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

The Need to Listen Carefully to the Voice of Okinawa
OGAWA Tadashi / Director General, The Japan Foundation, Jakarta

December 7, 2012
The U.S. military government that ruled Okinawa for 27 years after World War II founded the University of the Ryukyus(RU) in 1950 to deal with intellectuals out of its need to fight the Cold War. The Department of the Army signed a consignment contract with Michigan State College(then), which dispatched an aggregate total of 51 faculty members to RU as advisors from 1951 to 1968. The advisory body continued to send regular reports to the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands(USCAR), and also covertly reported on campus activity such as the student movement.

Documents on these activities lay dormant in the Michigan State University library until Professor Katsunori Yamazato and others at RU discovered them and brought them back to Okinawa. In recent years, the Okinawa Prefectural Archives began disclosing the documents, providing access to materials on U.S. public diplomacy in Okinawa that had been difficult to obtain. Professor Yamazato's empirical studies are based on these documents, and they prompt us to reexamine our conventional views on the academic and cultural history of Okinawa.

Building on Professor Yamazato's work, I have been privately studying U.S. public diplomacy in Okinawa myself. I believe the aim of the U.S. government in establishing Ryukyu University can be summarized into the following three points.

(1) To prevent communist ideology from penetrating Okinawa, the keystone of U.S. military strategy in Asia, and to nurture pro-U.S. sentiment by spreading American values such as liberalism and democracy.

(2) To nurture a consciousness among Oklinawans that "Okinawa is not part of Japan" by emphasizing the uniqueness of "Ryukyu" culture and its difference from Japanese culture, and promoting traditional culture and arts to perpetuate U.S. rule over Okinawa. Here, the agenda was to promote separatist sentiment from Japan and to sedate the "reversion to the mainland" movement.

(3) To enhance efficient administration in Okinawa by cultivating native Okinawan administrators, engineers and educators who would assist U.S. military rule.

Yet, by no means did intellectuals and young people in Okinawa swallow whole the policies of their American military rulers. For example, in 1956 RU expelled six students who participated in the movement against U.S. bases for expressing "discriminatory remarks against the United States." University authorities changed their original decision to suspend the students and instead adopted the strictest punishment of expulsion, and Professor Yamazato was able to confirm that pressure from the USCAR had indeed affected the course of events. Documents show how the rector at the time resisted in the face of insistent demands for expulsion from the U.S. military authorities in an effort to water down the punishment. In 2007, the university restored the honor of those students by annulling the expulsion, which was a "revision of history" that warrants closer attention.

Moreover, the U.S. policy of promoting "Ryukyu" as a distinct cultural identity had the unintended effect on the people of Okinawa, of dispelling their sense of inferiority towards the mainland that was instilled by the "assimilation policy" administered by Japan in the prewar period. It planted the seeds of self-esteem in Okinawa and gave its people the ability to resist anyone who violates that sense of pride. Today, Okinawa is being rocked by the deployment of the U.S. Forces' Osprey vertical takeoff and landing transport aircraft and the gang rape of Okinawan women committed by U.S. soldiers, and they say there is now talk of an "independent Ryukyu." Ironically, U.S. policy during the postwar occupation may be heavily reflected in this development.

Having experienced a savage war, the people of Okinawa have continuously asked themselves the fundamental question of "What Okinawa means" in the postwar world, as the United States, Japan and China vied for power. Now is the time for mainland Japanese to make a sincere effort and come face to face with the endeavors of the people of Okinawa.

Tadashi Ogawa is Director General of the Japan Foundation, Jakarta. This is a summarized version of an article that first appeared in the “Opinions” section of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on October 29, 2012, reproduced with permission of the writer.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小川 忠 / 国際交流基金ジャカルタ日本文化センター所長

2012年 12月 7日






一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Need to Listen Carefully to the Voice of Okinawa