Partizipative Projekte aus dem Bereich der Japanologie

12. January 2023 von Monika Ringl

Sun, seaside and soldiers – The U.S. military in Okinawa

Okinawa, Japan’s Hawaii. It’s not just the long beaches and surrounding turquoise crystal clear Pacific waters that constitute the islands’ common features, though. The US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii currently houses the US Navy’s headquarters, meanwhile Okinawa is still home to 31 of all the US military bases located in Japan. While Okinawa prefecture was returned to be under Japanese administration in 1972, the US military’s presence on the island chain remains. Local residents are determined to have their voices heard and protest new construction, as well as the relocation of military facilities into nature reserves. A video game also addressed the issue as part of its main story.

A 50th anniversary after 27 years of occupation, 31 active military bases, and 70 percent of the US military’s presence in Japan – a formula that holds many variables. Most conflicts regarding the numerous US military bases on the Okinawa’s islands are not yet solved.

The Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA for short, was signed by both Japan and the USA on January 19th, 1960 to establish a framework for military cooperation between the two countries. Its contents are such that – in contrast to other agreements involving the United States, that followed World War II; for example with Germany and Italy – Japan holds hardly any leverage to regulate or control the activities of the US military on Japanese soil. On June 17th, 1971 the Okinawa Reversion Agreement was signed in Washington, D.C. and Tokyo. For almost thirty years the USA had been using its remaining occupational forces in Japan’s southernmost prefecture to build and expand its military prowess in the Pacific.

Okinawa Prefecture, including its numerous smaller islands, accounts for only a fraction of Japan’s total land area and is home to less than 1 percent of Japan’s population. Even so it houses more than 70 percent of the US military bases located in Japan. The US military’s impact stands in conflict with environmental and conservational concerns and economic interests, such as the development of Okinawa as a tourist hotspot, are overshadowed by the presence of US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. On the forefront of these issues stands the, by now decades-long, dispute that is concerned with the relocation of Futenma Air Station, most recently to Henoko in Ōura Bay.

The main storyline of the 2009 released video game “Yakuza 3“ also touches on issue of the construction of yet another US military base in (fictional) Okinawa. Okinawa is rarely depicted as a point of interest in movies, books or video games and if shown usually serves its ideal as an idyllic holiday resort. In “Yakuza 3“ the development of a holiday resort stands in contention with the proposed installation of a missile defense system at a new US base.

“Yakuza 3“ includes themes of a real-life conflict amid election campaigns for the seat of Japan’s prime minister. Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed his intentions for an economically prosperous Okinawa during his election campaign and term in office in the 2000s. Even though the US base to be built in “Yakuza 3“ has no name, images of crowds demonstrating against its construction in the game resemble those protesting against the relocation of Futenma.

In my research I analyzed story segments from “Yakuza 3“ and compared them to the demonstrations and protests held against the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

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