Okinawa marks 50 years of end to US rule amid protests

May 14, 2022, 9:06 AM | Updated: May 15, 2022, 6:07 am
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 50th annivers...

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of Okinawa's return to Japan after 27 years of American rule, in Tokyo Sunday, May 15, 2022. The ceremonies are held in Tokyo and Okinawa simultaneously. (Fumine Tsutabayashi/Kyodo News via AP)

(Fumine Tsutabayashi/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Sunday urged Japan’s central government to do more to reduce the U.S. military presence in the southern island group as it marked the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan after 27 years of American rule, amid frustration and bitterness over a lack of support from the mainland.

Tamaki said Okinawa has come a long way since the devastation of World War II and nearly three decades of U.S. rule, which ended when it reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972. But the tiny island group’s yearslong demand for the mainland to share its security burden remains unresolved.

“I call on the central government to share with the entire nation the significance of Okinawa’s reversion and the importance of permanent peace that Okinawans have long craved for,” Tamaki said.

Ceremonies marking the anniversary were held simultaneously in two locations — one in the Okinawan city of Giowan, home to a disputed U.S. air station, and the other in Tokyo. The separate ceremonies symbolize the deep divide in views over Okinawa’s history and ongoing suffering.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he takes Okinawa’s concerns seriously and will make efforts to reduce the burden while still maintaining U.S. military deterrence on the islands.

Kishida and his minister in charge of the islands were in Okinawa, where hundreds of protesters staged a rally Saturday demanding a speedier reduction of U.S. military forces, as fears grow that Okinawa may become a front line of conflict amid rising China tensions.

More protests were held Sunday on Okinawa, including one in the prefectural capital of Naha, where nearly 1,000 people renewed their demands for peace.

Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy U.S. presence and Tokyo’s lack of effort to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden between mainland Japan and the southern island group.

Because of the US. bases, Okinawa faces burdens including noise, pollution, accidents and crime related to American troops, Okinawan officials and residents say.

Adding to Okinawa’s fears is the growing deployment of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on Okinawa’s outer islands, including Ishigaki, Miyako and Yonaguni, which are close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.

Okinawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which killed about 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawan residents.

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 U.S. military kept its troop presence on the island group for 20 years longer than most of Japan, until 1972, due to Okinawa’s strategic importance for Pacific security to deter Russia and communism.

Many Okinawans had hoped that the islands’ return to Japan would improve the economy and human rights situation as well as base burdens.

Today, a majority of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and 70% of military facilities are still in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6% of Japanese land. The burden has increased from less than 60% in 1972 because unwelcomed U.S. bases were moved from the mainland.

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

His abdicated father Akihito, devoted to atoning for scars of the war fought in his father Hirohito’s name, was nearly hit by a Molotov cocktail during a 1975 visit as crown prince, but continued showing a special interest in Okinawa.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to visit Japan next week, praised the strong U.S.-Japan alliance and their shared values and vision.

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

The biggest sticking point between Okinawa and Tokyo is the central government’s insistence that a U.S. marine base in a crowded neighborhood, the Futenma air station, should be relocated within Okinawa instead of moving it elsewhere as demanded by many Okinawans.

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

Tamaki earlier in May submitted a petition to Kishida’s government and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel demanding a significant reduction of the U.S. military in Okinawa, the immediate closure of the Futenma base and the scrapping of a new base in Henoko.

Economic, educational and social development in Okinawa lagged behind as Japan enjoyed a postwar economic surge that was helped by lower defense spending because of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

The central government’s development fund since the reversion has improved Okinawa’s infrastructure but the growth of local industry that was largely hampered during U.S. rule is still largely limited to tourism.

Today, Okinawa’s average household income is the lowest and its unemployment is the highest of Japan’s 47 prefectures. If land taken by the U.S. military is returned to the prefecture for other use, it would produce three times more income for Okinawa than the island now makes from bases, Tamaki said recently.

Okinawan authorities regularly face denials by the U.S side in criminal and environmental investigations.

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arby's - LEHI, UT - OCTOBER 26: Exterior view of an Arby's restaurant on October 26, 2017 in Lehi, ...
Associated Press

Ex-Arby’s manager in Vancouver, Wash. sentenced after urinating in milkshake mix

A former manager at an Arby’s restaurant admitted to possessing child pornography and urinated into a milkshake mix
10 hours ago
FILE - Immigration demonstrators stand on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration on D...
Associated Press

Nonprofits help fund immigrants’ legal fights on deportation

As the number of immigrants seeking court permission to avoid deportation grows, foundations in Los Angeles have joined with local governments to direct millions of dollars to pay for lawyers to represent the immigrants, an effort they hope will be copied across the country. Unlike defendants in a criminal case who can be represented by […]
1 day ago
FILE - Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team Unit investigate in downtown Highland Park, Ill., ...
Associated Press

Smith & Wesson sued over link to July 4 parade mass shooting

CHICAGO (AP) — The gun-maker Smith & Wesson illegally targeted young men at risk of violence with ads for firearms — including the 22-year-old gunman accused of opening fire on an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago and killing seven people, according to several lawsuits filed Wednesday in Illinois. The lawsuits filed by people wounded […]
1 day ago
Shale Harris, 15, throws a pass as she tries out for the Redondo Union High School girls flag footb...
Associated Press

California eyes making girls flag football a school sport

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Elsa Morin gripped the football and launched a perfect spiral. Then the 17-year-old dodged in and out of cones and yanked the flag hanging from another girl’s belt for a key defensive play. “Something about football just gets me really excited,” said the senior at Southern California’s Redondo Union High […]
1 day ago
This photo provided by the Lasker Foundation in September 2022 shows Johns Hopkins University civil...
Associated Press

Scientists honored for COVID-19 tracker, prenatal test

NEW YORK (AP) — A Johns Hopkins University scientist who created a website to track COVID-19 cases worldwide is the recipient of this year’s Lasker award for public service. The $250,000 awards, announced Wednesday by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, recognize achievements in medical research. The public service award went to Lauren Gardner, an […]
1 day ago
FILE - A launch truck fires the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) at its intended targ...
Associated Press

US poised to provide $1.1 billion more in aid to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will provide an additional $1.1 billion in aid to Ukraine, with funding for about 18 more advanced rocket systems and other weapons to counter drones that Russia has been using against Ukrainian troops, according to U.S. officials. The latest package is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Okinawa marks 50 years of end to US rule amid protests