AN OVERVIEW OF OKINAWA’S HISTORY
Long ago, Okinawa was an independent nation known as the Ryukyu Kingdom, and over time it grew to be a trading hub for Southeast Asia, including China and Japan. As a result, the Ryukyu Kingdom had an abundance of cultural and material wealth during its most prosperous years.
In the early 17th century, the Satsuma Clan from Japan got permission from the Tokugawa government to attack Okinawa. After losing the war, the Ryukyu Kingdom had to serve both Japan and China. When the Meiji reforms hit in the late 19th century, Japan attempted to formally incorporate the territory as a prefecture of the newly-formed nation state.
The Battle of Okinawa was the last major battle of World War II. The islands were treated as a sacrificial pawn by Japan’s military elite in order to buy time to prepare the mainland’s defense. During the battle, one-third of the island’s population was wiped out due to disease, hunger, and violence dealt by combatants on both sides of the conflict.
From 1945–1972, Okinawa was put under the rule of the U.S. government, with a status similar to Puerto Rico during the Cold War.
Okinawa reverted to Japanese control during a tumultuous period in 1972. However, the American military presence stayed. As a result, many Okinawans feel manipulated and resentful of the many forces interfering with their sovereignty and self-determination.
POLITICAL ISSUES IN OKINAWA
Deployment of Osprey aircraft: Ospreys are a new form of helicopter being used by the Marines stationed here. Many Okinawans are concerned by their safety record, and worry about their deployment in bases surrounded by crowded civilian areas. It is currently one of the most hotly contested current events here.
Relocation of bases: General sentiment among Okinawans is that they want the American military presence reduced if not removed entirely from the island. Although some people feel differently, they are by far the minority voice. There have been many plans for the relocation of bases, but they are often contested, and end up stalled by diplomatic and bureaucratic processes.
Development of the Henoko area: Henoko is an area in the north that is currently under development to create a new American military base. Many of the proposed relocation plans for the American military say that developing Henoko will allow the military to have a reduced presence, far removed from metropolitan areas. Some Okinawans feel that this is just a land grab and will in the end result in an increased military presence. It is currently a highly contested issue.
THE JET PROGRAMME & POLITICS IN JAPAN
As ALTs, you will be largely able to ignore all of these political issues if you want to, but there are occasions in which these topics may come up in conversation. Please remember that we are contractually forbidden to get involved with political groups, and that if you do so, it could be grounds for your dismissal.
When you engage in conversation, please remember that as JETs we aren’t just normal foreigners over here. We represent not just ourselves but also our home countries, the JET Programme, and the Okinawan Prefectural Government. Anything you say will reflect on all of those institutions and your opinions will shape the feelings of Okinawans towards all of them. It is possible that you could be dismissed for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Please be aware of the possible consequences of your actions.
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