Okinawans have mixed feelings on U.S. military
Stars and Stripes May 11, 2008
CHATAN, Okinawa — Local attitudes on Okinawa concerning the U.S. military are mixed.
In areas near U.S. bases, Okinawans generally support the U.S. military presence, both as a major employer — the bases are the third-largest employer on the island — and because they’ve gotten to know Americans.
In a popular shopping area known as American Village in Chatan, most people stopped on the street supported the bases.
“Having the military here is good for us,” said a 59-year-old man from Okinawa City who would identify himself only by his family name — Miyagi.
“The military contributes to Okinawa’s economy and provides local residents with job opportunities,” he said. “The unemployment rate on Okinawa is very high.”
He said he returned from Yokosuka nine years ago after he had a stroke while working at Yokosuka Naval Base and has grown to respect the troops of today.
“U.S. servicemembers today behave far better than those who were stationed here back in ’60s and ’70s, the trouble times when many servicemembers acted rowdily in Koza and other downtown districts,” he said.
A 57-year-old physics and math teacher at the University of Maryland, Masao Shimoji, said many Okinawans his age have a bias against GIs from the days of military occupation, when there were many more U.S. troops and much more trouble.
“They were really rowdy and obnoxious and they terrorized the Okinawans,” he says. “It was so bad that something our parents would do to make us behave was to threaten to sell us to the GIs.
“Military people today behave very well, but the old image persists,” he said.
Shimoji, a native Okinawan, spent 30 years in the U.S. and said the current situation cannot last forever. “Japan someday will decide to amend its constitution and have a strong military. The next best thing is to have the U.S. here.”
He said the local media are perceived by many Americans to be biased.
“But you have to remember the media follows the public sentiment — if they didn’t the people would look elsewhere for their news. And the public sentiment is that they don’t want the U.S. military.”
Tsutomu Kiuna, also from Okinawa City, said Okinawa needs the jobs the military brings.
“I think the military presence contributes to job opportunities for many Okinawa people,” he said. “It is true that incidents do occur. But it is not fair to focus only on incidents committed by military people. Similar crimes are also committed by Okinawans.”
On Kokusai Street in Naha, the prefectural capital, the feelings were a bit different.
One shopper said there seems to be no choice but to accept the U.S. presence.
“If I had a choice, it is better without it,” said Sumi Shimajiri. “But in reality, it is hard to say yes or no.
“When an incident committed by a servicemember occurs, it makes me feel that it is best not to have the military. But on the other hand, it is also a reality that there are many people who make a living by working on base.”
Go Kuwao, 78, a bartender, said the U.S. occupation mentality causes all the problems.
“From the military’s perspective, Okinawa is a place they won in World War II at the cost of many Americans,” he said.
“We feel resentment, not against American people in general, but against servicemembers and civilians who still hold that occupation mentality deep inside their minds and think that they can do whatever they want to and can get away with it on this island.”