Editorial – Looking to the new year, is democracy in Japan genuine?

January 1, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

We have entered the final year of the Heisei era. 2019 looks to be a year in which the existence of democracy in Okinawa, and subsequently Japan as a whole, will be brought into question. This is because while an overwhelming majority of Okinawans oppose it, the Japanese government is ramming through land reclamation at Henoko as part of the MCAS Futenma relocation.

If this continues in its current state, the heavy handed methods suppressing the will of Okinawan residents has the potential to expand out to the rest of the country. If the government’s recklessness is not stopped, it will create an awful precedent for the future.

This year also marks the 140th anniversary of the 1879 annexation of the Ryukyus by Japan (also known as the Disposition of Ryukyu). In the time since, the government’s stance of treating Okinawa as a subordinate has not changed.

The Ryukyu Kingdom has been under foreign control since the 1609 invasion by the feudal domain of Satsuma, however its status as a nation was preserved due to its long-standing tributary relationship with the Ming and Qing dynasties of China. In 1872, the Meiji Empire unilaterally established the Ryukyu Kingdom as the Ryukyu Domain, with the King of Ryukyu as its administrator.

Just before this happened, Japanese Minister of Finance Kaoru Inoue proposed, “Our ambiguous relationship with the Qing dynasty has continued for hundreds of years, however with the coming of the Meiji Restoration, this cannot continue. Taking steps to expand the Japanese empire is needed. In doing so, it would not be good to simply take by force. Rather, we should shortly invite their chieftain (the King of the Ryukyus), strictly rebuke him for his disloyalty, and then formally register the land and titles.”
The proposal was a fabrication, one which downgraded the King of the Ryukyus to a “chieftain,” and annexed the islands unilaterally for the “crime of disloyalty.” The proposition was not adopted, however it sparked the conversation about a Ryukyu annexation. It painted a clear picture of how the Meiji Empire viewed Okinawa.

After Okinawa was broken off from Japan in the Peace Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 before being reincorporated into Japan, leaving behind the expansive U.S. military bases in opposition to Okinawan wishes, the forcing of new base construction at Henoko can only be seen as the fourth “Disposition of Ryukyu.”

In the Pacific War, Okinawa was used to buy time in defense of the Japanese mainland, and Japan conscripted a vast number of local residents for the land portion of the battle on the island. As many as one-in-four residents would become a casualty in the ensuing battle.

Okinawans dream of a peaceful Okinawa. The U.S. military base exists namely so that it can be used for an attack in an emergency. It is only natural for us to demand that the base burden placed on Okinawa be lessened, if only a little.

The Japanese government is using the 2013 approval for land reclamation given by former Okinawan governor Hirokazu Nakaima as their banner. However, Nakaima also stated publicly, “I request facilities be relocated outside of Okinawa.” It is also clear that a large majority of Okinawans opposed his decision to allow land reclamation. This was made clear in the two subsequent gubernatorial elections, with the anti-base candidate winning in landslides both times.

It should be mentioned that people who are feeling threatened by an over-authoritarian Japanese government is not limited to Okinawa alone. This is shown by the results of a national telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News, where 56.5% of respondents answered that they “do not support” the government’s stance on base relocation.

The Japanese government has shown time and again that their stance towards Okinawa is to ignore their will and rule with an iron fist. So, I want to ask them this question. Is Japanese democracy merely a sham? I want them to pause for a moment, and think very carefully about this.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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