Location of Ryukyu Islands
The oldest evidence of human existence on the Ryukyu islands is from the Stone Age and was discovered in Naha and Yaeyama. Some human bone fragments from the Paleolithic era were unearthed from a site in Naha, but the artifact was lost in transportation before it was examined to be Paleolithic or not. Japanese Jōmon influences are dominant on the Okinawa Islands, although clay vessels on the Sakishima Islands have a commonality with those in Taiwan.[note 1]
The first mention of the word Ryukyu was written in the Book of Sui.[note 2] Okinawa was the Japanese word identifying the islands, first seen in the biography of Jianzhen, written in 779.[note 3] Agricultural societies begun in the 8th century slowly developed until the 12th century.[note 4] Since the islands are located at the eastern perimeter of the East China Sea relatively close to Japan, China and South-East Asia, the Ryukyu Kingdom became a prosperous trading nation. Also during this period, many Gusukus, similar to castles, were constructed. The Ryukyu Kingdom entered into the Imperial Chinese tributary system under the Ming dynasty beginning in the 15th century, which established economic relations between the two nations.
In 1609, the Shimazu clan, which controlled the region that is now Kagoshima Prefecture, invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Ryukyu Kingdom was obliged to agree to form a suzerain-vassal relationship with the Satsuma and the Tokugawa shogunate, while maintaining its previous role within the Chinese tributary system; Ryukyuan sovereignty was maintained since complete annexation would have created a conflict with China. The Satsuma clan earned considerable profits from trade with China during a period in which foreign trade was heavily restricted by the shogunate.
Although Satsuma maintained strong influence over the islands, the Ryukyu Kingdom maintained a considerable degree of domestic political freedom for over two hundred years. Four years after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government, through military incursions, officially annexed the kingdom and renamed it Ryukyu han. At the time, the Qing Empire asserted a nominal suzerainty over the islands of the Ryukyu Kingdom, since the Ryūkyū Kingdom was also a member state of the Chinese tributary system. Ryukyu han became Okinawa Prefecture of Japan in 1879, even though all other hans had become prefectures of Japan in 1872. In 1912, Okinawans first obtained the right to vote for representatives to the National Diet (国会) which had been established in 1890.
Near the end of World War II, in 1945, the US Army and Marine Corps invaded Okinawa with 185,000 troops. A third of the civilian population died; a quarter of the civilian population died during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa alone. The dead, of all nationalities, are commemorated at the Cornerstone of Peace. After the end of World War II, the Ryukyu independence movement developed, while Okinawa was under United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands administration for 27 years. During this "trusteeship rule", the United States established numerous military bases on the Ryukyu islands.
During the Korean War, B-29 Superfortresses flew bombing missions over Korea from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. The military buildup on the island during the Cold War increased a division between local inhabitants and the American military. Under the 1952 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) have maintained a large military presence.
Since 1960, the U.S. and Japan have maintained an agreement that allows the U.S. to secretly bring nuclear weapons into Japanese ports. The Japanese tended to oppose the introduction of nuclear arms into Japanese territory by the government's assertion of Japan's non-nuclear policy and a statement of the Three Non-Nuclear Principles. Most of the weapons were alleged to be stored in ammunition bunkers at Kadena Air Base. Between 1954 and 1972, 19 different types of nuclear weapons were deployed in Okinawa, but with fewer than around 1,000 warheads at any one time.
1965–1972 (Vietnam War)
Between 1965 and 1972, Okinawa was a key staging point for the United States in its military operations directed towards North Vietnam. Along with Guam, it presented a geographically strategic launch pad for covert bombing missions over Cambodia and Laos. Anti-Vietnam War sentiment became linked politically to the movement for reversion of Okinawa to Japan.
In 1965, the US military bases, earlier viewed as paternal post war protection, were increasingly seen as aggressive. The Vietnam War highlighted the differences between the United States and Okinawa, but showed a commonality between the islands and mainland Japan.
As controversy grew regarding the alleged placement of nuclear weapons on Okinawa, fears intensified over the escalation of the Vietnam War. Okinawa was then perceived, by some inside Japan, as a potential target for China, should the communist government feel threatened by the United States. American military secrecy blocked any local reporting on what was actually occurring at bases such as Kadena Air Base. As information leaked out, and images of air strikes were published, the local population began to fear the potential for retaliation.
Political leaders such as Oda Makoto, a major figure in the Beheiren movement (Foundation of Citizens for Peace in Vietnam), believed, that the return of Okinawa to Japan would lead to the removal of U.S. forces ending Japan's involvement in Vietnam. In a speech delivered in 1967 Oda was critical of Prime Minister Sato’s unilateral support of America’s War in Vietnam claiming "Realistically we are all guilty of complicity in the Vietnam War". The Beheiren became a more visible anti-war movement on Okinawa as the American involvement in Vietnam intensified. The movement employed tactics ranging from demonstrations, to handing leaflets to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines directly, warning of the implications for a third World War.
The US military bases on Okinawa became a focal point for anti-Vietnam War sentiment. By 1969, over 50,000 American military personnel were stationed on Okinawa. The United States Department of Defense began referring to Okinawa as "The Keystone of the Pacific". This slogan was imprinted on local U.S. military license plates.
In 1969, chemical weapons leaked from the US storage depot at Chibana in central Okinawa, under Operation Red Hat. Evacuations of residents took place over a wide area for two months. Even two years later, government investigators found that Okinawans and the environment near the leak were still suffering because of the depot.
In 1972, the U.S. government handed over the islands to Japanese administration.
In a 1981 interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Edwin O. Reischauer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, said that U.S. naval ships armed with nuclear weapons stopped at Japanese ports on a routine duty, and this was approved by the Japanese government.
The 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. servicemen triggered large protests in Okinawa. Reports by the local media of accidents and crimes committed by U.S. servicemen have reduced the local population's support for the U.S. military bases. A strong emotional response has emerged from certain incidents. As a result, the media has drawn renewed interest in the Ryukyu independence movement.
Documents declassified in 1997 proved that both tactical and strategic weapons have been maintained in Okinawa. In 1999 and 2002, the Japan Times and the Okinawa Times reported speculation that not all weapons were removed from Okinawa. On October 25, 2005, after a decade of negotiations, the governments of the US and Japan officially agreed to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its location in the densely populated city of Ginowan to the more northerly and remote Camp Schwab in Nago by building a heliport with a shorter runway, partly on Camp Schwab land and partly running into the sea. The move is partly an attempt to relieve tensions between the people of Okinawa and the Marine Corps.
Okinawa prefecture constitutes 0.6 percent of Japan's land surface, yet as of 2006 , 75 percent of all USFJ bases were located on Okinawa, and U.S. military bases occupied 18 percent of the main island.
U.S. military facilities in Okinawa
According to a 2007 Okinawa Times poll, 85 percent of Okinawans opposed the presence of the U.S. military, because of noise pollution from military drills, the risk of aircraft accidents,[note 5] environmental degradation, and crowding from the number of personnel there, although 73.4 percent of Japanese citizens appreciated the mutual security treaty with the U.S. and the presence of the USFJ. In another poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun in May 2010, 43 percent of the Okinawan population wanted the complete closure of the U.S. bases, 42 percent wanted reduction and 11 percent wanted the maintenance of the status quo. Okinawan feelings about the U.S. military are complex, and some of the resentment towards the U.S. bases is directed towards the government in Tokyo, perceived as being insensitive to Okinawan needs and using Okinawa to house bases not desired elsewhere in Japan.
In early 2008, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apologized after a series of crimes involving American troops in Japan, including the rape of a young girl of 14 by a Marine on Okinawa. The U.S. military also imposed a temporary 24-hour curfew on military personnel and their families to ease the anger of local residents. Some cited statistics that the crime rate of military personnel is consistently less than that of the general Okinawan population. However, some criticized the statistics as unreliable, since violence against women is under-reported.
Between 1972 and 2009, U.S. servicemen committed 5,634 criminal offenses, including 25 murders, 385 burglaries, 25 arsons, 127 rapes, 306 assaults and 2,827 thefts. Yet, per Marine Corps Installations Pacific data, U.S. service members are convicted of far fewer crimes than local Okinawans.
In 2009, a new Japanese government came to power and froze the US forces relocation plan, but in April 2010 indicated their interest in resolving the issue by proposing a modified plan.
A study done in 2010 found that the prolonged exposure to aircraft noise around the Kadena Air Base and other military bases cause health issues such as a disrupted sleep pattern, high blood pressure, weakening of the immune system in children, and a loss of hearing.
In 2011, it was reported that the U.S. military—contrary to repeated denials by the Pentagon—had kept tens of thousands of barrels of Agent Orange on the island. The Japanese and American governments have angered some U.S. veterans, who believe they were poisoned by Agent Orange while serving on the island, by characterizing their statements regarding Agent Orange as "dubious", and ignoring their requests for compensation. Reports that more than a third of the barrels developed leaks have led Okinawans to ask for environmental investigations, but as of 2012 both Tokyo and Washington refused such action. Jon Mitchell has reported concern that the U.S. used American Marines as chemical-agent guinea pigs.
On September 30, 2018, Denny Tamaki was elected as the next governor of Okinawa prefecture, after a campaign focused on sharply reducing the U.S. military presence on the island.
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma relocation, 2006–present
As of December 2014Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. First promised to be moved off the island and then later within the island, as of November 2014 the future of any relocation is uncertain with the election of base-opponent Onaga as Okinawa governor. Onaga won against the incumbent Nakaima who had earlier approved landfill work to move the base to Camp Schwab in Henoko. However, Onaga has promised to veto the landfill work needed for the new base to be built and insisted Futenma should be moved outside of Okinawa.
, one ongoing issue is the relocation of
As of 2006Guam. In November 2008, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Timothy Keating stated the move to Guam would probably not be completed before 2015.
, some 8,000 U.S. Marines were removed from the island and relocated to
In 2009, Japan's former foreign minister Katsuya Okada stated that he wanted to review the deployment of U.S. troops in Japan to ease the burden on the people of Okinawa (Associated Press, October 7, 2009) 5,000 of 9,000 Marines will be deployed at Guam and the rest will be deployed at Hawaii and Australia. Japan will pay $3.1 billion cash for the moving and for developing joint training ranges on Guam and on Tinian and Pagan in the U.S.-controlled Northern Mariana Islands.
As of 2014Kadena Air Base, Camp Foster, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Camp Hansen, Camp Schwab, Torii Station, Camp Kinser, and Camp Gonsalves. The area of 14 U.S. bases are 233 square kilometres (90 sq mi), occupying 18 percent of the main island. Okinawa hosts about two-thirds of the 50,000 American forces in Japan although the islands account for less than one percent of total lands in Japan.
, the US still maintains Air Force, Marine, Navy, and Army military installations on the islands. These bases include
Suburbs have grown towards and now surround two historic major bases, Futenma and Kadena. One third (9,852 acres (39.87 km2)) of the land used by the U.S. military is the Marine Corps Northern Training Area (known also as Camp Gonsalves or JWTC) in the north of the island.
On December 21, 2016, 10,000 acres of Okinawa Northern Training Area was returned to Japan.
On June 25, 2018, Okinawa residents held a protest demonstration at sea against scheduled land reclamation work for the relocation of a U.S. military base within Japan's southernmost island prefecture. A protest gathered hundreds of people.
Helipads construction in Takae (Yanbaru forest)
Since the early 2000s, Okinawans have opposed the presence of American troops helipads in the Takae zone of the Yanbaru forest near Higashi and Kunigami. This opposition grew in July 2016 after the construction of six new helipads.