In June this year in Itoman, a city in Okinawa prefecture, Japan, a 14-year-old girl named Rinko Sagara read out of a poem based on her great-grandmother’s experience of World War II. Rinko’s great-grandmother reminded her of the cruelty of war. She had seen her friends shot in front of her. It was ugly.
Okinawa, a small island on the edge of southern Japan, saw its share of war from April to June 1945.
“The blue skies were obscured by the iron rain,” wrote Rinko Sagara, channeling the memories of her great-grandmother.
The roar of the bombs overpowered the haunting melody from the sanshin, Okinawa’s snakeskin-covered three-string guitar.
“Cherish each day,” the poem goes, “for our future is just an extension of this moment. Now is our future.”
This week, the people of Okinawa
of the Liberal Party as the governor of the prefecture. Tamaki’s mother is an Okinawan, while his father – whom he does not know – was a US soldier. Tamaki, like former governor
, opposes the US military bases on Okinawa. Onaga wanted the presence of the US military removed from the island, a position that Tamaki seems to endorse.
The United States has more than 50,000 troops in Japan as well as a very large contingent of ships and aircraft. Seventy percent of the US bases in Japan are on Okinawa island. Almost everyone in Okinawa wants the US military to go. Rape by American soldiers – including of young children – has long angered the Okinawans. Terrible environmental pollution – including the harsh noise from US military aircraft – rankles people. It was not difficult for Tamaki to run on an anti-US-base platform. It is the most basic demand of his constituents.
But the Japanese government does not accept the democratic views of the Okinawan people. Discrimination against the Okinawans plays a role here, but more fundamentally there is a lack of regard for the wishes of ordinary people when it comes to a US military base.
In 2009, Yukio Hatoyama led the Democratic Party to victory in national elections on a wide-ranging platform that included shifting Japanese foreign policy from its US orientation to a more balanced approach with the rest of Asia.