Okinawa in Postwar Japanese Politics and the Economy
Okinawa Prefecture Official Web Site
Brief Background Facts About Okinawa
This chapter examines select aspects of the political and economic history of Okinawa from 1945 through the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is not a comprehensive survey, but it does deal with most of the key issues in the recent history of Okinawa. Any discussion of Okinawa's political and economic relationships with Japan necessarily involves questions of Okinawa's role within the broader United States-Japan relationship. The event most responsible for framing Okinawa's postwar history was the war itself, especially the Battle of Okinawa. We begin, therefore, with a brief survey of the Battle of Okinawa.
Background: The Battle of Okinawa <> The American Years, 1945-1972 <> The Post-Reversion Era, 1972-1990 <> The Post-Cold War Era, 1990-2000
Background: The Battle of Okinawa
For a basic summary of the battle: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/okinawa-battle.htm
See Julia Yonetani, "Contested Memories: Struggles Over War and Peace in Contemporary Okinawa," in Glenn D. Hook and Richard Siddle, eds., Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 188-207.
Although plans for a U.S. invasion of Okinawa had been in place since as early as 1943, the fighting started on March 26, 1945, with an American attack on the small island group of Kerama. Organized Japanese ended on June 23 on Okinawa Island itself but sporadic resistance lasted until September 7 in some of the remote outlying islands. The loss of life was high. Typical estimates of deaths include 107,000 Japanese soldiers (including local Okinawa conscripts), at least 100,000 Okinawan civilians (some figures are as high as 180,000), and 12,000 U.S. soldiers. To put these figures in some perspective, approximately one in five Okinawans perished as a result of the battle, and more people died in the Battle of Okinawa than in the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined. By almost any measure, it was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. What is especially instructive for our purposes is to look beyond these large statistics and examine some of the circumstances behind these deaths, especially those of the 100,000 or more civilians.
As historian Ishihara Masaie 石原昌家 has pointed out, the most striking characteristic of the Battle of Okinawa was that the battle-related deaths of non-combatants outnumbered those of combatants. He specified seven factors contributing to these civilian deaths: 1) the torture and killing of those viewed as spies; 2) forced "group suicides;" 3) being driven out of shelters; 4) being robbed of their food; 5) the poisoning, stabbing, or strangling to death of small children to prevent their alerting U.S. forces to the locations of Japanese soldiers; 6) forced evacuations to malaria-infested areas; and 7) the movement of military command posts to areas occupied by civilian evacuees. (「沖縄戦の諸相とその背景」[The Battle of Okinawa and its background], in 『新琉球史、近代・現代編』琉球新報社、1992, p. 253.) Of course, the simple fact of the onslaught of U.S. forces in densely populated areas caused some of the civilian casualties. These seven factors, all the result of Japanese military policy and actions, made an already bad situation for Okinawan civilians much worse.
Although Japanese authorities knew many months in advance that American forces would invade Okinawa, the top military officials were unwilling to commit major human and material recourses to Okinawa's defense. As a result, the Japanese defenders stood no chance of victory. Their plan was to fight a war of attrition, presumably in the hope of causing enough American casualties to make the United States think twice about invading the mainland of Japan and thus possibly to negotiate an end to the war. In the minds of Japan's leading military officials and politicians, Okinawa was to be sacrificed for this purpose. The goal of the Japanese soldiers there was not to defend the Okinawans but to inflict casualties on the Americans. Mainland soldiers often regarded Okinawans with suspicion, as not being fully Japanese and not being fully loyal to Japan's emperor. These soldiers often acted as if Okinawa were a foreign land under Japanese military occupation. Under the stress of battle, Japanese soldiers frequently killed Okinawan civilians who got in their way or hindered the fighting in any way. Japanese soldiers were as much of a danger for Okinawan civilians as were the invading Americans.
(Click here for a look at views of Okinawa and its people by Japan's military authorities from the late Meiji period through the early Shôwa period.)
In 1982, the Japanese historian Ienaga Saburô 家永三郎 wrote in a draft of a high school textbook that "Okinawa became a theater of land combat and approximately 160,000 residents, old and young, male and female, met untimely deaths amid the conflict. More than a few of these were killed by the Japanese army." Indeed, many Japanese soldiers did directly murder Okinawan civilians. The Ministry of education, however, objected to the second sentence and insisted that Ienaga also mention Okinawan "group suicides" (shûdan jiketsu 集団自決) so that readers would not think that all or most of the 160,000 deaths were at the hands of Japanese soldiers directly. But Ienaga argued that the sentence "More than a few of these were killed by the Japanese army" already included these suicides. In other words, these "suicides," too, were caused by the Japanese army.
Many, perhaps most, of the civilians who died as a result of the battle committed suicide in the sense that they either took their own lives directly or were killed by a close relative or friend as part of a group effort at self-annihilation. It was for this reason that Ienaga argued that the statement "killed by the Japanese army" included the so-called group suicides. Incidentally, although many Japanese military personnel also killed themselves as the fighting became hopeless, large numbers of rank-and-file soldiers did surrender. Indeed, Japanese soldiers were more likely than Okinawan civilians to have surrendered in the face of advancing American forces, and the surrender of Japanese soldiers was often shocking to these civilians.
Why did so many Okinawan civilians kill themselves in conjunction with the defeat of Japanese military forces? There are several reasons. One background factor is the mistrust mentioned above. Consider the following analysis of the battle by historian and former governor of Okinawa Ôta Masahide 大田 昌秀:
The biggest problem that characterized the Battle of Okinawa was the military's mistrust of local civilians. This mistrust prevented cooperation between the military, the local government, and the people, which was vitally necessary during wartime. . . . This was evident in the answer of Major General Cho [Chô Isamu 長勇, 1895-1945], chief of staff in Okinawa, to a question by a local reporter. Asked how the civilian residents should behave when American troops landed, General Cho replied, "It is too late to say this, but all the civilians should accept military instructions like soldiers. In other words, each civilian ought to have a fighting spirit to kill ten enemy soldiers and destroy our enemy." He also said, "When the enemy lands and our food supply is cut off, the military is not in a position to provide civilians with food, even if you plead with us that civilians will starve to death. The military's important mission is to win the war. We are not allowed to lose the war to save civilians."
While the military thus proposed a common destiny of life or death for the military, the government, and the people, it was, in actuality, only death that was emphasized. In short, the civilians (the government and the people) were regarded as partners of the military, destined to carry out a final "honorable suicide" (gyokusai [玉砕]) and were never regarded as subjects of military protection. ("Re-Examining the History of the Battle of Okinawa," in Chalmers Johnson, ed., Okinawa: Cold War Island [Cardiff, CA: Japan Policy Research Institute, 1999], p. 29.)
On the one hand, the military authorities in Okinawa stressed the duty of all local civilians to die in defense of Japan. On the other hand, in practice, these same military authorities regarded Okinawans with distrust. One concrete manifestation of this distrust was the frequent execution of civilians on the suspicion of their being spies, or, in some cases, because of fears that they might side with the invaders. According to Ôta:
Master Sergeant Tadashi Kayama of the Defense Force on Kume [久米] Island, who himself carried out executions of civilians on this island, explains why he did it: "Well, my view is . . . unless we took firm measures, we would have been killed by the local residents before being killed by the Americans. My troops consisted of a mere thirty or so soldiers while there were ten thousand residents. So if the residents had turned on us and sided with the Americans, we would have been finished right away. So . . . we needed to take firm measures. So I conducted executions in order to keep the civilian residents under our control." The most disturbing aspect of such abnormal thinking and actions by individual officers and soldiers was that they were not brought about by desperation borne of defeat but were based on the policy of the Defense Force." ("Re-Examining," p. 30.)
After the battle started, the military command even prohibited the use of Okinawan languages on pain of death (regarding the languages of the Japanese Islands: http://18.104.22.168/www3/ethno/Japa.html). As Ôta explains, ". . . the Defense Force issued the directive on April 9, 1945, that 'From now on soldiers and civilians as well are all required to use nothing but standard Japanese. Those who speak Okinawan will be regarded as spies and receive the appropriate punishment.' The language issue was at the core of suspicions that Okinawans were spies." ("Re-Examining," p. 30.) The message, of course, was contradictory. The official voice of the central government (as represented by military commanders, not local officials) demanded Okinawans sacrifice themselves for a "homeland" that distrusted their loyalty and regarded them as second-class citizens.
It should also be emphasized that, despite such treatment from Japan's military forces, many ordinary Okinawans were eager to affirm their Japaneseness. Choosing death in the face of the American invaders was one obvious and dramatic way to demonstrate absolute loyalty to the emperor and to Japan as a whole. The following typical comment comes from Miyagi Kikuko, who survived horrific conditions on the battlefield while a high school student: "Young people sometimes ask us, 'Why did you take part in such a stupid war?' For us the Emperor an the Nation were supreme. For them, one should not withhold one's life. Strange isn't it? That's really the way it was." (Quoted in Haroko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook, Japan at War: An Oral History [New York: The New Press, 1992], p. 363.) Another survivor of the battle, a boy who had just turned sixteen, explained the rationale for group suicide in part as "We determined we would choose a way of dying appropriate for subjects of the Emperor." (Quoted in Japan at War, p. 365.) Such a mindset had been instilled in young and middle-aged Okinawans through a concerted campaign of "Japanaization" (dôka 同化) since the start of the twentieth century, led by the schools and reinforced by the mass media and other social institutions.
To reinforce the "positive" message of glorious death for emperor and nation, the military authorities in Okinawa inundated the civilian population with horrific images of what would happen to them should they fall into the hands of the American devils. For example, Kinjô Shigeaki, the boy of sixteen mentioned above, pointed out that "We knew that if we were captured we'd be chopped to pieces. They'd cut off our noses, our ears, chop off our fingers, and then run over our bodies with their tanks. Women would be raped. That's why we were committing suicide, to avoid capture by the enemy." (Quoted in Japan at War, p. 365.) Kinjô's view was typical of that shared by many other Okinawan civilians. In short, Okinawan civilians killed themselves because many believed it to be their duty to their nation to die rather than fall into enemy hands. Fear of the consequences at the hands of the enemy reinforced this belief. Distrust of and disregard for Okinawan civilians by Japanese military personnel placed large numbers of civilians in situations whereby they thought suicide was the only option.
How did these civilians kill themselves? Although military forces did distribute some hand grenades and packages of cyanide to civilians, most had to make do with whatever objects were at hand. Imagine large numbers of people trying to kill themselves with nothing but ordinary objects to assist them in the task. Kinjô describes a typical scene:
The Americans seemed poised to descend on us at any moment. Residents from all the hamlets, about a thousand people in all, had gathered in that one place under the supervision of the village mayor. Women told their children there was no path for them other than death. Weeping, crying people swore they were going to die together. Women arranged their hair neatly and prepared themselves for their own deaths. This scene remains vividly in my mind. We were told we were to await orders from the military. Hours passed. The orders seemed to have been issued. Hand grenades were distributed, and began to be used. . . .
A Strange scene began to unfold right in front of me. One of the village leaders, a middle-aged man, snapped off a sapling. I gazed at him, wondering what he was doing. Once he had that stick in his hands, he turned into a madman. Striking his wife and children over and over again, bludgeoning them to death. That was the beginning of the tragedy I saw.
As if by a chain reaction, it spread from one family to the next. We all must die that way. Everyone seemed to think so. People began to raise their hands against their loved ones. . . .
My memory tells me the first one we laid hands on was Mother. Those who had blades, or scythes, cut their wrists or severed arteries in their necks. Be we didn't do it that way. We might have used a string. When we raised our hands against the mother who bore us, we wailed in our grief. I remember that. In the end we must have used stones. To the head. We took care of mother that way. Then my brother and I turned on our younger sister. Hell engulfed us there. (Quoted in Japan at War, pp. 364-365.)
Accounts such as Kinjô's attest to the twisted power of modern ideologies of national identity to influence behavior. This example is also emblematic of the agony many Okinawans in the early twentieth century suffered as they strove mightily to be Japanese and yet ended up short-changed by the Japanese state. The Battle of Okinawa was the sacrifice of Okinawa Prefecture by the central government in the absurd hope of somehow being able to turn the tides of war into a direction favorable to Japan. Okinawa Prefecture, being on the margins of the Japanese homeland, was expendable in this way. And the examples of such an attitude continue to the present day (see, for example, the discussion in subsequent sections of land seizures and the recent changes in the Special Measures Law for Land Used by U.S. Forces).
On April 28, 1952, the United States occupation of Japan officially ended. But Okinawa Prefecture was excluded from "Japan" in the context of the peace treaty. It would remain under U.S. military administration until 1972. We now know that the Shôwa Emperor himself suggested to occupation authorities in 1947 that the U.S. might hold Okinawa indefinitely in return for a shorter occupation of the rest of Japan. Once again the central government sacrificed Okinawa for the benefit of the mainland.
The American Years, 1945-1972
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During the years immediately following the Battle of Okinawa, the major concern of most Okinawans was survival and recovery. Likewise, throughout the rest of Japan, pursuit of the basic necessities of life was the highest priority for most people. During the years 1945-1950, the United States government was unsure of what to do with Okinawa. Administrative control of Okinawa Island was the responsibility of the navy until July 1946, at which time the army took over (the army had already been in control of the outlying islands). Several years later, control shifted briefly back to the navy, but quickly returned to the army, which exercised administrative control until 1972. Also during these early years, there was little communication or coordination between Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands such as Miyako and Yaeyama.
The basic form of postwar Okinawan governance began to emerge in late 1947. As historian Ôshiro Masayasu 大城将保 points out, in October of that year, a National Security Council report looked at the western Pacific in light of the beginnings of the cold war in Europe and the ongoing revolution in China. It suggested a chain reaction of possible destabilization running from the Soviet Union, through China, and, via Taiwan, up to Japan through the Ryukyu Islands. It therefore urged a tightening of U.S. control over the Ryukyu Islands. In 1949, Truman approved the report, making it official policy. The U.S. government sent an inspection team to Okinawa soon thereafter, which was shocked at conditions in the islands. Its report sparked a change in commanders and set the stage for the system of joint American-Okinawan system of governance (albeit with the preponderance of authority being in American hands) that would remain in place until 1972 (more details below). ("Okinawa sengoshi no apurôchi" 沖縄戦後史のアプローチ in 『新琉球史、近代・現代編』琉球新報社、1992, esp. pp. 293-294.)
In terms of broader political issues, U.S. authorities decided to regard Okinawa and the other Ryukyu islands as territory separate from the rest of Japan. Proposals for governance of the islands ranged from annexation by the United States to making the territory a United Nations protectorate. The start of the Korean War in 1950 made Okinawa all the more valuable as a U.S. military staging area. As a result, Article 3 of the Peace Treaty with Japan specified with respect to the Ryukyu Islands that "the United States will have the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters." At the time of the treaty's negotiation, U.S. representative John Foster Dulles explained that "residual sovereignty" over the Ryukyu Islands resided with Japan, implying that at some point in the future the islands would revert to Japanese control.
The Korean War also caused an expansion of the U.S. military facilities in Okinawa. To do so, between 1953 and 1957 military authorities seized the land of local residents and farmers, often at gunpoint. These local landowners received payments for this land, and they or their descendants continue to receive them. Despite this compensation, the land seizures were and continue to be a major source of friction between Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, and the United States. In testimony before Japan's supreme court in 1996, then governor of Okinawa, Ôta Masahide, explained why the initial land seizures were especially traumatic for those whose land was taken:
A distinctive characteristic of the land problem . . . is that the land that has become the object of forcible acquisition is farmland. . . . The farming folk who lost their lands were compelled to emigrate to [faraway] countries like Bolivia looking for places for permanent resettlement, or to work [in odd jobs] on the bases giving up traditional farming. As numerous records indicate, in Okinawa where the proclivities for ancestor worship are strong, land is not a mere plot of soil in which to grow crops. It is not a commodity, something that can be considered an object for buying and selling. . . . [L]and is an irreplaceable heritage graciously bequeathed to us by our ancestors or a spiritual string that ties us to them. My people's attachment to their land is firmly rooted, and their resistance against the forcible taking of their land is similarly strong. (Quoted in Okinawa: Cold War Island, p. 210.)
Why was Governor Ôta talking about this matter before the supreme court? Because he had been sued by the Japanese government for refusing to sign documents that would have permitted continued use by U.S. forces of land whose Okinawan owners refused to agree to lease extensions. Ôta lost in court, incidentally, and soon thereafter the central government changed the relevant law to prevent any further possible obstruction by Okinawan politicians--a topic we take up in the final section (more details in the final section).
The government of the Ryukyu Islands was somewhat complex, owing in part to the tensions associated with rule by absolute military authority within an ostensible framework of democracy. In 1950, the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) replaced direct military governance. USCAR was headed by a High Commissioner, who was at the same time the U.S. military commander of the island. The High Commissioner delegated many of the day-to-day civil administrative duties to a Civil Administrator. The Civil Administrator was an army officer until 1962, after which time civilians held the post.
A local government roughly paralleled USCAR. By 1952, after several name changes, this local government came to be called the Government of the Ryukyu Islands (GRI). It consisted of judiciary, legislative, and executive branches. The legislature was a single body whose members were elected from the various districts of Okinawa and other islands. The executive branch was headed by a Chief Executive. Until 1968, this Chief Executive was recommended to the High Commissioner by the majority party in the legislature, with the High Commissioner having the final say in who would occupy the office. After 1968, the post was filled by direct popular election. The USCAR often tried to work through the GRI, thereby masking its power. The GRI, on the other hand, especially from the late 1960s onward, was potentially--and sometimes actually--a forum for resisting or opposing U.S.-imposed measures.
During this time of U.S. rule, Okinawa functioned like much its own separate country, or perhaps like a colony of the United States. The U.S. dollar was the currency, and travel permits were required of anyone seeking to go to the Japanese mainland. Public display of the Japanese flag was banned, though Okinawans frequently defied this policy. Japanese was the language of formal education and daily life, though a knowledge of English was required for many government officials and employees at military bases. Accidents caused by U.S. military personnel (plane crashes, vehicle collisions, etc.) resulting in death or property destruction took place frequently owing to the close proximity of civilians to military installations and to the small size of Okinawa. With a large concentration of young men in the military installations, crimes ranging from disorderly drunkenness, to rape and murder were also a significant problem for Okinawa. Whether caused by accident or criminal intent, cases involving U.S. soldiers harming Okinawans or their property were adjudicated by U.S. military courts, not the judicial branch of the GDI. Okinawans frequently accused these courts of excessive leniency in dealing with such offenses, and, indeed, a common response to serious criminal offenses by U.S. soldiers was to transfer the offenders out of Okinawa to a different military unit. The general population of the United States had little or no idea of the situation in Okinawa, whereas the average Okinawan was acutely aware of living under foreign military occupation.
What about the view of Okinawa from mainland Japan? Until the late 1960s, most Japanese had little interest in Okinawa. Prior to the Pacific War, most Japanese tended to see Okinawa as an exotic, relatively primitive backwater only marginally part of Japan in terms of culture. After the war, most Japanese were concerned with recovery and economic advancement. Insofar as they might have though about Okinawa under U.S. occupation, it was common to suppose that Okinawans all spoke English, ate chunks of red meat with knives and forks, and in many other ways fit the typical stereotype of Americanized people. In the late 1980s I had numerous conversations with Okinawans who had gone to college in the mainland of Japan during the late 1960s or early 1970s. They told me of encounters with Japanese who complimented the Okinawans on their "excellent Japanese" or their ability to wield chopsticks.
By the late 1960s, the Okinawa question had become a well-known political issue in mainland Japan, with nearly all Japanese expressing sympathy toward the people of Okinawa and favoring reversion of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan. However, this sympathy was not so strong as to include willingness to accept any of the U.S. military facilities on Okinawa in their mainland back yards. And both the Japanese and the U.S. governments were determined to maintain the same degree of military presence after reversion of Okinawa to Japan. This determination on the part of the two governments to maintain military forces and bases intact led to widespread dissatisfaction among Okinawans in the post-reversion years, as we shall see in subsequent sections.
Before the Pacific War, it was common for young Okinawan men to seek work in the Japanese mainland or in such foreign locations as Brazil or the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Those in Hawaii and Brazil commonly worked as agricultural laborers, and those in the Japanese mainland often worked as unskilled industrial laborers (most commonly in the spinning industry) or in coal mines. Okinawans in all of these places suffered various forms of discrimination from mainland Japanese, and the jobs they occupied were typically at the low end of the pay and safety scale. During the years of U.S. occupation, Okinawans continued to seek work in the Japanese mainland, both as individuals and as families. Many lived in Okinawan neighborhoods in the Ôsaka-Kôbe area, some of which conatined as many as 20,000 people of Okinawan origin. According to Steve Rabson, Okinawan neighborhoods today flourish in Hyôgo Prefecture, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kita-Kyûshû, and other urban areas. In his memoirs, Kinjô Isamu describes life in Ôsaka in the 1950s as follows:
It was cold. That's the first thing I remember about coming to Osaka in late 1954 at the age of three. After we got our passports, the family--my parents and us five children--rode the boat over rough seas for three days and nights. . . Both my parents had already moved to Osaka at the start of the war. . . After the war, my parents returned to Okinawa, but they couldn't make a living there, so they took us back to Osaka.
My parents maintained our Okinawan life-style so completely that sometimes we forgot we were in Osaka. We always spoke Ryukyuan and, since we were among many other Okinawans in the Manzaibashi area of Kita Okajima, it was easy to live this way. My father raised pigs and grew goya (bitter melon) in a vacant lot, and . . . made brown-sugar candy. My mother had her weaving implements sent from Okinawa, and made kasuri splash patterned cloth.
We conducted all the annual observances strictly by the old lunar calendar, including the spring shiimii festival of feast and prayer honoring departed relatives, and of the summer o-bon festival when spirits of the ancestors are said to return to this world for a brief visit. . . .
Far from feeling some kind of "inferiority complex" about Okinawa, we were like Okinawa patriots, convinced that it was the best place there was. (Okinawa izu numba-wan [Okinawa is number one, 1996], quoted in Seve Rabson, "Life on the Mainland: As Portrayed in Modern Okinawan Literature," in Okinawa: Cold War Island, p. 89.)
Positive views of Okinawan identity are much more common in the postwar era than they were before the Pacific War. The question of Okinawan identity was very much an issue during the years of U.S. occupation, both for individuals and at the broader level of the ideological foundations of U.S. rule.
In preparation for the Battle of Okinawa, a corps of U.S. naval officers received training in civil administration, which included information about Okinawan history and culture. According to Handbook for Civil Affairs of the Ryukyu Islands (actual title may be slightly different--I am translating 「琉球列島民事ハンドブック」), "Ryukyuans are historically distinct from Japanese, and they have no desire to go back to being part of Japan." (Quoted in Ôshiro, "Okinawa sengoshi no apurôchi," p. 296.) While this statement is not entirely without basis, the part about the desire to return to Japanese sovereignty proved, over time, to be completely inaccurate under the continuing U.S. occupation and the conditions of governance associated with it. In the very early years of U.S. rule, there seems to have been little thought among Okinawans in general, or their civilian political leaders, about being re-united with Japan. A major reason for this view, according to Ôshiro, was the horrific treatment of Okinawans at the hands of the Japanese army during the Battle of Okinawa. ("Okinawa sengoshi no apurôchi," pp. 299-300.) But this situation changed throughout the decade of the 1950s.
In 1950, the general standard of living between most areas of mainland Japan versus Okinawa was starting to diverge, though the difference was not yet pronounced. By the end of the decade, however, general living standards in Japan had become much higher than in Okinawa. This economic gap was one reason that Okinawans began to harbor an idealized view of the Japanese mainland during the 1950s and continuing through the 1960s. Another reason was Japan's "peace constitution," which specifically banned war as a tool of politics:
ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Living under U.S. military occupation, with all its related limitations, indignities, and frustrations, Okinawans tended to seen in Japan the peaceful, prosperous country to which they also aspired. Most Okinawans became enamored of the goal of reverting to Japan not so much because of abstract nationalistic yearnings but because they envisioned concrete social and economic benefits. Many assumed, for example, that when Okinawa became subsumed under Japan's constitution, the U.S. military presence would be greatly reduced (example). This reduction did not take place. Glenn D. Hook and Richard Siddle point out that:
While the great majority of Okinawans had fervently desired a return to Japan, thereby gaining the benefits of the 1947 Constitution, with the protection of human rights, Article 9 and the other benefits of a 'pacifist, democratic state' . . . withdrawal or at least a reduction of the U.S. military presence was expected to be the concrete manifestation of this structural change in the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. Yet any tourist visitor to the 'tropical island paradise' willing to abandon the beach umbrella for a glimpse at the military infrastructure, hardware and personnel holding up the US nuclear umbrella can even now still witness at first hand their continuing effects on the everyday life of Okinawans long after 1972. (Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity [RoutledgeCurzon, 2003], p. 3.)
During the 1960s, Okinawans became increasingly adamant in their demands to rejoin Japan. Demonstrations often featured waving of the Japanese flag, the display of which was generally banned by U.S. authorities. Okinawan determination to be re-united politically with Japan had other, arguably less desirable effects in the realm of culture. For example, Okinawan schools vigorously rooted out the use of Ryukyuan languages with an efficiency that would have been the envy of prewar prefectural authorities. As a result, very few Okinawans today below age 50 can speak a Ryukyuan language, and all the Ryukyuan languages are in grave danger of dying.
After numerous rounds of negotiation, the U.S. and Japan came to an agreement in 1969 setting a precise timetable for Okinawan reversion to Japan. As a result, on May 15, 1972, Okinawa formally rejoined Japan. USCAR, of course, was abolished, and an Okinawan Prefectural Government (OPG) replaced GRI, although some of the GRI personnel became prefectural officials.
The Post-Reversion Era, 1972-1990
Most Okinawans greeted the reversion to Japan with great joy and high expectations of better living standards. These expectations were only partially met. The military bases remained in place, though some facilities began to be operated jointly by U.S. and Japanese military personnel. Crime, noise, the continued occupation of seized lands, and the other problems of the large military presence continued largely as they had in pre-reversion days. The legal process whereby U.S. bases continued to operate on land seized from civilians became slightly more complex. In this area, Japan's central government became the main land broker after 1972, leasing the lands from their Okinawan owners and then sub-leasing the lands to the U.S. military. This system became a major issue during the administration of the activist, anti-base governor, Ôta, which we examine in the final section below. The bottom line for Okinawans was that Japan's central government was unwilling to consider any reduction of military bases or their relocation to other parts of Japan. That Okinawa continued to bear such a disproportionate burden of basing U.S. soldiers was an indication of the prefecture's continued de facto second-class status within the larger entity of Japan.
On the broader economic front, the situation was better. Japan's central government provided significant assistance to Okinawa's economy in the form of various kinds of monetary grants, spending projects (mostly on basic infrastructure), and incentives for investments. Sometimes cynically called "guilt money," such financial assistance helped raised living standards in Okinawa throughout the 1970s. By the 1980s, Okinawa Prefecture's average standard of living was about 70% of the average for all of Japan--a major increase compared with the American years, but still the lowest of any of Japan's prefectures. The comparative standard of living remains about the same today, though if Japan's central government were to cease all forms of economic assistance to Okinawa, it would probably decline. In other words, Okinawa's economy still has major structural weaknesses.
Reversion to Japan ended travel restrictions and hassles in moving between Okinawa and the mainland. This change, along with central government economic aid to Okinawa, was a boon for the island's tourist industry, which flourished during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Although there is no doubt that the boom in tourism has been a help to Okinawa's overall economy, many of the large tourist resort complexes are owned by mainland-based corporations. In such cases, the majority of profits from Okinawan resorts usually end up outside of Okinawa. While these resorts and other facilities do employ many Okinawans, the higher-paying management positions are often filled by mainland employees working in Okinawa for fixed terms. In short, the economic benefit to Okinawa of much of the tourist industry is often muted by these kinds of factors.
Okinawa's tourist industry is based on the prefecture's natural resources such as spectacular beaches, thriving coral reefs, mangrove swamps, mountain forests to retain rainwater, and so forth. During the 1970s and 80s, development of infrastructure, tourist facilities, and other sites took place with little concern for their ecological impact. As was customary throughout the mainland, engineers stepped in to "improve" rivers and other natural features, often with poor results from the standpoint of their long-term health. Okinawa's population is high compared with the land's carrying capacity, a problem the military bases exacerbate. Environmental quality, therefore, will likely be a major factor in determining the long-term viability of Okinawa prefecture's economy.
In perusing books published in Okinawa or by Okinawan writers prior to reversion, expressions such as "waga hondo" 我が本土 (our mainland--with a sense of endearment suggested by waga) or "(waga) sokoku" （我が）祖国 ([Our] ancestral country, i.e., Japan) are quite common, whether in journalistic writing or in scholarly material. Indeed, when reading such materials I sometimes got the impression that the writer was trying to avoid the straightforward use of "Japan" 日本 (Nihon or Nippon), thereby refusing to reinforce the American-imposed dichotomy between "the Ryukyus" and "Japan." Scholarship dealing with the Ryukyu Kingdom in these days tended to stress ties between Ryukyu and Japan, while often minimizing ties between Ryukyu and China or other non-Japanese places.
Soon after reversion, expressions such as "waga hondo" quickly vanished. At one level there was obviously no longer any need for such linguistic affirmation of political goals, since those goals had already been accomplished. But there was a more subtle shift in attitudes taking place during the 1970s. The vigorous Okinawan affirmation of Japaneseness during the years of U.S. control was a reasonable strategy given the circumstances, but it could not erase Okinawa's long history of an ambiguous and often difficult relationship with the land to the north known as "Japan," "Yamato," or whatever. Okinawa did not become a formal part of Japan until 1879, and from then through the war years, and, indeed, until 1972, it had often been treated badly by the authorities in Tokyo. At the personal level Okinawans frequently endured belittling discrimination at the hands of mainland Japanese, even in foreign lands such as Hawaii. Nearly all Okinawans preferred Japanese rule to American rule, but, having attained that goal in the 1970s, a significant number of Okinawans began to feel some unease regarding that Japanese rule. In contrast to the 1960s, for example, historical scholarship on the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 1980s tended to emphasize the connections between Ryukyu and China and various countries other than Japan. One general indication of subtle Okinawan unease with "Japan" was the lack of Japanese flag display, perhaps most conspicuous in public schools. When the Ministry of Education began a serious effort to force all Okinawan schools to fly the Japanese flag, there were extensive protests in some localities (though ultimately the ministry succeeded).
The most famous example of anti-Japanese symbolism of the 1980s was Chibana Shôichi's 知花昌一 public burning of a Japanese flag prior to the National Athletic Meet (Zenkoku taiiku taikai 全国体育大会) in 1987 (the scene just after the burning). Chibana chronicles the this event and its aftermath in his book, Yakisuterareta hi-no-maru: kichi no shima Okinawa Yomitan kara 焼き捨てられた日の丸--基地の島沖縄読谷から (新泉社, 1992). Rendered into English, the title would be something like The Burnt and Discarded Rising Sun Flag: From Yomitan in Okinawa, the Island of Military Bases. Chibana is also one of the main characters in Norma Field's In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: Japan at Century's End (Vintage Books, 1993). His main reason for removing and burning the flag was that he objected to such an oppressive symbol flying over his home town. For Chibana, the flag represented, among other things, the horrific atrocities Okinawans suffered at the hands of the Japanese army during the Battle of Okinawa as well as the continued presence of U.S. military forces and their bases. The reason he burnt the flag--as opposed simply to lowering it--he says, was to prevent its being returned to the flagpole.
Chibana was charged with destruction of municipal property and later convicted. His deed, and the subsequent trial brought to light a number of tensions in Okinawan society. Prior to the flag incident, Chibana had sought to preserve and publicize the memories of Okinawan civilian deaths during the Battle of Okinawa, especially at a cave called Chibichirigama. Some Okinawans supported Chibana in his activities, but others preferred to let the painful past fade away quietly. Because of Chibana's notoriety after burning the flag, vandals attacked and destroyed the monument he had worked so hard to create. Furthermore, Chibana, his business, and to some extent his neighborhood were harassed constantly by militant right-wing groups in black vans blaring anti-Chibana criticisms through loudspeakers (actual examples). Chibana's public stance forced into the open uncomfortable questions about such things as Okinawan identity, the wartime behavior of Japanese soldiers, and the extent to which individuals are free to criticize the state and its symbols.
As the 1980s drew to a close, the military base situation remained largely unchanged from previous decades. Uncomfortable questions related to the Battle of Okinawa, nearly fifty years old at this point, also remained unresolved. But Okinawa's economy was doing well, in large part because Japan's economy as a whole had been booming throughout the 1980s. Today, this decade is known as "the bubble years," and, indeed, as the 1980s drew to a close, the air began to leak out of Japan's economic bubble.
The Post-Cold War Era, 1990-2000
Web sites of possible interest:
"Cycle of Unease in Okinawa," a Cato Institute report on U.S. forces in Okinawa (August, 2000): http://www.cato.org/dailys/08-01-00.html
Chibana's activities in part reflected a growing anti-base sentiment in Okinawa and in part served as a catalyst for furthering this sentiment. In November, 1990, Okinawan voters elected and independent candidate, Ôta Masahide, as governor. Ôta, a former professor and the author of over forty books, ran a single-issue campaign against the U.S. military presence. He promised to stand up to both the U.S. and Japanese governments, and--rare for an elected politician anywhere--Ôta kept his promise. Throughout his two 4-year terms, Ôta was a thorn in the side of Japanese and U.S. authorities, but he was ultimately unsuccessful in his quest against the bases.
Let us pursue a sequence of events that illustrate Ôta's stance and some reactions to it. On September 4, 1995, three U.S. servicemen kidnapped a twelve year old Okinawan schoolgirl (selected apparently at random), took her to an isolated beach, and raped her repeatedly. Rapes by U.S. military personnel had not been uncommon in Okinawa, but this case exploded into the public eye, in part because of the especially brutal nature of its details and also because the general public had become thoroughly tired of the U.S. presence. Massive public demonstrations against the U.S. presence after the rape drew record crowds into the streets. U.S. military officials handled the case awkwardly at first, and one high-ranking officer even stated in public that the three servicemen were "stupid" because for the price of the car they rented in carrying out the rape they could have hired a prostitute. Reminding Okinawans of the island's prostitution industry in this context served only further to fan the flames of resentment.
Eventually, the three assailants were turned over to Japanese jurisdiction and received relatively modest prison sentences. The U.S. and Japanese governments promised to make major changes regarding the bases in the near future. However, other than proposing a controversial offshore helliport project that was eventually abandoned owing to public protest and absurdly high construction costs, this promise has gone unfulfilled.
Buoyed by the outpouring of public anger against the American presence, Governor Ôta declared that he would no longer perform the legal act of "in lieu signings" (shômei daikô 証明代行) for base lease agreements. Ôta's refusal resulted in a major headache for Japan's central government. To understand the reasons, some background to the rather complex process of providing land for U.S. bases is needed. Chalmers Johnson explains it as follows:
Between 1945 and 1950, the Americans occupied what Okinawan land they wanted, regardless of whether it had been publicly or privately owned. With the onset of the Korean War they expanded their bases into permanent American military facilities. There was even a pretense of due process in the forcible seizure of the land by the Americans. Nonetheless, the Okinawan farmers never gave up their titles to their land. When, in 1972, Okinawa reverted to Japanese sovereignty but the American bases remained undisturbed under the terms of the Japanese-American Security Treaty, the Japanese government had to deal with the claims of Okinawan landowners. It decided to treat the formerly privately owned land as if it had been taken over by the Japanese government in accordance with the terms of the Land Acquisition Law, a long-standing measure for forced lease or sale of land for public purposes. It then transferred the land to the Americans for their extended use under the terms of a newly enacted Special Measures Law for Land Used by U.S. Forces. . . . The Japanese government in effect forcibly leased the land and paid the owners rent. The government then sublet the land to the U.S. forces in Japan but with the Japanese government actually footing the bill. ("The 1995 Rape Incident and the Rekindling of Okinawan Protest Against the American Bases," in Okinawa: Cold War Island, pp. 111-112.)
According to the Land Acquisition Law, leases must be renewed every five years. This renewal process includes the signing of documents by the owners of the land stating their agreement with the transfer terms and other details. Recognizing the possibility that unhappy landowners would refuse to sign these documents, the law states that the local mayor or his designee may sign "in lieu" of the landowner. Should the local mayor refuse to sign the documents, then the prefectural governor was charged with the task od proxy signing. As they often had done in the past, numerous Okinawan landowners refused to sign the renewal documents in 1996, as did their local mayors. Ôta's refusal to sign, therefore, held up what had hitherto been a perfunctory renewal procedure.
As a result, Japan's prime minister sued Governor Ôta under terms of the Local Autonomy Law in an effort to force him to sign. Ôta lost at each step of the judicial process including in Japan's supreme court, which issued a one-sentence ruling in favor of the central government on August 28, 1996. Just a few days later, on September 8, Okinawans voted in a prefecture-wide plebiscite on the U.S. bases. About 60% of eligible voters cast ballots, and they were overwhelmingly in favor of reducing the bases (482,000 supporting reduction; 46,000 opposing reduction; 13,000 invalid ballots). Because of the 40% who did not vote, however, the matter can also be stated as 53% of Okinawan voters cast ballots in favor of base reduction.
Although the Japanese courts acted swiftly to uphold the central government, one lease did expire for a very brief period. The small parcel of land in question was directly beneath a large communications and electronic espionage facility, and the owner was none other than Chibana Shôichi of 1987 flag burning fame. Although Chibana held a well-publicized family picnic on his land one afternoon, he was unsuccessful in his legal attempts to evict the Americans. After a few days, the supreme court decision described above rendered the whole enterprise moot. Nevertheless, Chibana, Ôta, and others had managed to embarrass and inconvenience Japan's government over the base issue.
Because several thousand more base leases were set to expire in the spring of 1997, Japan's Hashimoto government rushed through legislation to amend the Special Measures Law for Land Used by U.S. Forces. The revised law eliminated the prefectural governor's role as intermediary and allowed the central government to perform the proxy signing. The revised law was not specifically aimed at Okinawa in terms of its wording because that would have violated Japan's constitution (which specifies that a national law applicable only to a specific locality must win the approval of a majority of voters in that place). Privately, however, Japan's legislators were reassured that the new features of the law would only be used to maintain the U.S. bases in Okinawa. Ninety percent of the diet voted in favor of amended law. Had such legislation been drafted for any other part of Japan, or for Japan as a whole, it would instantly have created a vast opposition in the diet and the public at large. That such a large majority of the diet would quickly and quietly vote to support the new law is perhaps the most dramatic evidence in recent years of Okinawa's continued second-class status in the eyes of the rest of Japan.
During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Japan's central government, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP--a conservative party), and the U.S. government all pushed hard for the election of Ôta's main opponent, Inamine Keiichi 稲嶺恵一, former head of Ryukyu Petroleum. As part of its pressure tactics, the central government temporarily cut back on aid to Okinawa. This cutback was an especially strong statement because Japan's economy had been in recession throughout the 1990s. Okinawans were feeling the economic pain of recession and were uneasy about offending the powerful central government. Inamine ran a skillful campaign, opposing the bases just enough to win over voters but not to the point of alienating LDP and central government support. In the meantime, pro-central government newspapers attacked Ôta's record and character. Inamine won the election, thus bringing to an end what some have called "the Ôta era."
At this point, let us pause to consider a very different aspect of the military base issue. In popular, journalistic, and scholarly Okinawan discourse concerning the bases, there has been a strong tendency to idealize Okinawa's past as a rhetorical device for arguing against the presence of the bases. The most pernicious myth, repeated by Ôta (e.g., in his supreme court testimony), by newspaper reporters, in web sites, and elsewhere is that the Ryukyu Kingdom was a pacifistic land, devoid of serious conflict and devoid of all but ceremonial weapons. That very few people in Japan or elsewhere have undertaken a serious study of Ryukyuan history, and that many people want to believe in the possibility of non-coercive societies, helps make such a vision plausible. The origin of this myth of a weaponless kingdom was probably eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European sailors who had visited Ryukyu in need of food, ship repairs, or other assistance. Word even spread to Napoleon in exile that Ryukyu was a weaponless kingdom, but he seems to have had sufficient wisdom to regard the claim as a tall tale.
The history of the Ryukyu Kingdom contains its share of warfare and violence, including intra-Ryukyuan battles, battles with pirates, war with the Japanese domain of Satsuma in 1609, and smaller-scale police actions. Owing to complex circumstances, after 1609, the kingdom had to become highly secretive and circumspect about its politics vis-à-vis nearly all outsiders (Chinese, Europeans, and most Japanese except for a few Satsuma merchants and officials). Small and relatively weak, post-1609 Ryukyu never displayed a militarized face to the outside world, but political conflict--sometimes fatal--took place, as did strong-armed police tactics and anti-pirate defense preparations for ships traveling to China. The details of these matters are beyond the scope of this chapter, but many of them can be found in Gregory Smits, Visions of Ryukyu: Identity and Ideology in Early-Modern Thought and Politics (University of Hawaii Press, 1999). The bottom line is this: the Ryukyu Kingdom was not an excessively aggressive or warlike state, but neither was it a pacifistic paradise free from strife and weapons as the modern myth-makers often claim.
There are other questions to consider about this point beyond simply the historical veracity of the image of a Ryukyu Kingdom devoid of conflict or weapons. This peaceful image, of course, serves to add poignancy to the typical claim that the U.S. military bases have ruined a once-peaceful and idyllic island. First let us consider whether Okinawa was especially prosperous or peaceful just before the coming of the U.S. military? During most of the first half of the twentieth century, Okinawa's economy was in shambles. The island suffered from severe poverty and its people endured strong state pressure to modify their behavior--including their language--to fit an idealized Japanese pattern. The economic situation in the 1920s was so bad that the decade is informally known as the "sago palm hell" (sotetsu jigoku ソテツ地獄) because many people were forced to boil and eat the inner parts of sago (sotetsu) palms--not terribly nutritious, but non-poisonous and barely edible if prepared properly. Going back a little further in time, the last decades of the nineteenth century were hardly much better for the average Okinawan. Surely the Okinawa of these times could not have been the tropical paradise that somehow the U.S. bases destroyed. Even if we could go back in time far enough to find a Ryukyuan paradise or El Dorado, what connection could or should that long-past state of affairs have to the issue of U.S. bases in the 1990s? There is a strong tendency for modern people to regard history or historical trajectories as teleologies, a legacy of nineteenth-century ideas now thoroughly discredited. That long ago Okinawa might have been a peaceful paradise--a dubious claim in itself--should have no direct implications for the present-day base problem. As Hook and Siddle point out in this connection, " . . . unhelpfully, Okinawans are portrayed and even idealized, in an atavistic return to former days, as a peace-loving, idyllic, and harmonious community." (Japan and Okinawa, p. 9.)
My pointing out these matters should in no way suggest a defense of the continued military occupation of Okinawa. The bases are and have long been a serious social problem. Furthermore, current technologies, changes in the geo-political situation, and a severe lack of logistical capability have made the Okinawan bases largely useless in dealing with serious military conflicts in the Pacific region. While it is understandable that Okinawans might use every rhetorical weapon at hand to argue against the bases, the fabrication of an image of a pacifistic Ryukyu Kingdom and its deployment in teleological terms is of dubious value. Issues connected with the military bases should be debated on their own merits, not on the basis of an imaginary, distant Ryukyuan past and implications about an allegedly pacifistic Okinawan character (with their quasi-racialized overtones).
The intersection of Ryukyuan/Okinawan history, Ryukyuan/Okinawan/Japanese identity, and the issues connected with U.S. bases is highly complex. To accommodate this complexity in an intellectually rigorous way would typically require a mode of discourse not well suited to function as political rhetoric disseminated by mass media. Therefore, a close reading of much of the anti-base rhetoric often reveals tensions or even outright contradictions. Matthew Allen, for example, points out that:
While the rhetoric of resistance to the bases is housed in the language of partnership--that is, Okinawans are a part of Japan, therefore it is unfair that they carry a massively disproportionate burden of the U.S. military presence in Japan--most resistance also simultaneously employs ideas of Okinawa's historical difference from Japan and China, and the concepts of uninterrupted cultural evolution, colonization, and exploitation by both Japan and the United States. But, although there are powerful antiwar and anti-American messages employed in the protests, there is little sense of a need for independence from Japan. Rather, protesters demand first that the Japanese state act politically on Okinawans' behalf, and second, that further economic support from Tokyo should be forthcoming, as compensation for the bases, the accidents, and the environmental devastation that has taken place since 1945. Such rhetoric illustrates the ambivalence of identity in contemporary Okinawa. Protesters such as Chibana believe that, one one hand, the Japanese state should support and compensate Okinawa for the damage it has caused (as a distinct and separate cultural, if not political, entity), and on the other, it is Japan's duty to bring Okinawa's standards of living into line with all other prefectures in Japan (as part of Japan). (Matthew Allen, Identity and Resistance in Okinawa [Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002], p. 4.)
The political rhetoric of contemporary Okinawa tends, among other things, to essentialize "Okinawan" identity as a singular entity and then to stress either similarity or partnership with Japan and/or difference from Japan (with "Japan" also essentialized as a singular entity) depending on the particulars of the issue at hand. Such rhetoric is understandable in the sense that complex, subtle arguments that resist essentializing Japanese, Okinawan, and other identities would likely be difficult to construct, difficult to follow, and would lack emotive power. Nevertheless, academic studies of recent and contemporary Okinawan politics and history would be richer for employing a critical gaze such as Allen's in the above excerpt.
The sudden removal of all the military bases from Okinawa would almost certainly cause severe short-term economic problems, which is why many thoughtful Okinawans seek a sustained but gradual reduction of the military presence. Regardless of the speed with which one might ideally envision a shrinkage of military bases, economic questions always arise. While it might be possible to expand slightly Okinawa's service sector (mainly tourism), such an expansion would fail to absorb the unemployment or buffer the other dislocations that base closures or drastic reductions would cause. In light of such realities, one recent idea for economic revitalization of Okinawa is to convert the prefecture into an international free trade zone. Okinawa's geographical location would be ideal for such a venture. A prefecture-wide free trade zone designation, however, would require central government legislation. Possibly because the creation of a prefecture-wide free trade zone would effectively grant Okinawa a great deal of political autonomy, Japan's central government has repeatedly balked at the idea. At present, there are two small free trade zones in Okinawa, the Naha Free Trade Zone and the Okinawa Special Free Trade Zone. One strategy of those who advocate a prefecture-wide free trade zone is to start with these two small nuclei and try to expand their scope.
To conclude, let us turn to a recent event that is indicative of the contemporary state of contested views of Okinawa's recent past, present identity, and key political issues: the 1999 move by the prefectural government to change several museum displays in anticipation of the G-8 Summit meeting of July, 2000. This meeting took place in Okinawa, in large part owing to desires by the governments of Japan and the U.S. to mollify local anger over the bases. The thinking seems to have been that holding the meeting in Okinawa would show concern for Okinawans as well as provide some short-term economic stimulation. In any case, however, the G-8 meeting itself is not our main concern here.
First let us consider the word peace. The Ôta administration sought in every way to promote a vision of Okinawa as an island of "peace" (heiwa 平和). We should always bear in mind, however, that the term "peace" is not always self-evident in meaning, and it is often invoked in the service of political agendas (brief example). As one example, consider the following piece of analysis by Julia Yonetani regarding a peace memorial site:
In his book Okinawa: heiwa no ishiji, then Governor Ota described the construction of the Cornerstone monument as "the largest event that took place to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the war." He added, "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the motivation which led to the building of this 'Cornerstone of Peace' has also become the basis for the people of Okinawa devoting heart and soul, night and day, to solving the military base issue" (p. ii). Its very name, the Cornerstone, was an attempt by Ota and his administration to construct a competing dialogue to the "Japan-U.S. security partnership." The latter was described by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton in their 1996 summit meeting as providing the "cornerstone of achieving common security objectives for the Asia-Pacific Region as we enter the 21st Century" (Japan Times, April 18, 1996). (source: http://www.jpri.org/WPapers/wp65.html <link no longer active>. See also Julia Yonetani, "Contested Memories: Struggles Over War and Peace in Contemporary Okinawa," in Glenn D. Hook and Richard Siddle, eds., Japan and Okinawa: Structure and Subjectivity [RoutledgeCurzon, 2003], p. 192.)
Notice that a seemingly innocuous expression like "cornerstone of peace," might well be fraught with political struggle or controversy. Rhetoric involving the word peace is especially likely to be ammunition in a political battle. To take an extreme example, one need only glance at the rhetoric of most modern wars to see that they have typically been fought in the name of peace (among other things). After all, who goes to war these days in the name of such things as "greed," aggression," or "hostility"?
Frequently, talk of peace by politicians helps to promote a good image among the general population regardless of whether intoning the word "peace" actually conveys any concrete meaning. Taking note of this reality of public rhetoric is not to suggest that most people in fact take a cynical view of peace. On the contrary, it is because the desire for stability, prosperity, and safety is so strong that the political potency of peace-intoning rhetoric never seems to fade.
Ôta did more than just intone the mantra of peace, as we have seen above. Among other things, his administration promoted the construction of monuments and museums. Two museum projects started in the Ôta years continued over into the Inamine administration: the Yaeyama Peace Memorial Museum on the island of Ishigaki and the renovated Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni (which includes the Cornerstone of Peace Memorial) at the southern edge of Okinawa (extensive photos with Japanese explanatory text). Monuments and museums are sites of concentrated meaning, which derives from explicit symbolism (often built into the architecture), artifacts, simulations, explanatory texts and videos, and so forth. Monuments make statements. And for this reason, even a carefully planned monument such as the Cornerstone of Peace, a project that Ôta vigorously promoted, is rarely devoid of of at least some controversy. Yonetani explains:
Impressive though it is, the "Cornerstone of Peace" also reveals many of the contradictions associated with the display of war and peace in Okinawa. In spite of the immense work involved in gathering a total of 234,183 names by the official opening, absences from the monument spoke of the many difficulties involved in the trans-national effort. Many Korean names were hard to trace, and some Koreans actively resisted participating. Other people criticized the act of inscribing all the names [of those who died in the Battle of Okinawa] on the memorial as a way of avoiding the question of responsibility for the war. In a battle in which the Imperial Army committed atrocities against Okinawan civilians, the fact that the names of Japanese combatants stand alongside those of local Okinawans has been criticized by Okinawans. (source: http://www.jpri.org/WPapers/wp65.html <link no longer active>. See also Yonetani, "Contested Memories," p. 193.)
In August of 1999, a much greater controversy began to surface concerning the museum adjacent to the Cornerstone of Peace Memorial, as well as the newly-built Yaeyama Peace Memorial Museum. Newspapers reported that the prefectural government had changed the contents of some of the displays in secret, without the knowledge or approval of the committee charged with planning and overseeing the exhibits. Regarding the case of the Yaeyama museum, Yonetani summarizes the changes as follows:
This museum was constructed to memorialize the victims of "war malaria"--those local inhabitants of the Yaeyama islands who had contracted the deadly virus after being expelled to malaria-infested areas by the Japanese army. Someone had altered eleven captions out of a total of twenty-seven in the exhibits of photos and diagrams without the knowledge of Professor Hiroshi Hosaka, the Ryukyu University professor who had originally supervised the work. Alterations included replacing the phrase "forced expulsion" (kyôsei taikyo [強制退去]) with "ordered to take refuge" (hinan meirei [非難命令]). Alterations to the Yaeyama Museum were concentrated in sections depicting relations between the Japanese army and Okinawan civilians during the war. The alterations at Ishigaki suggested that there was a concerted attempt on the part of the new prefectural government to alter the way in which the Battle of Okinawa was presented to the public. (source: http://www.jpri.org/WPapers/wp65.html <Link no longer active>. See also Yonetani, "Contested Memories," p. 196.)
At first the Inamine administration denied any knowledge of the alterations. As the evidence to the contrary mounted, however, by early October the deputy governor admitted that indeed Governor Inamine and his cabinet had made the changes (though the governor himself maintained that he personally did not order any alterations to the exhibits). And the changes turned out to be extensive, as Yonetani explains:
The attempted changes in content fell into three broad categories: those depicting the Battle of Okinawa, those depicting the Second World War in general, and those depicting the postwar United States occupation of the islands. While not as extensively reported in local media, the most blatant censorship occurred with respect to displays of Japan's military role in Asia during World War II. The prefectural monitors ordered that the entire section entitled "Japan's aggression as depicted on film" be eliminated, including pictures of Japanese forces "closing in on Nanking," a scene showing Unit 731 (the Kwantung Army's euphemistically entitled "Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Unit") experimenting with and producing biochemical weapons, and photographs of the excavation of victims in Singapore. Historical documents and materials concerning popular opposition to Japanese rule and a stamp in commemoration of Korean resistance to Japanese colonialism were also ordered to be withdrawn.
The advocated changes were not limited to displays of the Japanese military or to World War II. Prefectural administration documents explicitly stated that the museums should include materials on the "role that the U.S.-Japan treaty has played in maintaining security" in the Asia-Pacific region and that an "anti-Security Treaty" stance should be avoided. On the sensitive question of accidents and other kinds of incidents involving American troops and Okinawans, it was suggested that "the greater frequency of incidents in Okinawa not related to the bases must be taken into account within the displays." On August 7, the prefectural government ordered that a timeline depicting all U.S. military-related incidents since reversion in May 1972 should not be portrayed separately but integrated into a general display on the history of post-reversion Okinawa. It was suggested that documents on controversial issues relating to the overwhelming presence of the U.S. bases in Okinawa--such as manuscripts of the 1997 legislation that empowered the central government to forcibly lease land for the American military, an outline of the final report of SACO (the Japanese-American Special Action Committee on Okinawa set up after the rape incident of September 1995) on proposed military facility relocations in Okinawa, and former Governor Ota's testimony before the Supreme Court in 1996 following his refusal to act as a proxy in signing leases for base land--should be replaced by a display on the peace-making role of the United Nations.
On the outside wall of the new Mabuni museum, plans for a map illustrating the U.S. military's advance during the Battle of Okinawa were withdrawn and replaced by a design displaying an ocean and mountains. . . .
[. . . ]
By far the most widely reported incident concerned alterations to a life-sized diorama depicting enforced suicide in a gama [cave]. The display was intended to portray the horrors of hiding in the caves during the Battle of Okinawa. The supervising committee of thirteen historians for the Mabuni museum, which had been formed in September 1996 and had visited many war museums in other parts of Japan and abroad, approved the plan in March 1999. The diorama was to portray a Japanese soldier pointing his rifle at an Okinawan mother and ordering her to kill her baby because the baby's cries might be heard by the Americans. Another scene showed two soldiers holding out condensed milk laced with potassium cyanide and telling the civilians to kill themselves. However, when Masahiko Hoshi, a member of the supervisory committee, visited the workshop during the summer he found that the soldier no longer had a rifle but was merely staring at people hiding in a cave and that the two soldiers with the cyanide had disappeared altogether. Hoshi said, "It is strange that the OPG (Okinawa Prefectural Government) changed a major concept without any consultation with us" (see "Bureaucrats Alter Memorial Exhibits," Ryukyu Shimpo, August 2, 1999; and "Interpreting the Battle of Okinawa," Okinawa Times, August 21, 1999, eve. ed.). (source: http://www.jpri.org/WPapers/wp65.html <Link no longer active>. See also Yonetani, "Contested Memories," pp. 197-199.)
The political significance of these changes should be obvious, and news of the alterations generated both support for and criticism of Governor Inamine. Those in favor of the governor's changes cited reasons such as the need to tone down anti-Japanese messages and implications and that Okinawa's museums should not differ significantly with the content and interpretations of museums elsewhere in Japan. Some objected to the gloomy tone of too much stark reality and worried that it might tarnish Okinawa's image as a "bright" tourist destination.
Protests broke out immediately against the revisions themselves as well as the government's secretive behavior and its blatant lies when it initially denied knowledge of the whole affair. Protesters objected to Inamine's pandering to the tastes of mainland Japanese and the central government at the expense of historical accuracy. Several private donors of objects to the museum withdrew their donations, and a large public symposium on the whole issue was held in September. The vigorous protest forced the governor to retreat. He publicly affirmed the authority of the museum's supervisory committee, though he continued to maintain that he personally never intended to order exhibit alterations.
This incident is an excellent example of the contested nature of historical memory and representation, not only in Okinawa but also in many other parts of the world. It encapsulates many of the issues that continue to divide Okinawan society at the start of the twenty-first century.