I read on the Internet this morning that the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, was recently in the Okinawan city of Nago where she officiated as the United States returned 10,000 acres of land to the Japanese government. The land had been used by the U.S. military, but has been returned in an effort to shrink the U.S. military footprint on the small island and to appease some of the local residents who have a long history of resenting the presence of American forces.
The United States invaded Okinawa in April of 1945 as a part of the massive effort to defeat the Empire of Japan in World War II. Once Japanese forces were defeated in the battle for the island, the United States claimed it as its own until the Nixon administration returned Okinawa to Japanese control on May 15, 1972 - a date referred to on the island as "Reversion Day." Significantly, although the island was given back to Japan and became a "prefecture" (state) of the country, a sizable number of United States military forces remained stationed there, and bases representing every branch of our Armed Forces are active on the island up to this very day.
I was stationed on Okinawa as a young army officer on Reversion Day, and one of the things I remember was that there were protests by Okinawans outside of the gates of many of the U.S. bases. I was again living on Okinawa on the fortieth anniversary of Reversion Day, where I was working as a civilian social worker for the military - and on that day there were also many small groups protesting outside of the gates of some of the military bases.
And what are these long-standing protests all about?
Many Okinawans do not regard themselves as Japanese, and they resent being shuffled from one occupying power to another. Yes, getting back 10,000 acres of land will be good news for a few, the developers who are positioned to turn a profit from the newly available land, but many of those who make money on the move will be Japanese businessmen, and not Okinawans. Drunken twenty-year-old American G.I.'s will still be spending money and propping up a bar economy, and they will also be brawling and destroying property and spreading their seed with wild abandon.
In the end, our "gift" of land will satisfy very few. I hope somebody explained that to the ambassador.
I also hope that Caroline Kennedy got to see some of the island while she was there. Nago, which was little more that a fishing village on the East China Sea when I was there in 1972, has grown to a bustling, but still relatively small, city today. It sits about two-thirds of the way up the island and is the only place north Kadena and Sukiran that could even be remotely considered as a "city."
The area around Nago has a beautiful long drive along the sea coast where Japanese entrepreneurs have put up some nice hotels. It also boasts an A&W Root Beer and a McDonald's which are across the road from one another on Highway 58, the island's main north-south thoroughfare. It's a nice place to stop and relax on the long drive to and from Cape Hedo, the northern point of the island.
My last friend living on Okinawa left and returned stateside within the past month, and with Nefredia's return home I have probably lost my final justification for a return trip to the place where I was first married and the place where my oldest son was born. I suspect that I am gone from the beautiful little island for good - and it is probably time that the rest of my countrymen packed up and left as well.
Then, when all of the American foreigners are gone, the Okinawans will be free to focus on evicting the Japanese foreigners.