Okinawa, a series of tropical islands far away in southwestern Japan, much closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, suffered heavy losses in World War II. A third were killed in bloody battles between American and Japanese forces in two months. Nearly 30 years of American rule followed.
On May 15, 1972, the islands that were considered a hopeful step in the painful legacy of the war were finally returned to Japan. However, today they still have most of the US military bases in Japan. It was the devil’s deal that provided jobs but raised concerns about crime and military accidents.
A protester on Miyako Island, home to Japan’s newest army base, declined to name them, saying “these are small islands.”
“Building a military base will not protect them, it will be a target for attack.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will attend a ceremony to commemorate the return of Okinawa, and Emperor Naruhito will comment via video link from Tokyo.
Okinawans have long resented having to bear the enormous burden of hosting a base, and the issue has occasionally sparked mass protests. In a poll conducted by NHK in March, 56% of 812 Okinawans said they strongly oppose US military bases. Of the 1,115 people outside the prefecture, only a quarter gave the same answer.
Tensions are likely to escalate as ruling LDP lawmakers said they want promises of more defense spending, including missiles capable of hitting targets on foreign lands that could be deployed in Okinawa. The country is revising its national security strategy this year.
The current Okinawa governor, Denny Tamaki, wants to reduce the base footprint, but plans to relocate some bases from Okinawa, including sending some marines to Guam, are moving slowly.