to the rest of Japan. Apart from Okinawa, 13 other local governments in Japan host military bases. In Okinawa prefecture, the bases comprise 11 percent of the land and about 20 percent of the main island of Okinawa. In addition, the military authorities control 15 airspace areas around Okinawa and 29 sea zones (Itoh 122). Okinawa was once a base-dependent economy, but after reversion, Tokyo implemented the Special Measures Law for Promoting Okinawan Development, which sought to eliminate the economic gap between Okinawa and the mainland and provided infrastructure for independent development (Sasaki 249). By 1997, Tokyo had spent about five trillion yen on Okinawa, mostly on public works. Today, Okinawa is still Japan's poorest prefecture, with 70 percent of the national level of wealth (Johnson, Blowback 40). But the goal of independent development has not been met because the prefectural government is highly dependent on subsidies from Tokyo (Sasaki 249). The focus on economic development has also undermined Okinawa's reformist ideals of pacifism and self-government. Consequently, the central government consistently uses increased financial assistance as bait to subdue irredentist tendencies and extract concessions from Okinawa.

But no matter how much money Tokyo sends to Okinawa, it does not change the fact that Okinawans suffer daily from having so much of their territory occupied by military bases. According to the Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence Web site, there have been about 47,000 crimes committed by American military personnel since Okinawa's reversion in 1972, but there are many more incidents that go unreported. For example, in 1959, a military airplane crashed into an elementary school, killing 17 children and injuring 121 people. This has been the worst accident to date in terms of the number of victims (Itoh 123). The increased risk of air accidents is partly a result of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) permitting military pilots to fly lower than the legal lowest range in densely populated residential neighborhoods. The SOFA agreements were established under the 1960 U.S.-Japan security treaty. The roaring noise of bombers flying over schools interrupts children's learning and places risks on their health. At Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, for instance, there are 52,000 takeoffs and landings each year. The military airfield is in the middle of Ginowan's neighborhoods (Johnson, Blowback 47). According to Nakasone Fujiko, a retired junior high school math teacher in Okinawa, students in schools around Kadena lose an average of two years during their twelve years of education because of the disruptive noise generated from military aircraft. These students are also more prone to nervousness, headaches, and hearing loss. In addition, results of a three-year study conducted by the Okinawa Prefecture Public Health Association showed that infants born to mothers living in the town of Kadena have the lowest average birth weights of any town in Japan. Kadena Air Base occupies 83 percent of Kadena town, with 14,000 citizens crammed into the rest of the town (Francis 201).

The bases also produce toxic wastes, which trickle into the soil and the sea, causing irreversible consequences for Okinawa's fragile subtropical ecosystem (Itoh 122). The SOFA agreement does not require the United States to return the bases to Japan in the condition they were in at the time they were provided to the United States, or to compensate Japan for not having done so. A 1995 Department of Defense policy requires the removal of any imminent or substantial dangers to health and safety caused by environmental contamination as a result of military operations (Overseas Presence 47). According to an August 1997 letter from the Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls were found on the Onna communications site, which had been closed in November 1995. The letter requested the United States to carry out a survey to identify any environmental contamination and clean up bases that are scheduled to be closed. But a report prepared by the General Accounting Office called Overseas Presence: Issues Involved in Reducing the Impact of the U.S. Military Presence on Okinawa, warns that the cleanup could be expensive (47). The United States government has yet to respond to Naha's request. The severest environmental problem was caused when an American military plane discarded a bomb into the sea near Naha in December 1996. In investigating the report, American authorities discovered that Marine jets had fired 1520 depleted uranium bullets at Torishima Range, 62.5 miles off the main island of Okinawa, between December 1995 and January 1996. Although firing depleted uranium bullets is banned in Japan and goes against Pentagon regulations stipulating that they should only be used at specific firing ranges in the United States, American officials notified the Japanese government in January 1997, more than a year after the incident. The Japanese government, in turn, notified Okinawa in February, 25 days after the United States had informed Tokyo (Itoh 123). Upon hitting a target, depleted uranium bullets, each of which contains 147 grams of uranium, react and become uranium oxide, which travels through the air into the human body, possibly resulting in tumors and leukemia (Johnson, Blowback 49-50). Because Tokyo acts as the intermediary between the United States and Okinawa, the people whose welfare is most affected by the American military presence are the last to know about the dangers to their health and safety.

The 1995 Rape Incident: A Watershed

On September 4, 1995, three servicemen at Camp Hansen, Seaman Marcus Gill, Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp, and Marine Pfc. Kendrick Ledet, randomly grabbed a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl on her way home from a stationery store. Gill and Harp said that they beat the girl violently while Gill duct-taped her mouth, eyes, hands, and legs. In court, Gill confessed to raping the girl, while Harp and Ledet said that they had only abducted and beaten her. Gill said that they had done it "just for fun" (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 116).

By September 8, the Okinawa police had identified the three servicemen from their car rental records and had issued arrest warrants. But the Americans did not turn the perpetrators to the Okinawan officials until September 29. Chalmers Johnson notes that this delay is an example of extraterritoriality, an American invention that was first written into the Treaty of Nanking that ended the Opium War in China. In Japan today, extraterritoriality allows a member of the United States armed forces, including his or her dependents, to be turned over to American consular officials instead of being tried under the law of the country where the crime took place (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 117). Under Article 17, Section 5 of SOFA, if American servicemen or their families commit crimes, "they shall be detained by U.S. authorities until Japanese law enforcement agencies file complaints with the prosecutors' office based on clear suspicion" (qtd. in Ibid.). This gives American officials the right to refuse Japanese investigators' requests to turn over suspects if they are connected to the military. Often, the delays caused by extraterritoriality have been used to send American suspects back to the United States, where they usually disappear, out of reach of Japanese law enforcement authorities (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 118).

In regard to the incident, Admiral Richard C. Macke, commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, said, "I think that [the rape] was absolutely stupid. For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl" (qtd. in Johnson, Blowback 35). This outrageous comment exposes the institutionalized relationship between sex and the military, which together often result in acts of violence. Chalmers Johnson notes that the incidence of reported rape in the United States is 41 per 100,000 people. At the military bases on Okinawa, the number is 82 per 100,000 people. But many rapes go unreported because of the humiliation of bringing a charge of rape in Okinawan society (Johnson, Blowback 42). "Covering up sexual assault is Pentagon policy," according to The Nation magazine (qtd. in Ibid.). But it is truly alarming how military violence on Okinawa has existed from the very beginning of Japan-U.S. relations. In a chronology compiled by the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence for distribution at the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, a sailor who accompanied Commodore Perry when he landed in Okinawa in 1853 raped an Okinawan woman. The chronology also includes acts of prewar and wartime sexual violence committed by Japanese soldiers and postwar American military sexual violence (Francis 197).

During the American occupation of Okinawa, Okinawan women provided sexual labor for military personnel. Most of the women were widows or daughters of families who had little or no source of income in the war-torn economy. This continued throughout the Korean and Vietnam warsespecially during the latter when Okinawa flourished as a "rest-and-recreation" (R&R) facility. In the early 1970s, sex and entertainment generated the most income of all the industries. According to statistics gathered by the Legal Affairs Bureau of the Government of the Ryukyus, the number of full-time prostitutes was 7362 in 1969, but the real figure was probably much higher (Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 252). Today, many Okinawan sexual laborers have been replaced by Filipina women, who are less expensive to maintain than Okinawan women, and are therefore more affordable for military personnel. Where the Filipina women and Okinawans sell their labor is kept separate under the watchful eye of the yakuza (the Japanese "Mafia"). The yakuza are often involved in bringing the Filipina women to Japan as six-month contract workers, who are recruited locally. Many Filipina women apply to work in Japan because the pay is much better than what they could hope to make at home (Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 254-6). The problem of military sexual violence is part and parcel of Japan-U.S. relations.

The Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) and Problems Resulting from its Recommendations

The 1995 rape incident was not only a headline-grabbing event in Japan and abroad, but it also set off a chain reaction that challenged the foundation of the relations between Japan and the United States. The Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) was established in November 1995 in an effort to address Japanese and Okinawan concerns about the impact of the American military presence on Japan. This was a joint effort by the Japanese and U.S. governments, charged with the purpose of developing recommendations on ways to "realign, consolidate and reduce U.S. facilities and areas, and adjust operational procedures of U.S. forces in Okinawa consistent with their respective obligations under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and other related agreements" ("The SACO Final Report"). The SACO Final Report was approved by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of State and Director-General of the Defense Agency of Japan on December 2, 1996. SACO's recommendations are not binding bilateral agreements, but both Japan and the United States are committed to the conclusions reached by the committee.

The SACO Final Report called for the United States to do four things. First, the United States should return land at eleven bases on Okinawa and replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station with a sea-based facility. The returns include training areas at Aha and Ginbaru, Yomitan auxiliary airfield, and most of Camp Kuwae. This means that the United States will return about 12,000 acres, or about 21 percent of the total land area used by the American forces (Overseas Presence 26). Second, the United States should change operational procedures, such as terminating artillery live-fire training, parachute drop training, and conditioning hikes on public roads ("The SACO Final Report"). Third, the United States should implement noise reduction initiatives by transferring KC-130 Hercules aircraft and AV-8 Harrier aircraft from Futenma Air Station to Iwakuni Air Base, relocating Navy aircraft and MC-130 operations at Kadena, and limit night flight training operations at Futenma (Ibid.). The important thing to realize is that the proposed "realignments," merely rearrange aircrafts to bases from Okinawa to the mainland, which does not reduce the overall military presence in Japan. Fourth, under the SACO recommendation, the United States plans to implement seven changes in Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreements. These include providing timely reports of local officials of major accidents involving American forces, greater public exposure of Joint Committee agreements, changing the markings on American forces official vehicles, and having military personnel acquire supplemental automobile insurance (Ibid.).

Of all the changes that SACO recommended, the biggest challenge is replacing Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. Futenma is the home base of the First Marine Air Wing, whose central mission is to maintain and operate facilities and provide services for the III Marine Expeditionary Force (Overseas Presence 27). A working group to explore options for replacing Futenma suggested that the air station be moved to Kadena Air Base or Camp Schwab, or build a replacement sea-based facility that would be located offshore of Okinawa island and connected by a causeway or a pier. The SACO Report states that a sea-based facility would be the best option to increase the safety and quality of life of the Okinawans while maintaining the level of American military capabilities (Overseas Presence 29). The chosen location for the "floating heliport," as it became known, was Nago, a seacoast suburb of Henoko, where the Camp Schwab Marine base is located (Johnson, "The Heliport" 218). Japan is supposed to design, build, and pay for this new facility, which will be provided free of rent to the United States Forces of Japan. The floating heliport would cost Japan between $2.4 billion and $4.9 billion and operations costs are expected to be much higher than they are at Futenma. American engineers estimate that the yearly maintenance cost of the new facility would be around $200 million in contrast to $2.8 million for Futenma.

There are three possible designs for the floating heliport: a pontoon-based, pile-supported, or semisubmersible facility. But there are problems with the designs because of the scale of the project. The pontoon-based facility is deemed "at the edge of technical feasibility" and "no floating structure of the size required has ever been built." As for the semisubmersible-type facility, the Department of Defense says that this "relies on technology that does not yet exist" (Overseas Presence 33-6). Any sea-based facility would have to withstand the typhoons that strike within 180 nautical miles of Okinawa a few times every year. Chalmers Johnson comments that a major typhoon would turn "Okinawa's first floating air facility into Okinawa's first underwater air facility, with the greatest sinking of U.S. military assets into the Pacific Ocean since Pearl Harbor" ("The Heliport" 223). Tsunamis, caused by earthquake or volcanic activity, are also a threat (Overseas Presence 47). The floating heliport would have to be heavily anchored to the sea floor and propped by huge seawalls, resulting in substantial damage to Okinawa's coral reefs ("The Heliport" 223). Thus, the sea-based facility replacing Futenma is an extremely risky, costly, unprecedented venture. To date, no concrete plans for construction have been developed.

Governor Masahide Ota at the Helm: A Look at Okinawa-Tokyo Relations

Masahide Ota was elected as governor in 1990 on a platform of reducing the bases on Okinawa. Ota was a retired professor of the University of the Ryukyus who had also studied in the United States for a time. Ota was one of the most popular academics in Okinawa and had participated in the Battle of Okinawa as a student soldier (Egami 838). Ota had published widely on the American and Japanese discrimination against Okinawa (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 119). But Ota faced many difficulties from the beginning of his term as governor. While Ota was reformist, the conservatives held the majority in the Okinawan prefectural assembly. He visited Washington twice to advocate greater awareness of Okinawa's problems associated with hosting the majority of the military bases in Japan (Egami 838).

After the rape incident in September 1995, Ota sought a review of the SOFA, which prevented Japanese police from getting full custody of suspects that had not yet been indicted, thus effectively limiting the police's investigations of the incident. Ota met with Kono Yohei, the Foreign Minister, to persuade the central government to review the SOFA and to take up the issue of the disproportionate number of bases on Okinawa (Eldridge 882). However, the central government rejected the possibility of asking the United States government to revise the SOFA. Ota was angry that Tokyo had refused to consider his appealTokyo could not understand the Okinawans' anger and resentment of hosting the military bases that the rape incident had brought to the fore.

On September 28, Ota declared that he would not cooperate in renewing the leases on land occupied by the bases that were due to expire in the spring of 1996 (Eldridge 882). Much of the land used by the American military is still under legal possession of 31,521 individuals or families that are coerced to lease the land to Tokyo, which then subleases it to the United States without charge. There is also a substantial number of anti-war landlords (hansen jinushi) who have bought one-tsubo (about 3.3 square meters) plots of base land to oppose the military presence (Johnson, Blowback 53). In response to Ota's defiance, then Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi sent Ota a letter demanding his cooperation, which he refused to receive. Murayama then sent a direct order, which Ota again refused, resulting in Murayama launching a court case against Ota for neglecting his administrative duties as governor (Eldridge 884). When Murayama resigned in December 1995, the new prime minister, Hashimoto Ryutaro, continued the legal battle. The Hashimoto government argued that Ota's lack of cooperation made it difficult for Tokyo to fulfill its responsibilities outlined by the 1960 U.S.-Japan security treaty. The Fukuoka High Court, Naha Branch, ruled that Tokyo was correct in claiming that Ota's refusal went against public interest. It also ruled that the laws on the use of land by Tokyo for military bases were constitutional (Eldridge 898).

Ota then appealed to the Supreme Court because of his frustration with the High Court ruling. He focused on the unfairness of Okinawa having to host three-fourths of the military bases in Japan:

  • For 50 years since the end of the war, my people have been forced to live side by side with military bases and to suffer their enormous impact. This means, without exaggeration, that we have fully cooperated with the Mutual Security Treaty. . . .

  • The 1972 reversion was a return to the rule of the pacifist Constitution and should have been a great turning point for Okinawa. What my people sincerely wished for at the time of the reversion was a reduction of bases at a rate comparable to that experienced on the mainland (hondo nami), together with the restoration of human rights and the establishment of home rule.

  • However, today, a quarter of a century after the reversion, the condition of Okinawa has hardly changed. Today, just as before, the extensive bases packed with military functions remain. Incidents, accidents, and pollution on account of the bases keep appearing. This is a far cry from the meaning of reversion my people desired. The Status of Forces Agreement, Article 2, permits military bases to be built in any area of Japan under the authority of the Mutual Security Treatythe so-called "bases anywhere formula." If so, then why should Okinawa alone shoulder the excessive burden? One would be hard put to understand it.
  • Many people in Okinawa do not wish to transfer their sufferings to others. However, if the Mutual Security Treaty is important for Japan, they believe that responsibility and burdens under the treaty should be assumed by all Japanese citizens. If not, many of my people point out that the outcome is discriminatory and goes counter to [the principle of] equality under the law.
  • In Okinawa, there are about 1.27 million Japanese nationals. Although this lawsuit [formally] concerns the prime minister's order to the prefectural governor to carry out certain duties, I believe that it implies issues of basic human rights such as constitutionally guaranteed property rights, people's rights to a life in peace, and [the prefectures'] right to home rule. Because of these constitutional issues, all Japanese nationals everywhere should be actively concerned with Okinawa's base issue as one that impinges on their own basic human rights. In that sense, Okinawa's base issue is not peculiar to one local areaOkinawabut is eminently general as Japan's problem with implications for Japan's sovereignty and democracy. Is that not so? ("Governor Ota" 212-3)

    Unfortunately, in spite of initial media reports that the Supreme Court had responded favorably to Ota's testimony, in the end, it rejected the appeal with a terse two-sentence statement: "[We] reject and dismiss the appeal. The court expenses shall be borne by the appellant" (Ota, "Governor Ota" 205).

    Furthermore, Hashimoto initiated a set of amendments to the 1952 Special Measures Law that transferred all control of land leases for U.S. military bases to the central government (Johnson, Blowback 53; Eldridge 902). This was something that Ota had been afraid of throughout the legal struggle, since the new measure further empowered the central government. After the appeal, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Kato Koichi visited Ota and offered the central government's apologies for not adequately addressing the base issue in the past. Kato brought an economic package that had been hastily put together the day before. It included financial incentives such as the expansion of the free trade zone near Naha's airport, as well as discount in airfares to and from the mainland. Later, Hashimoto offered an additional five billion yen to boost Okinawa's economy. In return, Ota would have to pledge to cooperate with Tokyo on the land lease issue (Eldridge, 900-1). Tokyo's approach of bribing Okinawa on any base-related issue is classic of the relationship between the central and local governments. The local governments, especially Okinawa, are fiscally dependent on the locus of power, which makes economic aid from Tokyo irresistible for governors who need to keep their constituencies on their side.

    During Ota's standoff with Tokyo, the Okinawa Prefectural People's Rally was held. Sponsored by 18 major Okinawan citizen and labor organizations, 85,000 people gathered on October 21, 1995, in Ginowan, near Futenma Air Station. The rally centered upon four demands: the reduction of the bases, doing away with crimes committed by military personnel and greater enforcement of discipline, revision of the SOFA as soon as possible, and prompt compensation and apologies to victims of crimes committed by military personnel (Eldridge 883). The rally was attended by representatives of all the central political parties in Okinawa, demonstrating that the demands were in the interest of all Okinawan citizens, regardless of where they stood on the political spectrum.

    Most importantly, the rally mobilized the public and raised awareness for the non-binding prefectural referendum that was to be held in Okinawa a year later. This was only the second referendum to be held in all of Japan, even though Japanese citizens have the right to hold a public referendum under the 1947 Constitution (Eldridge 880). The referendum asked, "[How do you feel about] reviewing the Japan-United States Status of Forces Agreement and reducing the American bases in our prefecture?" Eighty-nine percent of participants answered "agree," but only 59.53 percent of voters participated in the referendum. This corresponds to about 53 percent of all eligible voters in Okinawa who agreed with the question on the referendum (Eldridge 879). Despite the low voter turnout, it was a direct challenge to the central government in its policies of national defense and the obligations stipulated by the Japan-U.S. security treaty.

    The democratic, constitutional referendum was the only way Okinawa could make its voice heard to the central government as well as the United States. According to Taira Koji, professor emeritus of industrial relations and coeditor of The Ryukyuanist, says the Okinawans' "'irrational' confidence in the constitution has made them a laughing stock among mainland Japanese who, secure in their rights, seldom think about the constitution, or even the Japanese state" (176). In contrast to much of the mainland where the word "democracy" rings hollow, Okinawans are keenly aware that the Constitution can be used as a means to reaffirm what is rightfully theirs, especially in regard to human rights, property rights, citizens' right to a peaceful life, and a prefecture's right to home rule. In 1997, another non-binding referendum was held in Nago, protesting the construction of the floating heliport replacing Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. This referendum had a voter turnout of 80 percent, with 53.8 percent opposing construction (Johnson, "The Heliport" 219-20). In 1998, Ota, who had been governor throughout this turbulent period, lost his bid for a third term to Inamine Keiichi, who was enthusiastically backed by the Liberal Democratic Party (Johnson, "The Heliport" 221).

    The Nye Report and the Reassessment of the United States' Role in East Asia

    The Clinton administration reversed the previous Bush administration's policy of gradualy reducing American forces in East Asia. The February 1995 East Asian Strategic Review, also known as the Nye Report, stated the United States' "commitment to maintain a stable forward presence in the region, at the existing level of about 100,000 troops, for the foreseeable future" (qtd. in Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 10). The "foreseeable future" meant at least until the year 2015 (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 120). The Nye Initiative, of which the report is a part, is named for Joseph S. Nye, then Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs. It was a reevaluation of the Japan-U.S. bilateral security agreement and defense cooperation. The report begins, "security is like oxygen; you do not tend to notice it until you begin to lose it" (qtd. in Johnson and Keehn). Many Japanese understood this new stance to mean that the Clinton administration would stop pursuing its aggressive trade policy, especially in regard to automobiles, and placing priority on security instead. Some policy analysts argue that the automobile trade negotiators knew that as a result of the Nye Report, the United States had given up its "most important bargaining chip," or the commitment to defend Japan (Johnson, "The Rape Incident" 120). But others contend that the concept behind the Nye Report was for the United States to endorse both trade and security issues simultaneously. A stronger security alliance would actually put the United States in a better position to promote trade issues without neglecting Japan politically (Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 12).

    On September 4, 1995, the same day as the rape incident, Nye addressed the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ). He said that North Korea and China were the reasons for the continued presence of American forces in Japan. Nye elaborated that 100,000 troops were necessary because of the "clear and present danger" posed by North Korea. Secretary of Defense William Perry later added that the U.S.-Japan security alliance is crucial for deterring China's military expansion. At the FCCJ, Nye gave two more reasons for his recommendation. He said, "The U.S.-Japan alliance is not against a particular adversary but against a situation where countries in the region might feel pushed to arm themselves against each other and against uncertainty, were it not for a stabilizing and reassuring U.S. presence" (Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 121, emphasis added). In addition, Nye stated that it costs the United States less to keep troops in Japan than it would to keep them in the United States, alluding to Japan's host nation support, which usually amounts to over four billion dollars a year (Ibid.).

    Nye's argument about host nation support points to an often misunderstood aspect of who bears the cost of having the bases in Japan. Under SOFA, Japan is not legally required to pay for the maintenance of the American forces (Johnson, Blowback 54). Shin Kanemaru, then head of the Defense Agency, first created the system of host nation support, or omoiyari yosan.1 In 1978, Japan donated 6.2 billion yen toward the upkeep of American forces and the United States has requested more ever since. Although the United States has bases in 19 countries around the world, Japan is the only one that absorbs the costs of all the local employees of the bases (Johnson, Blowback 55). According to Chalmers Johnson, the total cost of the bases in Japan is about $6.2 billion. In fiscal year 1997, Japan's host nation support totaled around $4.9 billion, which supports the common view that Japan pays for approximately 70 percent of the bases (Overseas Presence 16; Johnson, "The 1995 Rape Incident" 125). The host nation support falls into four categories. First, Japan pays for the leased land on which the bases are situated. Second, as outlined by the Special Measures Agreement, Japan pays for the salaries of local employees working on the bases, public utilities for U.S. forces, and the transfer of the training of U.S. forces from bases to other facilities when Japan requests for them to do so. Third, Japan pays for the indirect costs, including rents that are foregone at fair market value and tax concession. Fourth, Japan provides for new facilities, improvements around the bases, and relocation construction (Overseas Presence 16). Chalmers Johnson says that "none of the Japanese funds ever goes into an American account," but a simple calculation hardly suffices the costs of maintaining the military bases in Japan ("The 1995 Rape Incident" 125). If we broaden the definition of cost to include opportunity cost and the immeasurable grievances caused by the military bases, it becomes clear that Japan may be paying more than what the bases are worth in utility and function.

    The Nye Initiative also brought about a new National Defense Program Outline (NDPO), which was approved by the Japanese Diet in November 1995. The NDPO was the result of bilateral discussions that called for the streamlining and restructuring of the Self-Defense Forces, such as making the SDF ground forces more mobile to deal with more diverse missions, including international peacekeeping and disaster relief. The NDPO also expanded the range of national defense (Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 13).

    Japan and the United States originally intended to announce the reaffirmation of their security relationship with a bilateral summit, but this was postponed because of the Okinawa rape incident and the ensuing standoff between Governor Ota and Prime Minister Hashimoto. The summit was finally held in April 1996. Prior to the summit, Hashimoto and President Clinton signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) that called for Japan's logistical support for American forces during peacetime in training, peacekeeping operations, joint exercises, and humanitarian missions. The two leaders also decided to review the 1997 Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines, the groundwork for which had been established by the NPDO (Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 15). In addition, Japan and the United States accepted the SACO recommendations. The United States pledged to return Futenma Marine Corps Air Station within five to seven years and Japan would replace it with a heliport (Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 16).

    At the summit itself, Clinton confirmed the presence of 100,000 forward deployed troops in East Asia. Hashimoto approved of the United States' "determination to remain a stable and steadfast presence in the region" and promised to continue Japanese financial contributions to maintain the American forces. The Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security outlined the objectives, including cooperation with China so as to encourage it to play a constructive role in the region, encouragement of Russia's economic and political reforms, continued efforts for the establishment of stability on the Korean peninsula, and eventual development of multilateral regional security cooperation for Northeast Asia similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Mochizuki, "A New Bargain" 16). In essence, the Clinton-Hashimoto communiqué restated the status quo, but failed to address security concerns that had remained unanswered for decades. What would Japan's military role be in the context of the security alliance? What does the United States expect Japan's military contribution to be in the next century? Can the bilateral security treaty continue without a fundamental reevaluation of the responsibilities and expectations of both the United States and Japan?

    An Outdated Security Strategy

    The Nye Report brought about a renewed, vigorous dialogue about Japan-U.S. relations. While some applauded the Pentagon's commitment to a forward presence in East Asia, others criticized the strategy as obsolete, suspended in an outdated Cold War framework. Why were 100,000 forward deployed troops necessary? Why should the United States act as a stabilizing force in East Asia? What were the implications of the continued American military presence in the Asia-Pacific region?

    Chalmers Johnson and E. B. Keehn, in "The Pentagon's Ossified Strategy," question the appropriateness of Nye's recommendations in a post-Cold War world. They claim that the 1951 Japan-U.S. security treaty was drawn up when Japan was still recovering from the Second World War. The economic situation in Japan and the rest of East Asia has changed dramatically since then. East Asia's prosperity is an achievement that Johnson and Keehn attribute to its "own invention of state-guided capitalism" that was more effective in preventing the spread of communism than any military role played by the United States. They also argue that America's insistence on a defense commitment in Japan does not encourage democratic development, but rather supports a "reactionary, narrow-minded political leadership" that makes it even more difficult to establish an equal partnership. Johnson and Keehn believe that if Japan is to stay the true "linchpin" of American strategy in Asia, the Japan-U.S. security treaty must be rewritten or dissolved. While much of the current policy analysis of security issues focuses on the expansion of China, the greater threat to the Asia-Pacific region is a United States that does not trust Japan to become a "normal" country that is well-rounded in terms of economic, political, technological, and military power, as opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro envisions. In fact, the United States still cannot decide whether Japan is an enemy or an ally, so the military presence both defends and contains Japan, depending on the interpretation.

    Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute also criticizes what he dubs Washington's "smothering" strategy. He claims that the Japan-U.S. security treaty was never mutual in any way. A continuation of the security alliance only encourages Japan to evade military responsibility by "free riding" on the American security guarantee. He worries that the cutback in the number of active duty personnel of the Self-Defense Force and the defense budget signal Japan's heightened reluctance to play a more significant security role. Writing in 1995 about nine months after the Nye Report was released, Carpenter recommends that the United States should withdraw its forces within five years, after which Japan would be expected to be responsible for its own defense. In addition, the United States ought to let Tokyo know that it does not oppose Japan's playing a greater political and military role in East Asia. However, Carpenter does not believe in scrapping the security alliance entirely. He proposes that the United States and Japan should pursue a "new, more limited security relationship" where both countries cooperate where they have common interests. He concludes, "The United States should be the balancer of last resort, not the intervener of first resort, in East Asia's security equation" ("Paternalism and Dependence").

    In a Foreign Affairs article in 1998, former prime minister Hosokawa Morihiro points out the perception gap between Americans and Japanese regarding the security alliance. He states, "It is egotistical for Americans to believe that the United States has done Japan a favor by defending it all these years by stationing its forces within the country." He cites a May 1996 public opinion poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun, a liberal daily newspaper, which found that 70 percent of the people favored the security alliance but 67 percent supported a reduction of the number of American military bases. The American ground forces in Japan consist of the marines in Okinawa, one of the islands that was least susceptible to Soviet attack during the Cold War. He also notes that Japan has been responsible for its own air defense since 1959. But, like Carpenter, Hosokawa believes the security alliance should be preserved. For example, even if the United States returns the two naval bases at Sasebo and Yokosuka, it can still have access to Japanese ports and maintain its maritime presence in the Asia-Pacific region. "The U.S. military presence should fade with this century's end," Hosokawa declares. He, like Carpenter, Johnson, and Keehn, recommends that the security alliance needs to be redefined.

    Therefore, there are many strong voices for the necessity of the reconsideration of the Japan-U.S. security alliance after the Cold War, as well as a review of the United States' role in East Asia. But in the 1998 United States Security for the East Asia-Pacific Region reiterated the strategies outlined in the Nye Report. The United States intends to maintain a presence of 100,000 military personnel in East Asia. It also claims that 100,000 troops is not a random number. It is equivalent to the capacity of the U.S. Eighth Army and Seventh Air Force in Korea, III Marine Expeditionary Force and Fifth Air Force in Japan, and U.S. Seventh Fleet to achieve "security and stability" in the region. The United States will continue to act as a stabilizing force, promoting peace and stability in the region and detering conflict. Nye, who has returned to teach at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, also defended his report last year. He stated that the Clinton administration, which focused primarily on the liberal concepts of economic interdependence, needed a "healthy dose" of realism, bringing national interest again to the forefront (95). While Nye believes that the number 100,000 should not become a "shibboleth," he argues that it is in the United States' interest to play a stabilizing and reassuring role in East Asia to prevent the rise of "hostile hegemonic states" (102).

    What Can Be Done For Okinawa?

    Although the realist, Cold War perspective prevails in the Pentagon, it is important to consider what can be done to improve the situation in Okinawa while preserving the security alliance, which the majority of both American and Japanese policy analysts support. As we have seen in the case of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, the relocation of bases is no easy task. The euphemism of "realignment" does not reduce the American military presence on the whole. As of today, nothing has changed. The Futenma Relocation Committee is still contemplating numerous designs and methods of construction, even though there is no guarantee that the floating heliport will be technologically possible. Meanwhile, Okinawa is dormant until the next collision between its people and the American forces.

    Mike M. Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, argue that the United States should withdraw the Marines, who comprise about 20,000 of the 29,000 troops in Okinawa. The Marines are ill equipped to make rapid deployments to potential places of conflict such as the Korean Peninsula. The four amphibious vessels homeported at Sasebo can transport only about 3000 troops and their equipment. Taoka Shunji, military correspondent for Asahi Shimbun, says that the United States lacks in-theater sea-lift capability to move other Marine units from Okinawa to regions of conflict. If other Marine or Army units were using the limited amphibious and airlift capacity for an emergency on the Korean Peninsula or the Middle East, most of the Marines in Okinawa would be stranded until the vessels became available (243). Mochizuki and O'Hanlon believe that the Marines are inappropriate for land combat in Asia. Should a conflict erupt in the Spratly Islands, Taiwan, or the sea lanes of the South China Sea, the Navy and Air Force, rather than the Marines, are much suitable to provide the bombers, submarines, fighter aircrafts, and surface warfare ships that would be necessary in such conflicts. They also point out that although basing the III Marine Expeditionary Force on the mainland United States would cost Americans more in maintenance and operations, the money would be spent on the domestic economy. Removing the Marines from Okinawa would significantly reduce the total number of servicemen, which could then alleviate the psychological burden placed on Okinawa as a result of the military presence.

    Taoka, in an interview with the Japan Policy Research Institute, disagrees with the Pentagon's logic that maintaining the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa deters North Korea. The U.S. Army's Second Division is deployed at the demilitarized zone and the air capacity of both the American and South Korean forces is "overwhelming" (Taoka 244). A crisis on the Korean Peninsula, in Taoka's words, "implies the clash of million-man armies on each side," in which context one Marine regiment from Okinawa would hardly be useful (Ibid.). He recommends that moving the divisional headquarters of the III Expeditionary Force, one infantry regiment, and one artillery battalion from Okinawa to Hawaii would actually improve the general command and structure of the division. Taoka says that the Governor of Hawaii has reacted positively to such a move and the Governor of Okinawa would be happy to help finance. The measures recommended by Taoka, Mochizuki, and O'Hanlon may appear small, but could mean a lot to Okinawans, who have had to live with the unpleasantness of the military bases since World War II.

    Conclusion The Okinawa problem brings to light how deep the strains are in Okinawa-Tokyo and Tokyo-Washington relations. Okinawa-Washington relations have largely been missing because Tokyo represents the interests of Japan as a whole. It uses a carrot-and-stick approach with Okinawa and other local governmentswith the carrot being economic incentives and the stick being political marginalization. Would Tokyo have allowed the military presence to remain in Japan for so long if the bases were located on more prominent places of the mainland? Probably not, since the mainlanders would not have tolerated it. But Tokyo continues its checkbook diplomacy to buy off Okinawa, keeping out of sight the most unseemly aspect of its relationship with the United States.

    It is also surprising and depressing how many things have not changed since World War II and the ensuing Cold War. The United States occupied Okinawa because, as historian Nicholas Evan Sarantakes says, it could not decide whether Japan was a friend or foe (193). The United States decided to keep Okinawa as a forward base against communism and Japanese remilitarization. Fifty-seven years later, the question remains the same. Since no one is able to give a good enough answer, the United States retains its forward presence in Okinawa. Chalmers Johnson, in Blowback, states that life in Okinawa and other "military colonies" is "better than anything most of them could possibly have experienced back home" (64). Life might be good for the overseas military personnel, but when we think of the environmental degradation, sexual violence, noise pollution, and health risks posed by the bases, we cannot help but think that this cannot go on forever. The 1995 rape incident was definitely a wake-up call, but it was disturbing to see that the response of key American and Japanese policymakers was no different than it was before. What would it take for Japan and the United States to breathe new life into their mutual relationship? Only Okinawa, which is most affected by the American military presence, seems to be aware of the need to challenge the status quo vis-à-vis Tokyo and the United States and the now-obsolete security alliance. The 1996 prefecture-wide referendum that asked about whether Japan should review SOFA and reduce the military bases was a constitutional means to assert their human rights. Okinawa might be a relic of the Cold War, but Tokyo and Washington can certainly learn much from listening to the calls from one of the few places in Japan where democracy really exists.

    Reiko Teshiba '02 is currently working in Tokyo as a Japanese to English translator. She recently worked on a project to translate press conference responses of the Crown Prince and Princess! While at Swarthmore, Reiko worked as a WA. She says, " In the real world, there isn't a whole lot of commitment ­ or time, rather ­ to enjoy writing and putting effort into making something better." At Swarthmore, however, she was able to savor the process. This paper was the last paper that she wrote at school here, and is very close to her heart in subject matter.


    1 Omoiyari yosan is usually translated as "sympathy budget," but omoiyari may be closer to "consideration" or "thoughtfulness."


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    S. A. Mick McClary P.O. Box 6245, Great Falls, MT 59406