The 50th Anniversary of Reversion

In just a few weeks, on the 15th May to be precise, the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan will be commemorated. I am reminded of ‘Jidai no Nagare’ (The Passage of Time) a song associated with Rinsho Kadekaru. Its opening lines (in English translation) are:

From rule by China to rule by Yamato

From rule by Yamato to rule by America        

How astonishing the changes in this Okinawa of ours!

Claiming rule by America was wrong          

Rule by Yamato returned                   

Which is better? One never knows for sure   

One thing we do know for sure is that reversion to Yamato (Japan) promised many things that have not come to pass, not least the hope that American bases would finally disappear, Okinawans would get their land back, and the islanders would be treated as equal citizens by Japan. None of this has happened and so the war still isn’t over for Okinawa.

As I’m almost tired of saying… not much has changed under the colonial rule of Japan, with the use and misuse of land stolen by US occupation forces for military bases. Accidents and incidents, crimes, and environmental degradation, all continue with the tacit approval of a Japanese government that has no intention of doing anything to seriously relieve Okinawans of their burden.

Only last week at Naha military port, an American soldier pointed a gun at a Ryukyu Shimpo reporter who was just doing his job. The chilling photo (below) says a lot about the reality of life under virtual occupation.

Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo

Returning to ‘Jidai no Nagare’, a newer version of the song contains these lines:

Long ago the hills and forests were ours      

Where we picked oranges freely         

Now as bases they are American                 

Long ago the seas were ours too                 

We could have a dip at any time         

Now the resorts keep us out                         

Change after change is our fate         

But bases on the island never change 

When will things become better?

It would be very optimistic to imagine things will soon become better. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that people on these islands are not yet calling for independence, since the prospects of ever achieving any kind of autonomy under Japan are extremely bleak. This is especially so in view of Japan’s slavish following of America and support for its wars.  

A few years ago, a referendum for independence in Scotland was a close-run thing and may yet come to fruition. By contrast, regaining independence has been almost a taboo subject in Okinawa. In my local community it’s not something that’s discussed, while some students at the university where I lectured were shocked at the idea. For younger Okinawans the Battle of Okinawa and its combined 240,000+ deaths, is something from the murky past and they have grown up used to the bases and the American war machine.

There is a sense of Stockholm Syndrome in all this. Many fear the unknown of going it alone and live in hopes they will somehow be treated better by their oppressors. There is, however, more enthusiasm for autonomy among some Uchinanchu Americans and others outside the islands, judging by what I read daily on social media: perhaps being away from it all they can see something that those closer cannot. They are also able to view it in the broader sense of a struggle by indigenous peoples worldwide.

On Saturday 30th April starting at 14:00 there will be a Kenmin Taikai or People’s Gathering at Onoyama Rikuyokyogijo in Naha. Its purpose is to protest about the American bases and to tell the younger generation about the problems of the last 50 years. It’s hoped to attract 10,000 participants. This is unlikely to lead to any significant change but that’s not the point. What is important is to show the unfairness meted out to these islands as Kadekaru’s song continues to resonate.  

Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

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