Monday, January 25, 2010

On the Nago election

My thoughts on the election of Inamine Susumu as mayor of Nago City can be found here, in the Wall Street Journal Asia.


diveit said...

Dear Tobias,
The answer is easy (to the people on Okinawa) but the Japanese and US government are not willing to cough up the money. Some current misguided assumptions:

1. Security – Does Okinawa need security? The only reason that a country would invade Okinawa is to engage the US military. Security is necessary for mainland Japan but Okinawa has to bear & bare the burden. Why? (Please don’t use the WWII cliché, that is so yesterday.)

2. Economy – Okinawa needs the bases to help support itself. Do they say the same things about Hawaii? The bases in Hawaii were/are shrinking. Granted, Okinawa does receive a lot of Japanese federal money to host the bases but that money does not trickle into the Miyagi family (Smith’s family) pocket. The bases provide over 5% of the total Okinawa economy but take over 40% of the land. Also, much of the 5% goes to mainland Japan companies which are better equipped with money and political backing to bid on the US base contracts.

3. Internationalism/Culture – Because of the US bases, Okinawa is one of the best places for English learning in Asia. It seems because of the American stigma attached, many Okinawans do not want to learn English. The perception by many Americans, since they are “protecting Japan”, are that they should be given some special right/say in Okinawa such as; ignoring traffic laws because they are protecting Japan, ignore customs because they are protecting Japan, not having to pay for services like those living in Okinawa, again, because they are protecting Japan. Okinawans see this and draw their own conclusions.

4. Jobs – The Bases provide a lot of jobs in Okinawa. Many of the jobs on base are dead-end jobs (Burger King, AAFES, Shoppettes, waitress, hostess...). Also many of the jobs are being taking by Japanese from mainland Japan and/or other countries. Again, little trickle effect to the local economy in comparison to the land being used.

To change this and to have the Okinawans accept the bases, these are my suggestions:

1. Not my idea, but it could work. Create a 1 kilometer or a 1 mile buffer around Marine Corp Air Station Futenma. Pay every person, entity living within 1 kilometer or 1 mile around MCAS Futenma to move. This would spur new construction and more people would have money in their pockets to spend. Would this be expensive? Of course! But, the Okinawans around the Futenma would have the options to move and the funding would spur the Okinawan economy. No pain (Japan/US), no gain!

2. My favorite idea. Pay every resident living in Okinawa an “inconvenience fee”. The state of Alaska pays its residents an oil revenue. Why not pay resident in Okinawa a defense revenue? Because they have to shoulder the burden for Japan and the US, the Okinawans are paid for their troubles. I am sure in a short time, and if the income was reasonable, everyone in Okinawa would be happy for the bases to be around and would not want to see this allowance disappear. Don’t pay the local government which is plundered by the politicians and their buddies but it is paid to every resident in Okinawa. To live in Okinawa and receive this allowance would be a privilege (similar to the US military cost of living allowance).

3. Because the prime land is used by the US military, it is difficult to run trains in Okinawa. Mainland Japan has trains and many people living in Tokyo do not require a car. In Okinawa, you cannot live a life without a car. So, certain taxes should be exempt in Okinawa. Why should Okinawans pay the same for road tax, car weight tax, toll fees and gasoline taxes like they do in mainland Japan? If Japan/US does not want to pay the Okinawans an inconvenience fee, then getting rid of all taxes or greatly reducing taxes which would go a long way in getting the Okinawans to resign in having the bases here.

Lastly, the bases are not bad; it is just that they are un-proportional to the amount of benefits for Okinawa. Sure, wonderful for Japan maybe, but not so wonderful for Okinawa.

Toranosuke V said...


Some very well-thought-through ideas and suggestions, and for the most part, I agree with you.

However, any kind of "inconvenience stipend" is, I think, a very bad idea. Rather than solving the problem - that US bases take up Okinawan land, damaging quality of life, infiltrating Okinawa with some of the worst aspects of American culture, and otherwise threatening Okinawan culture and livelihood - I believe that an inconvenience stipend will only encourage the problem (i.e. the bases) to stay, making it harder and harder to remove them.

By making the Okinawan people in any way reliant on the bases, you (they, i.e. Japan) would be making it all the more difficult to heal the cultural wounds inflicted by them, and to restore that land to Okinawan sovereignty.

There are parallels in the way many rural areas in "mainland" Japan have become reliant on the construction industry as their source of funds, of jobs, and thus of livelihood. Sure, the people are making money, but they are trapped in relying upon a need for more and more construction projects, unable to return to self-reliance on farming, artisan/craftwork, cottage industry, or anything like that. And so, the people go on earning a living by engaging in construction work, even as they destroy the natural beauty of their region and let traditional culture fall by the wayside.

I believe the best answer to the Okinawa problem is to remove the bases, not entirely, but to outlying uninhabited islands in the area. There is no need to have Futenma base right in the middle of a city. Move it to some small uninhabited island, where the noise and pollution won't bother Japanese citizens, where Japanese citizens won't feel as threatened by the potential for helicopter crashes, rapes, etc. .. Where obnoxious Americans with no regard for local law or customs won't have run-ins with Okinawan people, and where our troops can still defend Okinawa, Japan, Taiwan, S Korea and US interests just as well as they can from Okinawa hontô.

Ideas like an inconvenience stipend may look great in the current day view focusing upon people's paychecks and a very modern day economics/political science approach. But in the long term, historical view, considering the effect removing the bases entirely would have upon Okinawan identity, Okinawan society, and Okinawan culture, I think that removing them is the solution in the best interests of the Okinawans - not the very mundane, pedestrian Okinawan concerns of today, e.g. jobs and paychecks, but the grander cultural importance it means to the identity of the Okinawan people as a whole, past, present, and future.

Ed said...

One of the things I never understood about the American obsession with having bases around the world, is why enclaves weren't used more often. By enclaves I mean fewer, but much larger bases on long term leases. They would be in fairly unpopulated areas and have plenty of space for training, plus their own airfields and ports when possible. There would be no reason at all for servicemen stationed there to leave the base during peacetime. Since the Okinawan rapes in the 1990s senior US military personel have tended to discourage contact between soldiers and the host populations anyway.

I'm actually thinking of the Guatanamo model, but larger and with the agreement of the host country. I've read that there is so much US military on Okinawa because the Japanese government wanted them concentrated there and away from mainland Japan as much as possible, but the problem is that Okinawa itself has a large population. Instead an unpopulated island or group of islands should have been used, or the Okinawans moved right after WWII when they would have been in no position to object.

Its almost as if the US military has a suburban mentality of preferring lots of little and midsized bases on the outskirts of a metropolitan area, that you have to drive between to get anything done, and are not thinking through things.

Anonymous said...

It seems to be all a mute argument. Didn't Japan sign an agreement at the end of World war 2 giving America the right to put bases where ever and whenever it choses in-perpetuity? It would seem that by signing this concluding treaty that in essence Japan became the 51st. state of the United States of America. God Bless America!

diveit said...

Anonymous said...
It seems to be all a mute argument.

Actually, not. It was a 1969/70's agreement between President Nixon and the Prime Minister Sato that signed away Okinawa's rights. Also, I digress but didn't America invade Tripoli in 1805 and we didn't keep a base mind, maybe your right, America should have kept a base there.

diveit said... are correct. By providing a stipend would make the people living on Okinawa reliant on US/Japan Federal system. However, it is still hard to feed 1.3 million people on Okinawa if the US continues using so much land. The average salary in Okinawa is about $1800. Give back the land and let Okinawa fend for itself or keep the land, noise, pollution, etc… and pay those who are inconvenienced by it. The base land owners are being paid but they are not the majority of the community that is being inconvenienced.

Ed…I like your idea and the US military should have taken a full section of the island such as the East side (Uruma-shi, Katsuren) and they could have blocked all civilian traffic to this area after WWII and the noise, pollution, community relations would be at a minimum. However, the climate today on Okinawa is not to move the bases (the 2006 proposed location for Futenma is actually a very isolated area) but to move the bases off of Okinawa.

Bottom-line. Prime Minister Hatoyama made a very small election campaign promise to Japan but a gigantic promise for those who live in Okinawa .

Anonymous said...

Re: status of US bases in Japan

The status is based on SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). The bases are determined by the agreement of Joint Committee consisted of both states. (Article 2, 1b.)
The security treaty only says that Japan provides bases, and it does not specify which bases to provide.

The Joint Committee is supposed to consider requests from either of two countries. (Article 2, 2) The return of bases should be negotiated through the defined Joint Committee.

SOFA has not been changed, even a single letter from 1960. As DPJ says, this has to be changed.