Ryukyu Shimpo survey reveals 35% of Okinawans favor increased autonomy, less than half support status quo

January 1, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

From October to November 2016, the Ryukyu Shimpo implemented an opinion survey in order to learn about changes in the views of Okinawans. Similar surveys were conducted in 2001, 2006, and 2011, making this the fourth survey of its kind. Compared to 2006, people who responded to the question “What do you think Okinawa’s position within Japan should be going forward?” with the answer “Okinawa should remain a part (prefecture) of Japan” decreased 5.7 percentage points, falling to 46.1%, or less than half. Meanwhile, respondents who said that Okinawa should have greater authority in the domestic and diplomatic arenas, including supporters of independence, rose to 34.5%. It is thought that one reason people who believe Okinawa should have increased authority regarding local autonomy rose to more than one third of respondents, approaching in number those who support the status quo, is that people are unhappy that the national government does not take Okinawan views into consideration when it comes to issues regarding U.S. bases.

People who responded that they could both understand and speak Shimakutuba, the traditional Okinawan languages, fell 3.5 percentage points to 41.2%, and was only 7.5% among respondents in their twenties.

As with the previous survey, more respondents viewed the Battle of Okinawa as an important event in Okinawa’s modern and contemporary history than any other event, but the percentage of such responses fell to 45.7%, dropping to less than half for the first time.

Regarding the ideal state of Okinawa’s local autonomy, aside from “it should remain the same”, answers included “Okinawa should adopt a framework where it has increased authority to compile Okinawa-related budgets and other domestic authorities (e.g. becoming an independent state, locally autonomous state, or special prefecture within Japan)” (17.9%), “Okinawa should adopt a federal framework where it has increased domestic authority and also authority equal to that of the national government in terms of diplomacy and security” (14.0%) and “Okinawa should become independent” (2.6%).

In terms of political issues people are concerned with, 53.8% of respondents said “low incomes” and 46.2% said “base issues”. This was the second time base issues ranked second, a trend continuing from the 2011 survey. Respondents who said that U.S. bases should be removed or reduced were 60.5%. Meanwhile, people who accepted Japan Self-Defense Force bases exceeded half for the first time, with 52.8% saying that they should either be kept at the current scale or expanded.

86.3% of respondents said that they “very much” or “somewhat” feel pride in being Okinawan, and 95.6% said that they feel pride in Okinawa’s culture and arts, similar to previous surveys. Although 70.9% of respondents said they are satisfied with their lives, 38.6% said that their current greatest concern is “income”.

Survey methodology

For the survey, Okinawa’s 41 cities, towns and villages were divided into five districts, and area random sampling was performed to pick 55 locations corresponding to population ratio. Surveyors visited households in each location between October 15 and November 25 of last year, and a total of 1047 individuals 20 years and older responded to questions.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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