Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Okinawa Revisited
ANDO Yuka / Former Political Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

April 11, 2023
Last year, Okinawa celebrated the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan from the United States. Okinawa was under U.S. occupation until 1972 after Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War. During those years in Okinawa, U.S. dollar bills were used, cars were driven on the right side of the road, and American culture was more prevalent than anywhere else in Japan. Even after its reversion to Japan, largely due to the significant presence of U.S. military bases, the influence of the U.S. is palpable in society.

In the Pacific War, Okinawa was the place where the only land battle involving civilians was fought in Japan; approximately 188,000 Japanese died in the Battle of Okinawa, out of which 120,000 were mostly local civilians. Since the population of Okinawa before the war was about 490,000, one-fourth of them perished in the war. This left a bitter feeling among the Okinawans that they had been sacrificed to block the American forces’ attack on the Japan Mainland. Against this backdrop, there has been a passion for peace as well as a strong anti-war movement in postwar Okinawa.

This strong desire for peace is embedded in the “Cornerstone of Peace,” which commemorates those who died in the Battle of Okinawa. Located in Mabuni, Itoman City, in the southern part of the main island of Okinawa prefecture, where the last battle was fought, Masahide Ota, the governor of Okinawa Prefecture (1994-1998), worked on the establishment of this “Cornerstone of Peace” as a project commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Then he insisted that it was important to engrave the names of all the war dead. In his book “Okinawa---Heiwa no Ishiji”, he states that there was not a single person who objected to including the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Okinawa. Thus the “Cornerstone of Peace” has become a memorial for all victims of the war regardless of their backgrounds.

In the old days, in the southern tip of Japan, Okinawa prospered through a transit trade with East Asia and Southern East Asia. Contrary to the stereotyped image of closed island societies, they have built peace by building friendly relations with the outside world. The peace-oriented nature of the Okinawa people, therefore, is not only brought by their experiences of the war but deeply inherent in them. It is said that the beauty of the Shuri town was exceptional. It was a symbol of prosperity based on peace. Before the war, there were more than 20 national treasure-class structures around the Shuri Castle, and Muneyoshi Yanagi, an authority on folklore and an art critic, said “After traveling around the world, there is no such a place like Shuri.” Ryotaro Shiba, a historical novelist and a travel writer, records a comment from a respected writer in his book “Okinawa Sakishima e no Michi” that “If the town of Shuri remained exactly as it was before the war, Okinawa would have become on par with Kyoto, Nara and Nikko’ in terms of a tourist destination.” Okinawa lost its irreplaceable cultural heritage during the Pacific War, but the full-scale restoration work of Shuri Castle began in the 1980s, and in 1992, the main hall of the castle was restored. However, in October 2019, Shuri Castle was burnt down again by an accidental fire.

In February this year, I revisited the Shuri Castle, where restoration work was underway. As I climbed the mild slope to Shurei-mon(gate) in the gentle sunshine, trying to visualize the old days of Shuri, I noticed Sonohiyan Utaki, just before Shurei-mon and stopped. The forest spread beyond the awesome stone gate of Sonohiyan Utaki and this whole setting was the prayer hall of the royal Shuri government. There are many other Utaki, sacred places for worship, inside and outside of Shuri Castle, signifying the essential role of faith as part and parcel of the lives of people in Okinawa. According to Mr. Shiba, “Just as priests of primitive Shinto in Japan were women, this was also the case in Okinawa. Women were closer to God and Men further away.” The Ryukyu (Okinawa) Kingdom “succeeded in the seemingly difficult task of controlling the smaller islands surrounding the main island through this religion.” In other words, the Ryukyu Kingdom reigned not through force but peacefully by relying on the power of the gods mediated by the sacred women.

Lately, the geo-political situation surrounding Taiwan, located very close to Okinawa, is becoming unstable. Faced with this reality, the Japanese government is working on strengthening Okinawa’s defense capabilities, causing certain repercussions locally. On Feb. 26th, during my visit there, a protest rally called “Stop turning the islands into war! The islands are for Promoting Peace! 2.26 Rally” was held. On the part of Okinawa, there is probably a feeling that the mainland government is going ahead to strengthen the defense capabilities of the island while Okinawa is being bypassed. Furthermore, they seem frustrated that all these developments are taking place even though the chasm remains unbridged between the central government and the local government on issues related to the US military bases such as the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the prospective site at Henoko. Crimes committed by US soldiers naturally irritate the local residents. Further, the words and deeds of the US military personnel stationed in Okinawa occasionally defy the local norms and sensitivities and exacerbate the resentment on the part of the Okinawan people.

In the meantime, the emergence of a new culture can be witnessed in post-war Okinawa. In the town of Chatan, “Mihama American Village” was opened in the early 2000s on reclaimed land in extension to the U.S. military base that had been returned to Japan, and that whole area has become a popular spot for young people. This experiment to make use of the post-war characteristics of Okinawa, with its sizable presence of American bases, is a manifestation of the open-mindedness of the people of Okinawa. Just as the Ryukyu Kingdom developed its own culture by fusing it with foreign cultures such as that of the Chinese continent and won the admiration of visitors, Okinawa, blessed with beautiful nature, can become a hub of culture infused with peace. It has no small potential to turn itself into a force that fosters a culture of peace in the region.

However, given the imminent risk in the region, Okinawa seems to have no realistic choice but to take the two-pronged approach of promoting peace and building defense, if only for its own security. I do not think projecting peace and building defense are mutually exclusive. Having revisited Okinawa, I strongly felt that not only Tokyo and Okinawa but the whole of Japan need to muster the wisdom to create an environment that enables the people of Okinawa to tackle both these challenges.

Ando Yuka is Adjunct Lecturer at Keio University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

安藤 優香 / 元外務大臣政務秘書官

2023年 4月 11日

沖縄は、太平洋戦争で唯一の市民を巻き込む地上戦が戦われた地となり、日本側戦没者約18万8千人のうち地元沖縄県出身は約12万人も占め、その多くが一般市民であった。沖縄の戦争前の人口は約49万人だったので、実に約4人に一人が亡くなったのである。沖縄県民の間には、「米軍の本土侵攻を阻止するために犠牲にされた」との苦い感情が残り、 戦後の沖縄には強い平和への思いと反戦運動が存在してきた。

沖縄戦戦没者を追悼する「平和の礎」には、この強い平和への思いが込められている。大田昌秀沖縄県知事(当時)は、戦後50周年記念事業として最後の戦闘地域であった沖縄本島南部の糸満市摩文仁に「平和の礎」を建立した。その際、全ての戦没者の氏名を刻むことが大事であると主張したところ、敵として戦った米兵の名前を含めることに対しても、反対する者は一人としていなかったことを、大田知事は自身の著書『沖縄 平和の礎』で述べている。「平和の礎」では犠牲者が等しく偲ばれているのだ。






一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟