On Sunday last week, Okinawa marked the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan. Under the jurisdiction of the US for 27 years after the end of World War II, on May15, 1972, the archipelago reverted to Japanese administration. Since the end of last year, prefectures across Japan have been holding commemorative events, including exhibitions, performances and forums, while the Japanese Ministry of Finance has issued two commemorative coins to mark the occasion.
However, the celebratory mood on Sunday was not universal.
At the reversion ceremony in 1972, then-Okinawa Prefecture governor Chobyo Yara said in a speech: “Today marks the return of Okinawa to Japan, but it is not what Okinawans have been fervently expecting. Okinawa returns to Japan beset with many problems, foremost of which is the US military bases.”
The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum contains the following explanation: “The reversion was far from satisfactory, it was a hopeful occasion tinged with melancholy.”
At the end of the war, Okinawa was administered by a US military government. High-ranking US military officers on the islands possessed ultimate decisionmaking power. During its years in control, the US military interest was paramount and freedom of speech was suppressed.
The establishment of large US bases was accompanied by a never-ending series of aircraft crashes, rapes, killings and traffic accidents. As a consequence, mainstream opinion among Okinawans was a desire for US military rule to end, for the closure of the bases and for Okinawa to return to Japan under its post-war pacifist constitution.
As time wore on, an increasing number of Okinawans demanded change and the movement for return to Japan grew.
Despite the islands’ currency changing from the US dollar to the Japanese yen and the reappearance of Japan’s national flag, Okinawa was still saddled with the military bases.
In photographs taken on the day of reversion, alongside Japanese national flags and flags with the kanji for “jubilation” adorning the streets, there are also a group of angry protesters holding a banner with the words: “No to reversion.”
After reversion, US bases on Japan’s main islands gradually became smaller, but the bases on Okinawa hardly reduced in size at all. Fifty years ago, US bases on Okinawa comprised 58.7 percent of the total land area taken up by all US bases on Japanese soil at the time. Today, US bases in Okinawa represent 70.3 percent of the total.
Okinawans had hoped that after returning to Japan, the problem of the bases could be solved, yet five decades later, the problem remains.
At the end of a meeting of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly on April 30, a representative of young Okinawans born after reversion asked an older speaker: “Back then, why did you want to return to Japan?”
Taiwanese should not view the history of Okinawa’s return to Japan half a century ago as the history of another country that does not concern them. The phrase “Taiwan’s problem is Japan’s problem” perhaps most closely symbolizes the friendship between the two nations and should cut both ways.
Having interviewed Okinawans, many are concerned what might happen to them were China to invade Taiwan, and either the Japan Self-Defense Forces or US forces based in Japan — or both — went to Taiwan’s aid.
With Okinawans still shouldering the burden of multiple US bases on their soil, the islanders are concerned that, once again, they might be thrust into the vortex of war as a result of decisions made in Tokyo.
Hsieh Chu-wen is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Translated by Edward Jones
As Taiwan is facing global crises from the COVID-19 pandemic to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is again time to take stock. In terms of public health, Taiwan has made it through the COVID-19 challenge quite well. By combining masking, vaccinations and border controls, it has achieved a sufficiently protective herd immunity and is expected to end quarantine requirements for incoming travelers by the end of the summer. What about Ukraine? Here, Taiwan must assess four key players in its region. The first is Russia, which must be seen as a developing enemy. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Ukraine declared
During an online keynote speech on June 12, Legislative Speaker You Si-kun (游錫堃) said that when he was premier, he already knew that the Yun Feng (雲峰, Cloud Peak) medium-range supersonic land-attack cruise missile developed in Taiwan could reach Beijing. If Beijing were to attack Taiwan, Taipei would respond by firing the missiles and China would regret its aggression, he said. You’s comments were met by immediate criticism from political commentator Lai Yueh-tchienn (賴岳謙), who said that the Cloud Peak relied on guidance from the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS) to find its target. If war broke out in the Taiwan Strait,
China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, was launched on Friday. With a total displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes, the vessel is the largest of China’s three aircraft carriers. According to reports, the Fujian is about 300m long and 78m across at its widest point. It is conventionally powered, with a maximum speed of about 30 knots (55.6kph) and can carry 60 aircraft — including about 40 fighter jets, helicopters and airborne early warning and control aircraft. The deck of the carrier is equipped with an electromagnetic catapult system, which can speed up the take-off and landing of fighter jets. Once it
Two awards for contribution to the study of Sinology were announced on Monday. The first was for British art historian Jessica Rawson, named this year’s winner of the Tang Prize in Sinology. The Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑). The second was for Slovenian Sinologist Jana Rosker, who won the Taiwan-France Cultural Award — established by the Ministry of Culture and the Institut de France’s Academy of Moral and Political Sciences — for her work introducing Taiwanese philosophy to Europe. Rosker said that Taiwan has integrated Western philosophy and Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism into a