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Current Issues in Post-Reversion Okinawa

Challenges to Land Ownership

In the present age, questions of Okinawa's place in Japan continue to remain especially troublesome, especially in consideration of the recent growth of Japanese nationalism that attended the placement of the Kokutai (Japan National Games) in Okinawa in 1987, and that surrounded the death of the Showa Emperor in 1989. As shown by the burning of the Japanese flag at the Kokutai by Chibana Shoichi, a resident and activist in Okinawa, many Okinawans still resent Japan, and the inferior status placed on the island and it's inhabitants. When landlords and farmers who lost their land challenged U.S. control several years ago, the Japanese courts ruled that Japan has no jurisdiction over U.S. military operations.

Environmental Contamination and Degradation

Additionally, increased numbers of low-birth weight babies and higher incidences of cancer and leukemia in adults and children have been documented and linked to carcinogenic military toxics, which include fuels, oils, solvents, and heavy metals. Many of these toxics have infiltrated the land, water, and air in Okinawa, and require massive funding for environmental cleanup, and yet the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the U.S. and Japan contain no provisions for environmental cleanup. On top of this, Okinawan residents do not even have full disclosure on the locations and nature of these toxics, since the SOFA contains no provisions forcing Japan to release this information.

In 1996, for example, residents found out about the firing by U.S. Marines of depleted uranium shells into the ocean, despite laws prohibiting their use in Japan. U.S. government officials are supposed to notify local officials of such use, but many Okinawans doubt that such provisions are being followed.

Military exercises in Okinawa with live ammunition have cause forest fires, soil erosion, earth tremors, and accidents that have had continual negative impacts on Okinawa's environment, which will require years to remedy. These exercises obliterate natural ecosystems, and leave lands barren and shell ridden for decades to come.

Noise pollution also remains a large issue impacting the Okinawan people. Despite the fact that in other parts of Japan, U.S. aircraft cannot land after 7 p.m., planes in Kadena Airbase can land at any time, causing deafening noise due to the low-flying nature of the aircraft. In a 1996 report, low-birth weights in babies near Kadena have been attributed to the disruptive nature of airplane noise. Additionally, area school children must also deal with these noise disruptions and the lack of concentration that these aerial exercises engender.

Sex Trade

With the development of a sex and entertainment trade centralized around the military bases, some 7,000 Filipinas have been recruited - often on entertainment visas - as sex workers for military personnel. As victims of the socio-economic conditions created by capitalism in their own country, their presence in Okinawa is a direct result of demand created by the U.S. military presence. Many of these young women come from poor, rural families, and have often experienced violence and sexual abuse as children, before being coerced into prostitution through economic hardship, given the lack of meaningful alternatives.

Distorted Local Economy and Land Use

Okinawa has twice the unemployment rate of any prefecture in Japan, with military bases covering 20% of the land area and 40% of the arable land, which could be used to support local infrastructure. Overcrowding on the land outside of bases stands in marked contrast to the generous facilities that many military personnel on base are able to enjoy. Additionally, since Okinawan residents are unable to enter the bases, transit must go around the bases, adding miles to trips that would be relatively short if the bases were not present.

Most employment opportunities are geared towards the service sector as it relates to the military bases, and additionally, about 8,000 local people work on the military bases. Despite the fact that these are United States military bases, however, both the Okinawan prefecture and Japan must shoulder the burden of paying for the bases. The Okinawan prefectural government pays for the cleanup of live ammunition drills and the Japanese government pays for the electricity on military bases and for military personnel highway toll costs. All in all, the government must pay approximately $100,000 per year for each U.S. military personnel stationed in Okinawa. Additionally, despite the separation of church and state in Japan, public monies often go towards the development of entities like churches on U.S. military bases.

Since Reversion, however, Okinawa's dependence on the income derived from the U.S. military bases has decreased from 15.4 % of the total economy to 4.9%. With this change in the economic issues involved in the military bases, the question of base removal has become more plausible and realistic, and many people consider that a future without bases has become more of a possibility.

Treaties and Military Crimes

One of the biggest grievances of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is the issue of extraterritoriality, in the case of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel. Often, upon committing a crime against an Okinawan resident, U.S. military are exempt from being tried in a Japanese court and are tried by U.S. military courts, unless military officials choose to cooperate with local authorities. This is, of course, if they are even tried at all. More often than not, military personnel are moved to another location, or are not tried at all.

From 1972 alone, more than 4,700 reported crimes have been committed by U.S. troops in Okinawa. Since 1988, Navy and Marine Corps bases in Japan (primarily located in Okinawa) have registered the highest number - 169 - of court-martial cases for sexual assault of all U.S. military bases worldwide.

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