45 Years and counting

The excellent British film 45 Years is set in my home county of Norfolk and features scenes in the city of Norwich where I grew up. The title refers to plans for a 45th wedding anniversary party that are overshadowed in unexpected ways by events from the past. Watching it again in Okinawa last week I was reminded of another anniversary that in very different ways is also haunted by past events. For it was 45 years yesterday since these islands were returned to Japan from rule by America.

The Japan-based award-winning investigative journalist Jon Mitchell wrote an article for the Japan Times five years ago on the 40th anniversary of the reversion. The article ‘What awaits Okinawa 40 years after reversion?’ was recently retweeted by Mitchell and it makes depressing reading as everything he wrote then is just as relevant today while Japan continues to discriminate against Okinawa.

In the article he outlines how the invasion by Japan and abolition of the Ryukyu Kingdom played out:

“Thereafter, Tokyo set about bringing the islands into the homogeneous embrace of the homeland. To do so, over the next decades it suppressed Okinawa’s culture, degraded its native languages as mere dialects of Japanese and disproportionately taxed the population — contributing to a famine in the 1920s that killed thousands and forced still more to seek survival as far afield as Hawaii, Peru and Brazil.”

Keep out: A fence topped with razor-wire separates the U.S. Iejima Auxiliary Airfield (right) from Japan.
(Photo: Jon Mitchell)

He continues: “Japanese disdain for Okinawa reached a climax in the final months of World War II, when the Imperial Army sacrificed it as a suteishi — a throwaway pawn — to bog down the Allies and make them think twice about invading the main islands….During the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, more than a quarter of the civilian population died — including many in military-enforced mass suicides, and those shot by Japanese soldiers as suspected spies for speaking Okinawan languages….Then in July 1945, the U.S. military declared Okinawa under its control — and since then it has never left.”

Given the ongoing situation regarding the disproportionate number of US bases still on Okinawa more than 70 years after the war ended, it might be surprising that there hasn’t been a more vociferous campaign for independence for Okinawa up to now, but until recently this has been virtually a taboo subject. However, representatives from Okinawa went to Scotland to observe and learn from the independence referendum held there and the topic is no longer something only debated by ‘extremists’.

As the article points out: “Four centuries of Japanese and American misrule have foisted an endless series of tragedies and misfortunes on these tiny islands, leaving them economically, environmentally and emotionally despoiled. In spite of this, Okinawan people have stood up to these injustices with compassion, resilience and nonviolence — three principles upon which any fledgling nation state could be proud to found its future.”

“Critics are quick to predict that an independent Okinawa would be a failure as a state. But it is difficult to see how a self-ruled Okinawa could make a bigger mess of things than the U.S. and Japan have done. And even if its initial steps were faltering, at least for once any failures would be its own.”

I agree with Mitchell that “the time is way overdue to allow Okinawa to decide its future for itself.”

Here is a link to the complete article at the Japan Times website:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/05/13/general/what-awaits-okinawa-40-years-after-reversion/

 

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Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

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