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  • Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column June 1, 2010: Okinawa Futenma is undermining Japanese democracy

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 2nd, 2010

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    Futenma is undermining Japanese democracy
    The Japan Times: Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Times are tough for the Hatoyama Cabinet. It’s had to backtrack on several campaign promises. Its approval ratings have plummeted to around 20 percent. And that old bone of contention — what to do about American military bases on Japanese soil — has resurfaced again.

    The Okinawa Futenma base relocation issue is complicated, and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has devoted too much time to a battle he simply cannot win. If the American troops stay as is, Okinawan protests will continue and rifts within the Cabinet will grow. If the troops are moved within Japan, excessive media attention will follow and generate more anti-Hatoyama and anti-American sentiment. If the troops leave Japan entirely, people will grumble about losing American money.

    So let’s ask the essential question: Why are U.S. bases still in Japan?

    One reason is inertia. America invaded Okinawa in 1945, and the bases essentially remain as spoils of war. Even after Okinawa’s return to Japan in 1972, one-sixth of Okinawa is technically still occupied, hosting 75 percent of America’s military presence in Japan. We also have the knock-on effects of Okinawan dependency on the bases (I consider it a form of “economic alcoholism”), and generations of American entrenchment lending legitimacy to the status quo.

    Another reason is Cold War ideology. We hear arguments about an unsinkable aircraft carrier (as if Okinawa is someplace kept shipshape for American use), a bulwark against a pugilistic North Korea or a rising China (as if the DPRK has the means or China has the interest to invade, especially given other U.S. installations in, say, South Korea or Guam). But under Cold War logic including “deterrence” and “mutually assured destruction,” the wolf is always at the door; woe betide anyone who lets their guard down and jeopardizes regional security.

    Then there’s the American military’s impressive job of preying on that insecurity. According to scholar Chalmers Johnson, as of 2005 there were 737 American military bases outside the U.S. (an actual increase since the Cold War ended) and 2.5 million U.S. military personnel serving worldwide. What happened to the “peace dividend” promised two decades ago after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Part of it sunk into places like Okinawa.

    But one more reason demonstrates an underlying arrogance within the American government: “keeping the genie in the bottle” — the argument that Japan also needs to be deterred, from remilitarizing. The U.S. military’s attitude seems to be that they are here as a favor to us.

    Some favor. As history shows, once the Americans set up a base abroad, they don’t leave. They generally have to lose a war (as in Vietnam), have no choice (as in the eruption of Pinatubo in the Philippines), or be booted out by a dictator (as in Uzbekistan). Arguments about regional balances of power are wool over the eyes. Never mind issues of national sovereignty — the demands of American empire require that military power be stationed abroad. Lump it, locals.

    But in this case there’s a new complication: The Futenma issue is weakening Japan’s government.

    Hatoyama has missed several deadlines for a resolution (while the American military has stalled negotiations for years without reprisal), enabling detractors to portray him as indecisive. He’s had to visit Okinawa multiple times to listen to locals and explain. Meanwhile, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party claims Hatoyama is reneging on a promise (which is spoon-bitingly hypocritical, given the five decades the LDP completely ignored Okinawa, and the fact that Hatoyama has basically accepted an accord concluded by the LDP themselves in 2006). And now, with Mizuho Fukushima’s resignation from the Cabinet, the coalition government is in jeopardy.

    Futenma is taking valuable time away from other policies that concern Japan, such as corruption and unaccountability, growing domestic economic inequality, crippling public debts, and our future in the world as an aging society.

    As the momentum ebbs from his administration, Hatoyama is in a no-win situation. But remember who put him there. If America really is the world’s leading promoter of democracy, it should consider how it is undermining Japan’s political development. After nearly 60 years of corrupt one-party rule, Japan finally has a fledgling two-party system. Yet that is withering on the vine thanks to American geopolitical manipulation.

    We keep hearing how Japan’s noncooperation will weaken precious U.S.-Japan ties. But those ties have long been a leash — one the U.S., aware of how susceptible risk-averse Japan is to “separation anxiety,” yanks at whim. The “threatened bilateral relationship” claim is disingenuous — the U.S. is more concerned with bolstering its military-industrial complex than with Asia’s regional stability.

    In sum, it’s less a matter of Japan wanting the U.S. bases to stay, more a matter of the U.S. bases not wanting to leave. Japan is a sovereign country, so the Japanese government has the final say. If that means U.S. forces relocating or even leaving completely, the U.S. should respectfully do so without complaint, not demand Japan find someplace else for them to go. That is not Japan’s job.

    Yet our politicians have worked hard for decades to represent the U.S. government’s interests to the Japanese public. Why? Because they always have.

    The time has come to stop being prisoners of history. World War II and the Cold War are long over.

    That’s why this columnist says: Never mind Futenma. All U.S. bases should be withdrawn from Japanese soil, period. Anachronisms, the bases have not only created conflicts of interest and interfered with Japan’s sovereignty, they are now incapacitating our government. Japan should slip the collar of U.S. encampments and consider a future under a less dependent, more equal relationship with the U.S.

    Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments to

    44 Responses to “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column June 1, 2010: Okinawa Futenma is undermining Japanese democracy”

    1. John Says:

      The U.S. deploys military forces in Okinawa and Japan in accordance with the bi-lateral security agreement between Japan and the U.S. In most cases there is a joint presence of both U.S. and JSDF. There is mutual cooperation and training between them. The ‘Occupation’ ended in 1954 and Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972. The U.S. does not retain any rights over Japaneses territory as ‘ Spoils of War’. The Japanese constitution renounces war and as a consequence they maintain no ‘Military’ but instead a ‘Self Defense Force’. The historical belligerence of North Korea is a clear and present danger to Japan. At sea battles between JSDF ships and North Korean ‘Spy Ships’ have recently occurred near Okinawa. North Korea conducted a campaign of abduction of Japanese citizens for years. The PRC also represents a threat to Japan. The Chinese are currently claiming sovereignty of the ‘Senkaku Shoto’ and there have been tense at sea confrontations between the Japanese and PRC. Recently there have been incursions by the PRC into Japanese waters near Okinawa. The presence of U.S. forces in Okinawa and Japan clearly benefits the security of Japan. In the early 1990’s when the government of the Philippines asked the U.S. forces to leave, they left. The continuing threats to stability presented by North Korea and the PRC argue against the abrupt departure of U.S, forces from Okinawa and Japan. A power vacuum would result and embolden the PRC and North Korea to become more aggressive. Would Japan build up it’s military capability to compensate? WW2 is long over but it would be foolish to assume that the Chinese and Koreans have forgotten about it. Every time some Japanese politician visits Yasukuni Jinja, we are reminded that the Chinese and Koreans are not quite ready to let bygones be bygones.

    2. mashu Says:

      Well said John. Another thing, if the US pulls out or is asked to leave, my bet is Japan develops nukes quick.

    3. Allen Says:

      I have to agree with you, Debito. Its not “Let’s get those Americans out of Japan” but instead “Let’s start a new relationship and get out of World War II”. As a American myself, I feel like all these bases in foreign countries is just a way for America’s military to gloat as the world’s most powerful country. Besides, I’ve spoken to far too many Americans who were stationed there who simply refused to accept the culture or learn the language and just flaunted their Americanism(“I’m American! They should learn OUR language”).

    4. A Says:

      John summarized my views succinctly, but I need to add the role of the US forces on the local economy. All emotional, historic and national arguments aside, the US forces in Okinawa are so entrenched in the local economy that of they were summarily removed it would have a devastating effect on the already very poor Okinawan economy.

      Presently, there is no situation were the land converted from a base departure would be able to exceed the revenue generated by it’s presence.

    5. Doug Says:

      I just heard Hatoyama is resigning over this.

      Although I am American and I personally would like to see the U.S. troops withdraw from Japan (and other locations…as would hopefully 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul) I agree with John. There were no “spoils of war” and the departure of U.S. troops would either lead to an escalation of Japan’s military or emboldenment of China.

      I believe Hatoyama made a promise he could not keep (whether he knew it or not). The situation is very complex and perhaps he did not understand the full nature of what he was pledging.

      Perhaps the best method is a slow, gradual, phasing out of the U.S. military. This would require Japan to take the initiative and basically tell the U.S. that this is the way it will be.

      The U.S. presence is stabilizing, yes and basically supports the economy of Okinawa, however it is not good for the U.S. to have such a presence and Japan such a dependence for a long time.

      Hopefully after Hatoyama Japan will find a true leader that can stay around longer than a year but I am not holding my breath.

    6. Andrew Says:

      I was somehow disappointed reading an article like this from Debito. (Personally I’m neutral on the base issue, so it’s not that I fundamentally disagree with the article’s position.)

      Debito, you’ve established yourself as a credible and important activist for the rights of non-Japanese in Japan. With an article like this, you sound like a political partisan, referring to Okinawa as “occupied” and reducing a legitimate benefit to “economic alcoholism”. The suggestion that the US military is in Okinawa to deter Japan, for example, makes you sound like a conspiracy theorist.

      I don’t think it does your cause or your credibility much by straying into this territory.

      (PS, I mean this wholeheartedly to be a constructive criticism.)

      — Thanks for it. It’s the job of the columnist to promote and provoke discussion.

    7. adamw Says:

      debito,i think that you are the one being disingenuous
      by not mentioning that japan would have to build up its army very quickly to take the place of them.and this would cost a lot of money ,a lot more than japan currently spends on would this help solve the crippling public debts you worry about??
      if you really believe that an army wouldnt be necessary then you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

      the fact that the dpj is completely incompetent has got nothing to do with the us- are you going to blame the fact that they have broken every campaign promise they made on the americans as well?they dont seem to be any less corrupt either.
      the comment about the philippines is also factually incorrect.
      clark was rendered inoperable ,but subic and others were still in use-the us left because the agreement ended and was renewed.also,the us army have been back many times at the request of the philippines government.

    8. Andi Says:

      I agree entirely with Debito. Whatever the legal status, it is quite clear that these bases are a manifestations of the cold war paternalism that the United States continues to exercise throughout the world.

      Regional stability, deterrence, the nuclear umbrella, these are not only cheap tatemae, but also a self-fulfilling concept: as long as the United States and Japan continue to act like their neighbours are monsters that need to be restrained lest they attack at the first opportunity, foreign policy and rhetoric will reflect this, alienating Japan’s neighbours and increasing tension.

      Only when this Cold War paternalism ends will Japan have the position of responsibility and self-determination to seek reconciliation and equal cooperation with its neighbours.

    9. Andi Says:

      And now Hatoyama has quit over this issue. Fantastic, we can now look forward to the deterioration of the this government, and a return to LDP oligarchy, this period of democratic change and (attempts at) left liberalism consigned to history, to be used by the next generation of patronising LDP bureaucreats as a warning against what happens when you try to shake up the system.

      Thanks, America. Nice one.

    10. jjobseeker Says:

      Well written Debito. I think we can see from the comments here how complicated the issue really is. Everyone brings up valid points. The local economy’s dependence on the presence of those troops; the very real security issue facing Japan from an increasingly unstable DPRK; the long held grudges held by both Koreas and PRC, etc. are all details that have been lost among the screaming headlines about broken promises, waffling, and the emotional element concerning the offenses U.S. soldiers have committed on Okinawans over the years.

      But, with Hatoyama’s now confirmed resignation (that’s the fourth PM in as many years folks!), I think the real issue here is the increasing instability of the Japanese political system. A system more concerned now with maintaining approval ratings than getting anything done, especially the very real issues Debito mentions in his article–issues that will have a definite affect on Japan’s place in world economics and influence in the next 20 years when all this huff about Futenma has either been solved or lost its flavor to be ignored and swept under the rug when it suits whoever is in power (or whoever is against the party in power). May be someone can confirm, but is Okinawa’s present governor a LDP backed governor? If so, it would explain why after years of the LDP with their hands in the pocket regarding Futenma, it would become the hotbed issue for Hatoyama’s Cabinet barely a year into its existence. Better than some scandal about money, it’s issue he could not answer, but would ultimately cut into his approval ratings no matter what he did or said (or not say). I think opposition parties love this kind of issue. One that completely has the citizens brandishing the tip of the sword pointed at the present leadership while they stand behind them with their hands up saying “it’s not us.”

      I think in the end, Japan will ultimately suffer from this circus and when the dust clears, nothing will really have been done about any real issues or the one in concern. Ultimately, it benefits both the Americans and the LDP at this point to drag this out as long as possible. Meanwhile, Japan sinks deeper into a political and economic coma.

    11. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:


      Well I must say that I am pleasantly surprised, in fact amazed at your latest entry about Futenma. In fact I agree with you 100%. The US bases are Cold War relics, and the US military complex has become a bloated monster.

      Here are some recent writings of mine:

      On how recent Chinese Naval exercises and the North Korean sinking of the ship Cheonan, do not truly represent a military danger to Japan.

      On how a second North Korean war would go. My main point here is, even without US forces, South Korea could handily win a war against North Korea. I am preparing a second entry to this one, I will discuss the damage that North Korea could inflict upon Japan. I will demonstrate how the presence of US forces cannot prevent NK missiles from hitting Japan, or NK commandos from landing in Japan. No defense is airtight. But even without US forces, the result will be the same. And I will also demonstrate here how the US, bogged down by the wars in the Middle East, would not have the capacity to provide any more than token forces if a second Korean war erupted.

      My point is that the presence of US forces do not have military meaning, and are socially detrimental.

      And here is what I written for American consumption, how this ham handed handling of the issue has created a fissure in the Japanese/American relationship.

      Well if you remember some of my comments on your blog, we have basically locked horns. But I must say I am glad to see you writing this. And you might try writing things like this in Japanese for Japanese publications.

      Thank you very much,

      Max von Schuler-小林

    12. Hiroshi Says:

      What an absolute disappointment. We got all excited about Hatoyama for some real change from the stagnant, failing system that we have had for decades. Personally I was most looking forward to various foreigner and immigration improvements.

      But it was all politics from day one. Funtenma is a no-win situation, and it was used to discredit and distract the Hatoyama cabinet from essentially getting any real reform.

      It took almost half a century for a chance for reform. I hope that there is still another chance sometime within my lifetime or before Japan finally falls apart.

    13. Jeezus Says:

      “Perhaps the best method is a slow, gradual, phasing out of the U.S. military.”
      The original agreement drafted by the U.S. and Japan (LDP) was supposed to be the beginning of this. Keep in mind that many in the Okinawan government participated in the development of the 06 plan, which had been in the works for more than 10 years (see I’m all for sovereignty, and a decreased U.S. military presence around the world, but this is not something that can happen overnight. The original plan was a good start, and Hatoyama would have been better off looking for ways to follow through with that and finding ways to further unite the region — as he has stated as one of his his goals. He could have killed 2 birds with one stone in doing that. As well, I am all for resistance against the U.S. government being over-baring, but I don’t agree that this is happening here — individual troop problems are, however, something that the U.S. military must continue addressing. You must understand that, according to the bi-lateral agreement, the U.S. is obligated to protect the safety of Japan (from a military standpoint). This requires a certain number of troops to be stationed in Japan — no other country/territory should ‘shoulder the burden’ of troops that are supposed to protect Japan on Japan’s behalf [You must protect me!…but stay as far away from me as you can…my neighbor has a nice lawn that you can park your artillery on”]. If the Japanese government wishes to keep this structure in place, it is in fact their “job” to help find ways for the troops to be stationed in regions that all parties can deem acceptable for present purposes. To suggest that the times are drastically cooler than during the cold-war is to ignore a whole lot of what is going on in the region right now — however, I don’t think China is as big of an issue as the media sometimes suggests; China is doing way too good right now to screw it up on some vendetta trip. This does not mean that any government has the right to stoke the fears of citizens, but let’s be more realistic about the meaning of the U.S. military presence in the region. Want to change the bi-lateral agreement and handle the military business in another manner? I have no issue with that. Deal with the consequences, good and/or bad, that come with that and move in whatever direction that takes ya. Whatever the case, handle it in proper diplomatic fashion — telling the public that you will back out of an international agreement without being in the position to discuss the agreement with the other party is not the best form of diplomacy (damn good campaigning though). Debito, I really respect what you do, but I would like to see you use the same logic you use in discussing the injustices you and others have experienced at the expense of the authorities in Japan when discussing your mistrust of the U.S. government. There were a lot of loaded statements in this piece that just don’t work for me [and I’m the guy who ran around college with the Anarchy patch on his backpack, pointing out all of the injustices that the U.S. government has allowed over the years].
      As well, I really liked the potential that Hatoyama offered, but I wish he would have chosen his respectable reasoning abilities over the emotional foreplay he offered the public on such matters [I understand that this is what politicians do]. The guy is not the idiot the media makes him out to be, and, unlike many of his predecessors, he really was truly reaching out to the leaders of the other countries in the region.

    14. Steve Says:

      Here’s a simple, constitutionally approved, solution for Defense of Japan:

      Real-Defense-Limited-Missles (NOT-Offense-Capable-Missles) Real-Defense-Limited-Missles.

      Real-Defense-Limited-Missles mean small-surface-to-air-missles that utilize radar to automatically STOP incoming-offensive-missles (whether they be from North Korea or China or wherever.)

      Real-Defense-Limited-Missles are PHYSICALLY LIMITED to only being able to travel as far as Japan’s actual BORDERS, they are PHYSICALLY UNABLE to attack other countries because they simply don’t have enough fuel to make it that far.

      When I explain this solution to people, 50% of people incorrectly say, “Japan is constitutionally not allowed to do this!” and 40% incorrectly say, “But North Korea and China would not allow Japan to have missiles!”

      To both of those incorrect emotional concerns, here is the answer, “Real-Defense-Limited-Missles are purely defense, they are physically unable to attack other countries because they simply don’t have enough fuel to make it that far, this fact will be proven to the world clearly and scientifically, it is constitutionally approved, and it is much safer to other countries than training Japanese Self-Defense-Forces to fly offensive-planes and drive offensive-tanks and shoot offensive-guns.”

      Real-Defense-Limited-Missles mean Japan can actually STOP IN MIDAIR incoming-offensive-missles from North Korea or China.

      Currently, Japan has no real-physical-defense that can STOP IN MIDAIR incoming-offensive-missles.

      Currently, Japan is merely HOPING that after incoming-offensive-missles have hit Japan (after many Japanese civilians have been killed) THEN, HOPEFULLY the American military will retaliate with offense-missles against North Korean civilians or Chinese civilians, and thus Japan is HOPING, HOPING that this POSSIBILITY of American retaliation will prevent North Korean or Chinese governments from launching offensive-missles to Japan.

      Real-Defense-Limited-Missles mean Japan can actually STOP IN MIDAIR incoming offensive-missles from North Korea or China, thus we no longer need to support the protection-racket known as the American military.

      “Thank you American military for the many years of ‘protection’ you ‘gave’ to Japan, but now we have installed 10,000 Real-Defense-Limited-Missles on our Western Coast, so we can physically protect ourselves from here on out, please leave by July 4th, thank you.”

    15. Joe Says:

      There was a feature on the US Bases in Japan (particularly Okinawa) on Houdou Station a couple of weeks back. The most striking part of it were the interviews with servicemen (no women interviewed) where they were asked why the US forces were in Japan. Not a single person said that they were in Japan to protect the Japanese; half said that they were there to look after American interests, while the other half basically said “I don’t really know why we’re here.” You can imagine how the Okinawans, who have lost one-sixth of their land and routinely deal with daily hazards, noise pollution, and intrusions by thousands of foreigners unwilling to adapt to local culture, might have felt upon hearing that.

      Granted that TV Asahi probably crafted the presentation to give a particularly pro-Japanese point of view, but the idea that America takes far more than it gives to its “partners” is hardly new. And given that most of the fighting in American’s current wars takes plaes with unmanned drones, I see no reason why American couldn’t maintain the same deterrant level with a much smaller footprint, perhaps even moving its entire Japan forces to Guam.

      Regardless, the era of America taking whatever it can just because it can needs to end.

    16. Joe Says:

      Steve: To play devil’s advocate for a second, how would your self-defense missile plan protect Japan from a full-scale naval invasion from China or guerrila invasion from North Korea?

    17. Steve Says:

      To automatically stop (literally, in midair) offensive-missles that enter Japan’s airspace is the most important protection needed.

      As it happens, Real-Defense-Limited-Missles can also stop (literally, in midocean) offensive-ships that enter Japan’s waterspace.

    18. Jeezus Says:

      “Currently, Japan has no real-physical-defense that can STOP IN MIDAIR incoming-offensive-missles.”

      Completely false. The missile defense system was part of the original 2006 plan, and such missiles have already been deployed (Patriot/PAC-3 from land, and SM-3 on U.S./JSDF ships) . The system is supposed to be developed further in the years to come. Anyone who is up on this remembers the uproar that the initial deployment of the PAC-3 at Iruma caused. For more information see

    19. Steve Says:

      And PS, if you think 10,000 of these is not enough protection, then Japan can simply install 100,000 or 1,000,000 of these Real-Defense-Limited-Missles.

      Where’s the money going to come from you ask? Answer: by self-sufficiently PROTECTING ITSELF, Japan will no longer be obliged to pay trillions of dollars to America (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, the never-ending ‘war against terror’ ( = CIA-funded false-flag operations), India-oil schemes, giri T-bill purchases, etc.)

      Japan can self-sufficiently PROTECT ITSELF using Real-Defense-Limited-Missles.

    20. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:


      I am very sorry, there is no real workable missile defense system in existence. US military contractors routinely skew test results. The only option to missile attack is retaliation. I seriously doubt that China will suddenly launch a missile attack on Japan.
      And North Korean missiles are largely untested. The Nodong has been tested once. It flew. The Taepyong failed seconds into it’s first flight, in it’s second, it apparently failed to launch a satellite into orbit. Not an impressive record.

      For a country with no fuel for general purposes, a missile offensive against Japan with liquid fueled rockets would be difficult. Japan does have short range cruise missiles. Longer range cruise missiles would be easy to develop.

      This is the only area where American forces would be immediately useful. A cruise missile response. But there are some indications that North Korea is finally headed for the rocks, and when it goes, I think we will find that the threat of North Korea has been way overblown to serve the interests of those in both America and Japan who make money off the US military presence.

    21. Joe Says:

      Steve, even if this mythical foolproof method of stopping missles actually existed, your whole strategy for a self-sufficient Japan is to defend against ONE form of attack? When North Korea has already proven to be able to reach Japanese shores and abduct Japanese citizens without detection?

      I don’t think that there should be nearly as many US bases in Japan (if any) as there are, but a defensive missile shield alone is never going to be sufficient for Japan to feel any sense of security at all.

    22. Steve Says:

      Jeezus wrote:
      “The system is supposed to be developed further in the years to come.”

      Great, and thanks for the link, everybody should look at that link. See folks, we just need enough of these defense-missles to shoot down the whining of people who say “Japan needs the American military.”

      Max wrote:
      “US military contractors routinely skew test results.”

      Yeah, I realize this. So when an incoming-offensive-missle is detected, instead of automatically launching just 1 defensive-missle to shoot it down, automatically launch 3 or 4 defensive-missles to shoot it down. Do whatever it takes to increase our chances of stopping the incoming-offensive-missle.

      And Yes Max, I agree the fear-mongers have fooled everyone into worrying too much, but since we want the worried sheep to agree to kicking the American military out of Japan, we need to show the worried sheep that no matter what happens: Japan can defend itself.

      — Let’s bring this thread of missile defenses to a close.

    23. Yang Yan Zhao Says:

      You can imagine how the Okinawans, who have lost one-sixth of their land and routinely deal with daily hazards, noise pollution, and intrusions by thousands of foreigners unwilling to adapt to local culture, might have felt upon hearing that.

      I imagine a lot like they felt when the Japanese empire took over their kingdom in the first place.

    24. Kimberly Says:

      I admit to being the exact opposite of an expert on this issue, but I applaud this article and to the extent that I CAN agree with my limited knowledge base, I absolutely do.

      I wonder why Japan continues to allow the US troops to roam about freely after all of the related crimes, rapes, etc that seem to be one of the biggest complaints. Couldn’t it have been a primary step to police the troops better? I don’t know what kind of system if any exists now, but the local towns AROUND the base are in no way US soil, and the rest of us need a visa of some sort to be here… most daily needs, from what I understand, can be met on base… would it be unreasonable to require the troops and their families to get special permission to leave the base, including a declaration of the REASON they need to be off the base and where they intend to go… punishable by Japanese law if they turn “shopping” into “hanging out around the local all-girls high school” or something… hey, just like the rest of us would be punished doing something that WE didn’t have a visa for.

      Again, I don’t know anything about the military or how related laws work…. but it seems like smaller steps should have been taken. And I for one will miss Hatoyama… I don’t know that we’ll go back to LDP rule right away or anything, no one really seems to be saying “Wow, I really miss Aso” either. But Hatoyama had potential… he made some mistakes but it’s a shame that the public (or the media at least) seems unwilling to at least give him a year or two to do some good, too.

    25. cstaylor Says:

      Adamw, most of the public debt is held in Japanese hands.

      I wouldn’t say the DPJ is completely incompetent: I just received my kodomo teate. 😉

      I doubt this is the end of the Okinawa discussion. Japan needs to have a frank, open discussion about how it will conduct itself globally in the 21st century. Maybe a referendum concerning the SOFA and Article 9 would be a good next step.

    26. level3 Says:

      In a way it would be interesting if the bases were gone, so the Okinawan protestors
      could move on to the REAL underlying issue, increased autonomy or even independence from Japan.

      If the pols in Tokyo think the Okinawans would be placated by removal of the bases, we can enjoy their surprise when the professional protestors need to find a new raison d’etre.

      Morality and history of the bases aside, how they’re going to improve the economy by getting rid of the bases just leaves me puzzled, being a native son of a tourist/beach town, I know firsthand that tourism is NOT the basis of a thriving economy, it’s the basis of a subsistence economy at best and motivation for all talented youth to escape to a place with a future other than a lower-middle-class lifestyle at best if you’re “lucky” enough to make it all the way to assistant resort manager before you hit 40.

    27. Jerry Says:

      I tend to agree. Since the feeling I get is that the majority of the Japanese people don’t really want the US forces on Japanese soil the US should leave.

      The side effect of this is Japan will need to change it’s constitution and develop a standing army to really begin dealing with it’s own defense.

      The loss of the $$$ from the US Bases can easily be made up by defense spending, R&D (which pays huge commercial dividends), and manufacturing. Think of the GDP increase if Mitsubishi (or any of the other former military manufacturing giants) began developing and selling fighter planes again (or battleships/destroyers/etc.). Jobs, income, scientific advancement, win win for Japan.

      And I think the Japanese people would benefit from finally getting over the loss of WWII and having to decide if they want to develop into global superpower or fade into regional obscurity.

    28. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Debito, when reading your essay, I was surprised to find that I agreed with you, but for almost totally opposite reasons. I’m sure I’ll be torn to shreds by other posters, and again by the nationalist anti-Debito crowd on other blogs who might be reading this, but it needs to be said.

      The American occupation of Okinawa, unjust as it might be, is a net benefit to the mainland Tokyo government, which gets protection while simultaneously pretending that it’s “Japan” bearing the burden when in fact it’s Okinawa that suffers — they’re the people putting up with the loud airplanes and unruly soldiers. And these people bearing the cost of the protection were never seen as equals by Tokyo — they were used as human shields in a hopeless defense of Japan in 1945, and used as tax-paying slaves in the decades before that.

      The US bases need to leave, and Okinawa needs to be free. Not free from the US, and not free to be Japan’s 47th prefecture (both chronologically and on the status totem pole), but free to be its own independent nation.

      Exactly what “sovereignty” can the Tokyo government legitimately claim over the people of Okinawa, if we’re trying to redress past wrongs?

      In 1609, the Satsuma clan invaded Okinawa, forced the Shuri king to sign humiliating treaties, and taxed the people (first lightly, then very, very onerously) to the point that they were virtual slaves. By the 19th century, ordinary people in the Yaeyamas were forced to labor to the point where 86% of their productivity was siphoned off by the Satsuma, and local authorities were forcing pregnant women to abort their babies so that there would be fewer mouths to feed.

      (See Toshiichi Sudo’s 1944 book 南島覚書 Nantou Oboegaki for exact figures on the taxes, and, if you don’t mind slogging through archaic Japanese, 南島探検 Nantou Tanken by Gisuke Sasamori 笹森儀助 for more info on the impoverished lives of Meiji-era Okinawans.)

      The “head tax” continued until 1903 and monuments commemmorating its abolition still stand today.

      The mainland rulers also treated Okinawans’ language with disrespect. Americans who refuse to learn the culture or language? They’re not half as bad as the mainlanders who came to Okinawa to administer the island before the war. Did they learn to speak Shuri (or any other Okinawan language)? Certainly not, and they even punished Okinawan children who had the audacity to speak their own languages rather than Japanese by making them wear big wooden “dialect tags” (hougen-fuda) around their necks.

      And the Tokyo overlords did such a good job of eradicating the Okinawan languages that today you’re hard-pressed to find people who can still speak them.

      So when it comes to oppressing Okinawans, the US military has nothing on the mainland Japanese.

      Now, we can insist that the treatment of Okinawans by the mainland government before WWII is less relevant than how Tokyo has treated them since the reversion in 1972, and obviously the murderous taxes of rice and fabric and livestock have been dialed down quite a bit.

      Still, the mainland government’s “have their cake and eat it too” position — whine about America being the big bad bully for domestic consumption while simultaneously accepting American protection from worse aggressors — needs to be addressed. As does the issue of what will happen with the bases when the US leaves. Surely Hatoyama wasn’t planning to just move the JSDF into all those fully-operational, ready-made installations, now was he?

      I know that thia is pie-in-the-sky idealism, but what I really want to see is an independent Okinawa, with free-trade and free-entry agreements with Japan (and whatever countries they choose to deal with), and no national or consumption taxes paid to Tokyo whatsoever. At the very least, some kind of Hong Kong or Taiwan-like partial autonomy. I fervently hope that a solution can come about that respects not just the desires of residents near the bases, but also all those elderly folks who have been putting up with other disrespects and abuses since long before the first US base was built. The US is using those people, sure, but the Tokyo government has an even worse track record. An autonomous Okinawa is the only way.

    29. mashu Says:

      The problem with this whole thing is that there is no “known” end result. No one has thought through the very complex issues as to how this would look ten years down the road. What does a Japan without US bases look like, ten years after? A real national army etc..Nukes, Steve’s magic missiles? And that is not even factoring in the reactions of the rest of Asia should one, all or , none be the result. In some sense this speaks to the real shallowness of the political system. After 60 years of LDP rule no one can think farther down the road than the next election. Most of the adults I know welcome serious discussion about this and a myriad of other issues (aging, low birth, etc..) but the politicians far from the table. So the status quo seems the easy way. But the catch is that while the status quo remains in Japan the issue and the problems dont go away and change over time.

      I really have no answer or solution, Debito’s point of “kick them out” at least gets the thought process stirring–something which has be dearly lacking for a few decades. I think of this issue as less about America and a whole lot more about Japan. So in some sense I am on Debito’s side. This relic of WWII needs to be addressed now. It has waited far to long. The final answer, however, must be forged in the politics of japan.

    30. Steve Says:

      OK, I’ll bring this topic of missile defenses to a close. :)

      Debito wrote:
      “All U.S. bases should be withdrawn from Japanese soil, period.”

      I totally agree.

      So, how are we going to convince the worried Japanese majority that thinks that the threat of American military retaliation is needed to stop North Korea or China from attacking/invading Japan?

      Do you think that we can convince the worried Japanese majority by saying,

      A. “Don’t worry folks, North Korea/China are NOT going to attack/invade Japan, I assure you, let’s just kick out the American military: WITHOUT creating our own replacement defense system.”


      B. “Don’t worry folks, North Korea/China are NOT going to attack/invade Japan, because even though we’re kicking out the American military, we’re STILL going to continue paying ‘protection money’ each year whenever the Pentagon demands it, so… even though Japan will be free of the American bases, Japan will continue to quietly pay for the American military’s unwritten-promise-to-retaliate-against-anyone-who-attacks-Japan.”


      C. “Don’t worry folks, North Korea/China are NOT going to attack/invade Japan, because while kicking out the American military, we’re going to strengthen Japan’s Self-Defense-Forces.”


      If your answer is close to A, I think the worried Japanese majority are NOT going to agree to that.

      Sure, you’ve got various cities in Japan saying “Get the base out of MY city” but, they just want the base relocated to some OTHER city: ask any Japanese person about kicking the American military out of Japan and they become scared and say, “No, no, we need the American ‘protection’ to stop North Korea/China.”

      Jerry’s wife is a perfect example:

      Jerry wrote:
      “The wife, of course, gets a horrified look on her face whenever I mention that the US should just pull out entirely if the Japanese don’t want them there and starts explaining that N. Korea/China would invade as soon as the US pulled out.”

      Luke wrote:
      “On your last point, do Japanese really believe that they would be attacked if the U.S. pulled out? I mean I know they make that excuse on the news, but do you guys think that in general they take that threat very seriously?”

      Jerry wrote:
      “Luke, I can’t speak for what the Japanese think, just my wife who happens to be Japanese. And yes, she’s convinced that as soon as the US leaves N. Korea will invade and possibly China as well.”

      Steve writes:
      “I’ve asked hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese folks, during my 13 years here, and I still haven’t found a Japanese person who has the courage to say, “Yes, let’s kick out the American military, we don’t need them, Japan can protect itself.” They all fearfully say, “We’re not allowed to create an army, and North Korea/China would attack/invade.”

      If your answer is close to B, OK, yes, the scared Japanese will agree to kicking the American military to Guam IF it is made clear that Japan will quietly continue paying ‘protection’ money to the Pentagon, to continue to ‘benefit’ from the American military’s unwritten-promise-to-retaliate-against-anyone-who-attacks-Japan.

      If your answer is close to C, OK, great, let’s hear it Debito, have you thought up a solution which:

      1 gives the Japanese people the feeling of safety needed for them to say yes,

      2 stays safely within the Japanese Constitution’s definition of defense, and

      3 doesn’t allow anyone to accuse Japan of increasing offensive ability?

      The column you wrote, if translated into Japanese, does not offer a solution which gives the Japanese people the feeling of safety needed for them to say yes.

      I hope you can come up with a good solution, because I totally agree with your idea, “All U.S. bases should be withdrawn from Japanese soil, period.”

      Seriously, how are you going to sell your idea to your countrypeople the Japanese?

    31. Dosanko Says:


      Good, thought-provoking article. A few factual comments:

      Para 4: America invaded Okinawa in 1945, and the bases essentially remain as spoils of war. Even after Okinawa’s return to Japan in 1972, one-sixth of Okinawa is technically still occupied, hosting 75 percent of America’s military presence in Japan.

      As John pointed out in the first comment, “spoils of war” and “occup[ation]” are terms of art and you missed on both counts.

      Para 6: According to scholar Chalmers Johnson, as of 2005 there were 737 American military bases outside the U.S. (an actual increase since the Cold War ended) and 2.5 million U.S. military personnel serving worldwide.

      Here, Chalmers, as he often does, substitutes the politically-charged term “base” where the more appropriate term is clearly “site”. By his terminology, “Drydock Area-5030”, “Akasaki POL Dep-5032” and “Hario Housing Area-5119”, all of which are located in Sasebo, count as separate “bases”.

      Para 8: As history shows, once the Americans set up a base abroad, they don’t leave.

      For a long list of former US military facilities in Japan that have since been returned to the Japanese government, please look towards the bottom of the following page: (“List of Former Facilities”)

    32. Steve in Tokyo Says:

      I was interested to see that this theme also surfaced in an article in the The Times the day before Hatoyama-san jumped:-

      His resignation illustrates the “remarkable limits imposed on Japanese democracy by its 50-year-old alliance with the United States.” The article concludes “So fundamental has the US security umbrella become to Japan’s sense of itself that is overrides all else – even the wishes of its prime minister, ruling party and voters.” Couldn`t put it better myself.


    33. jjobseeker Says:

      Very well spoken. Can’t agree more.

      Answers–which I agree can not be easily found at this juncture–require asking the proper questions, some of which are being posited here in this thread. It also, as you stated, requires a vision of the end result. Unfortunately, it is about the election cycle. The Futenma issue became less about finding the right answer as it was “make sure the answer is X.” More about the decision instead of the results of that decision.

      I say it often to friends and family, Japan has become more about image rather than substance. It’s ingrained in their school system (get into that “name” school), the work force (promote people who appear to be doing their job or because they come from said “name” school), their retail habits (the “boom” goods), etc. Until the populace itself starts becoming more interested in performance (a sum of proposal + execution + result) rather than appearance, the almighty “approval rating” will continue to be the policy maker in this country.

    34. Level3 Says:

      Um, where does this concept of paying “protection money” to the USA if there isn’t actually a base in the country come from? The same place as “the US invaded Iraq to ‘steal’ oil” (that they pay for)?

      AFAIK the main way the US gets money out of allies for defense is by selling them weapons and ammo and parts for those weapons. You might want to call that ‘protection money’, but the countries ARE actually getting physical hardware in return, right?
      Giving actual ‘protection’ money to a yakuza gets you nothing. Or at best maybe 5000% price-inflated hinomaru flags and Emperor-worship deco. I thought this was the traditional colloquial definition of “protection money”.

      If getting out of Okinawa meant Japan would build up its military, it’s pretty sure that at least SOME extra cash (far greater than what Japan pays for supporting the Okinawan bases now) would be going to weapons-makers in the USA. This fact in itself poses a quandry for anti-US theroists, if the US military-industrial complex would benefit from withdrawal from Okinawa, then why keep the base in Okinawa? as it certainly isn’t about the money. Perhaps it IS about strategic location? Just a thought.

      I could be wrong, though. Someone please enlighten me as to any current/recent cases of the USA basically being paid some kind of “tribute” a la the Roman Empire that does not involve some sort of partial funding of a US base in the host country, or sales of weapons systems. How braod is this definition of “protection money” and why use the term to poison the well?

    35. Jeezus Says:

      From Dosanko’s post: “According to scholar Chalmers Johnson, as of 2005 there were 737 American military bases outside the U.S. (an actual increase since the Cold War ended) and 2.5 million U.S. military personnel serving worldwide.”
      Not sure if that was actually the case in 05, but the Defense of Japan 2009 white paper ( presents numbers that are “taken from published documents of the U.S. Department of Defense (as of December 31, 2008) and others” that put the deployment number at 1.4 million. The document puts this at a reduction from 2.17 million in 1987 — during the cold war. That’s something like 35% less. It seems to be the case that the (unnecessary?) deployment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan really has people thinking that the U.S. is trying to over-run the earth, but the postures presented by the Defense Department — yes, even during the Bush years — speak to the converse.

      From the article above: “Finally in May, after months of strained relations with Washington and declining public support ratings, he made up his mind: with a few minor adjustments, Japan would stick to the original plan after all. The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from all this is that Mr Hatoyama is unfit to be a leader.” Unfit to be a leader? How so? He stuck to his campaign promise of SEEKING an alternative and was not able to find one in the time-frame he set for himself [and moved back a few months, hehe]. That happens to world leaders from time to time, especially when one is working through a powerful bureaucracy that has historically taken a position opposite to one’s own. Dude was only 8 months in, and he was initially attempting to heavily modify an agreement that took a very long time to draft. Attack him on either the attempt’s being foolish or taken at the wrong time, but don’t claim that he was unfit because he was unable to pull off what would have been something quite miraculous (backing out of a major agreement that has been in the works since the mid-90s and having all parties be cool with that). Despite his “dithering,” I don’t think the total body-of-work of his first 8 months in office showed him as ‘unfit’ as regards leadership. He just needed time to learn how to talk less and do more. Hatoyama and Obama were in the same boat until yesterday: a lot to do but little time to get it done in.

      From Kimberly’s post: “Couldn’t it have been a primary step to police the troops better?”
      Definitely. The Okinawan authorities should not be responsible for this either. The U.S. Military needs to keep its own soldiers in check, and military authorities need to be held responsible for this. But, be careful here: “I wonder why Japan continues to allow the US troops to roam about freely after all of the related crimes, rapes, etc” Sure, all crimes should be addressed, but, when making such judgments, the distinction between violent and non-violent crime is quite important. The Wikipedia entry @ [not a big fan,of Wiki, but this one has source-citations] states that “From 1952 to 2004, there have been approximately 200,000 accidents and crimes involving U.S. soldiers, in which 1,076 Japanese civilians have died. Over 90% of the incidents were vehicle or traffic related.” Of course, even a single rape or murder is one too many, but we need to be sure that we don’t use the emotional appeal of citing such incidents to hide the issues that produce the big numbers [heck, if you stop allowing troops to drive when off base you immediately solve one major problem].

    36. Dosanko Says:


      That quote was actually taken from the original article; please don’t attribute it to me. My point was simply to show that the assertion was bogus, and I think we are on the same page there.

    37. jjobseeker Says:

      (Debito, you can choose to not post this or not if you think it’s too off topic)

      Just had to follow up about what I said about Japanese voters being very superficial. On this morning’s “Super Morning” wide show on TV Asahi, they showed the results of a casual survey of people in Ginza of who they would like to see as Prime Minister of Japan…there was no restriction. At first place, thankfully, was DPJ’s Maehara followed by Miyazaki Prefecture’s Gov. Higashi Kokubaru. Then, came comedic duo Downtown’s Matsumoto Hitotoshi, Bashou Mondai’s Oota Hikari, Seattle Mariner’s Ichiro, and finally Kitano “Beat” Takeshi.

      Granted Higashi Kokubaru was himself a former comedian which would probably explain the lineup of 3 comedians and a baseball player, but one has to wonder how this country can move forward when the its voting citizens put more faith in their entertainers than their politicians.

    38. jeezus Says:

      I was aware that you were quoting the original. I’m sorry if my citation to the post came off as my attributing the quotation to you personally. My sincere apologies. We are definitely on the same page as regards others’ fooling with stats in a bogus manner. Thank you for pointing out the deception

    39. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Some more US bases closed without use of force:

      * Closure of 11 USAF Bases in France in 1967, due to DeGaulle’s demands that NATO forces leave the country.

      * SAC leaving Air Bases in Morocco in the 60s due to the insistence of the local government.

      * The USAF vacating Wheelus Air Base in Libya at the insistence of Col. Gadaffi in 1970(!).

    40. E.P.Lowe Says:


      “The loss of the $$$ from the US Bases can easily be made up by defense spending, R&D (which pays huge commercial dividends), and manufacturing. Think of the GDP increase if Mitsubishi (or any of the other former military manufacturing giants) began developing and selling fighter planes again (or battleships/destroyers/etc.). Jobs, income, scientific advancement, win win for Japan.”

      I’m extremely doubtful of that. Look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – the US had to bring on a whole host of allied nations to carry the cost of developing and fielding the fighter – a plane which is running well behind schedule. Look at the F-22 fighter – limited to around 190 of a predicted 750 aircraft in order to free up funds to continue developing the aforementioned F-35.

      Also consider that Japan has little experience in developing its own combat aircraft, and no experience in the export field. If it has to carry the costs of developing cutting-edge fighters on its own then it will face a massive bill.

      As for the massive civilian R&D dividends of defence spending – such dividends can be gotten more cheaply by funding civilian R&D.

      On the subject of Japanese companies developing warships – they already do.

    41. Dosanko Says:

      No worries. Always enjoy reading your informative posts.

    42. Max von Schuler-Kobayashi Says:

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      Who are worried about China or NK attacking Japan if American forces leave, NO. The North Korean forces are too starved and pathetic. They sunk a ship by surprise in sight of the North Korean coast. In military terms, not a big deal.

      In 1992, the Philippines threw out the US Navy and Air Force. At present, the Philippine Navy possess fewer warships than the Japanese Coast Guard, and not one combat air craft in the Air Force. Google it.

      China has not invaded. Japan has the ninth ranked military in the world, I don’t see reason for worry.

    43. Meat67 Says:

      Here’s an interesting article along the same lines, called: “Obama takes down ‘wrong’ PM”. It’s from an American foreign policy perspective and compares Obama’s dealings with Hatoyama, Netanyahu and Hu Jintao.

      “Obama’s handling of the Futenma fiasco will have ongoing consequences – reminding Japan’s citizens that they are not really in control of their own circumstances, that they are to some degree still occupied by the US military and unable to tell America “no” in the matters that the US doesn’t want to accept.”

    44. E.P.Lowe Says:

      Max@42 I have some problems with your post, which I’ll detail:

      “Who are worried about China or NK attacking Japan if American forces leave, NO. The North Korean forces are too starved and pathetic. They sunk a ship by surprise in sight of the North Korean coast. In military terms, not a big deal.”

      The problem with China is use of her armed forces to intimidate and assert control – not attack.

      North Korea’s threat to Japan is the use of her short-range ballistic missiles to attack Japan. The Japanese and the US are working jointly on missiles to counter this threat.

      “In 1992, the Philippines threw out the US Navy and Air Force. At present, the Philippine Navy possess fewer warships than the Japanese Coast Guard, and not one combat air craft in the Air Force. Google it.”

      First, the Philippines didn’t throw out the USAF – they left after Clark Air Force Base was rendered unusable by the effects of the Mount Pinutubo eruption. For the US Navy, you are essentially correct.

      As for the Philippine Navy possessing fewer warships than the JCG, that is incorrect as Japanese Coast Guard Ships aren’t warships. Whilst lightly armed – they are civilian vessels. If they were to go up against Philippine Navy vessels they would suffer greatly.

      Even if the the Japanese Coast Guard Ships were warships – so what? You seem to be saying that the Philippine Navy isn’t even as strong as the JCG – which would be a good point if the JCG had few ships…but they don’t – they have around 255 Patrol Ships. That’s more than a lot of major navies.

      The Philippine Air Force have combat aircraft – but don’t have any frontline combat aircraft like fighters and bomber.

      “China has not invaded.”

      A few points – China doesn’t have many amphibious warfare vessels in its navy and a limited amount of modern naval vessels, so even if invasion was the problem (it is not, the issue is using force to achieve ends favourable to one side)they couldn’t do much. More importantly, the Philippines is protected by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty Between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America – a bit like Japan that!

      “Japan has the ninth ranked military in the world, I don’t see reason for worry.”

      How is Japan being ranked? By expenditure? Manpower? Equipment?

      Japan also has disputes or strained relations with most of its neighbours: Russia, China, Taiwan, North Korea, and South Korea.

      It’s also a very large country in terms of it’s length and sea area – if she had to have assured coverage of this in times of trouble then a lot more aircraft and naval vessels would be needed.

      An interesting note to finish – both the Philippines and Japan spend the same low amount of their GDP on the Armed Forces – 0.9% each. I guess that would rise without the US to call on.

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