Big trouble in little Okinawa

Little Okinawa has been stirring up a lot of attention from some big players lately. For the first time, people in the states are telling me they see Okinawa in the new headlines. Not surprisingly, the story revolves around empty campaign promises and misbehaving Americans.

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has had a significant military presence in Japan. Currently, the bulk of that presence is in Okinawa. While Okinawa represents less than one percent of Japan’s land, it hosts over two-thirds of the 40,000 U.S. military forces. This high concentration is due to Okinawa’s prime location. Known as the “Keystone of the Pacific,” the tiny island is equidistant to many hotspots in the Pacific, allowing for a faster military response in times of need.

But Okinawans retort, “Not in my backyard.” I can’t necessarily blame them. Americans are responsible for a large percentage of the crime, debauchery and noise on the island. An Okinawan would chase you down to give you back your wallet you dropped. An American would chase you down to steal your wallet. In 1995, a heinous abduction and rape of a young Japanese girl by three U.S. service members sealed the deal. The unthinkable act instantly became headline news and a major motivator to do something about the military presence in Okinawa.

After years of negotiations between Japan and the U.S., an agreement was formed in 2006 that laid out a clear plan to reduce the U.S. presence in Okinawa and return some land to the Japanese. A major part of the agreement involved relocating a Marine air station from a heavily congested urban area to an existing base in a less populated area to the north. In addition, 8,000 Marines would be taken off of Okinawa and moved to Guam. It seemed to be a step in the right direction for Okinawa, until Prime Minister Hatoyama ran for office.

Yukio Hatoyama ran on a campaign platform of promising to move even more Marines off of Okinawa by relocating the air base somewhere off island. Okinawans rejoiced and welcomed Hatoyama with open arms. Unfortunately, no one told him it would look kind of bad for Japan to renege on an agreement with the U.S. – minor oversight. As you can imagine, the Okinawans were pretty upset when Hatoyama realized he didn’t have any other options and that the 2006 agreement was indeed the best plan of action for everyone involved.

To express their displeasure, Okinawans staged a series of peaceful protests around the island in hopes of getting Hatoyama’s and the international community’s attention. While many news reports sensationalized the protests, they were mostly without incident. Some friends and family emailed or called to ask if we felt safe here amongst the protestors. It takes a whole lot more than a group of friendly Okinawans sitting around in yellow shirts and bandanas using their protest signs to shade themselves to make me feel unsafe.

The only protest I personally witnessed was a roaming group of protestors that staged small demonstrations at key locations around the island like the main gates of U.S. military bases. They even formed a human chain around the Marine air station that was slated to be moved. All they did was cause a traffic backup and make me late for dinner. The Japanese police were decked out in their full riot gear, but were mostly just standing around with nothing to do. Sometimes I feel bad for the Japanese police and wonder if they get bored at work with such a low crime rate.

My potentially award-winning iphone photography from the car of Japanese riot gear

The story ends with Hatoyama conceding that the Americans must stay for now. But like any good Japanese prime minister would do, Hatoyama humbly resigned from his position yesterday, apologizing for letting the people of Japan down. He is the fourth prime minister to do so in the past four years.  Only time and politics will tell what the next chapter will bring. Hopefully next time, it won’t make me late for dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Doesn't the rest of the world know that the United States own everything yet?!? So frustrating that they just don't conform to our way of life yet and let us run their contries and take their resources and women as prizes!

    JUST kidding (mostly..haha). Keep me posted on whats going on over there because the only news I get that I trust is from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and E! and they aren't really discussing any of this yet.

    I still hope you are enjoying yourself over there. Drink some Saki for me and I will drink Guinness over here for you!

    - Caitlin Aydt