what's new?  |  about this site  |  archive  |  history misc  |  ancient ryukyu  |  early modern & modern era  |  postwar  |   contemporary  |  links  |  culture  |  translating ryukyu  | contents  |  Facebook page

10. The Reformist Nineties: Bringing Bases Back onto the Agenda

External forces again had a decisive impact on domestic Okinawan affairs at the tail end of 1990. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August and the US-led military response forced the GOJ into heated debate on the extent to which Japan could contribute, and whether the dispatch of Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) transport planes fell foul of the pacifist clause in the MacArthur Constitution of 1946. It should be remembered that Japanese militarism had been at the core of Chibana Shoichi’s hinomaru-burning protest in 1987.[1] The thorny issue of overseas SDF deployment and its implications, therefore, was high in the news as campaigning for upcoming gubernatorial elections in Okinawa was ongoing. So too were US military bases. A year prior, Pacific Command had announced that "in line with the relaxation of tensions between the Soviet Union and America and…decreases in US defence spending, there has been a re-examination of US strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. There will be a substantial reduction in the number of forces forward deployed in Japan and South Korea, including, by mid-1995, the withdrawal and relocation to Hawaii of all US Marines stationed in Okinawa."[2] By November 1990, this looked unlikely. Defence Secretary Dick Cheney had warned that were forward deployed US forces withdrawn “a vacuum would quickly develop,” leading to increased regional tensions and potential conflict.[3] Nishime, the incumbent governor, had been in favour of SDF dispatch,[4] which pushed many voters towards his anti-war, anti-base opponent Professor Ota Masahide. The economy had been at its strongest in the post-1972 period under Nishime, with lower unemployment, high and stable growth, infrastructural improvements, and expanded tourism in evidence,[5] yet the broader implications of rampant tourism and ever-increasing public works,[6] along with Nishime’s perceived indifference to base-related matters, served to increase support again for the positive reformism of Ota. While not the landslide he would enjoy seeking a second term, on 18th November Ota defeated Nishime by 330,982 to 300,917-votes, becoming the fourth post-reversion governor. Akin to the pledge made by PM Sato Eisaku to realise Okinawa’s reversion during his time in office Ota staked all on resolving the issue of US bases which was “Okinawa’s biggest problem by far,” and that removal was the most important step in building a bright, peaceful future.[7] This objective was not simply “idealistic, but a realistic one.”[8]

Unfortunately, Ota was a victim of timing in getting his base agenda underway. By the time he took office in December, the 3rd Okinawa Promotion and Development Plan (Daisanji Okinawa Shinko Kaihatsu Keikaku) was at an advanced planning stage. Ota’s first action was to try to introduce US military base reduction and consolidation language into the plan, but he came up against intense opposition from the Okinawa Kaihatsucho and related GOJ agencies in Tokyo. Vice Governor Yoshimoto Masanori observed that “[the advance of] Okinawa’s promotion and development was clearly premised on us avoiding US base issues.”[9] Reading through the plan enacted into law in September 1992, almost two years into Ota’s first term, one is struck by the degree to which it does not resemble Ota’s way of thinking at all, and how blandly similar it was to the last plan.[10] With the exception of a few ideas from the Daiyonji Zenkoku Sogo Kaihatsu Keikaku (Fourth National Development Plan)[11] the overall objectives read identically to the second Okinawa plan:


"This plan aims at narrowing gaps in all areas between the Okinawa and mainland Japan, utilising Okinawa’s unique characteristics, preparing the foundations for self-reliant development, focusing on the formation of a regional society bountiful with culture and abundant in individuality that is open to the world, preparing Okinawa’s distinctiveness to contribute to our nation’s socio-economic and cultural development, and realising a peaceful, active, and mellifluous Okinawa Prefecture"[12]  


Based perhaps on the fact that the first plan made many misjudgements in its predictions, the second made more conservative estimates, and the third plan followed suit. It predicted a population increase from 1.22-million to 1.3-million by 2001.[13] Again, there was resignation to the fact that the relative weight of the secondary and tertiary sectors will not change much in the coming decade. Overall GPP is anticipated to rise from 2.8-trillion yen to 4.9-trillion yen by 2001.[14] Income by industry was expected to show minor change. The primary sector accounted for 3% of GPP in 1991, and was expected to see no increase. Secondary industry was anticipated to rise by 1% (from 22% to 23%), and the tertiary sector to drop by 1% (from 76% to 75%).[15] Since Okinawa had experienced 20 post-reversion years, the third plan could not make too much about the ravages of W.W.II, or the US occupation, but it did mirror some of the problem areas isolated in the second plan. First, local industry was still weak, with insufficient capital, poor management and industrial linkages, and insufficient attention paid to technological reform and the advance of internationalisation. Industry was also incapable of absorbing the labour force, and especially tackling youth unemployment. This problem would be further exacerbated by an ever-increasing population. Second, Okinawa had to come to terms with a new era of internationalisation and the demands of an aging society. The prefecture had yet to exploit its natural and geographical advantages to its advantage, despite a long history of contacts with other countries in the Asian region. Okinawa had to become Japan’s southernmost point of international exchange, cooperation, and tourism. Third, Okinawa needed to better focus on human resources to advance socio-economic development. Fourth, Okinawa had to preserve its subtropical environment as a national natural resource while pursuing economic development.[16] Economic jiritsu was still emphasised as a goal, and socio-economic kakusa zesei a requirement, but the extent of US base-related content was identical to earlier plans, arguing that the extent of base land constrained development on Okinawa and that “there is a need to reduce and consolidate military bases and areas as quickly as possible.”[17]

Denied influence at this juncture, Ota began working on new plans that would reflect his worldview. Picking up on the solitary concession in the third plan, a ‘Basic Utilisation Plan for Lands Used by US Forces in Okinawa (churyu gunyochi sekichi riyo kihon keikaku)’ was issued in March 1993.[18] The plan is based on regional land use initiatives suggested in the third plan and municipal ideas, but one sees a change in language marking a departure from the Nishime era. In the first part, strong emphasis is put on the fact that 75% of bases in the exclusive use of USFJ (senyo shisetsu) are located in Okinawa (occupying 20.1% of Okinawa Island’s land), and that the extent of military bases has “hindered the promotion and development of the region and had a profound influence on the lives of local people.”[19] Most interesting is the references to geopolitical change after the Cold War that prompted disarmament (gunshuku) and the drawback of US forces in Europe, and which looks to be continuing into Asia.[20] The latter opinion was based on 1990 and 1992 US DoD ‘Strategic Framework for the Asian Pacific Rim’ reports envisaging a 15,000-person US force reduction across Asia, including a 5,000-troops in Okinawa.[21] By 1994, US forces in the region had dropped from 135,000-100,000-persons. Such positive developments, unfortunately, would be the last for a while. The most controversial event of 1994 was, arguably, the arrival in Okinawa of the new Director of the Boei Shisetsucho (Defence Facilities Agency) Hoshuyama Noboru. The reason for his visit in September was to smooth out recent problems related to US bases and overseas SDF deployment. As adroit at wedging his feet in his mouth as current Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, however, Hoshuyama insisted on lecturing those present about Okinawa’s important role within the whole fabric of East Asian-Pacific security, saying “I’d like to see Okinawans make a little more effort to coexist and cooperate with the bases (kichi to kyosei, kyozon suru hoko ni henkashite hoshii).”[22] These remarks provoked an instant reaction, but did not lead to his resignation. This incident was followed shortly after by the announcement of the DoD report ‘Security Strategy for the East Asia-Pacific Region,’ on 27th February 1995, confirming that “post-Cold War reductions have been accomplished; no further change in war fighting capability is currently planned; the US will maintain…100,000 personnel in Asia.”[23] The report noted that “Japan is by far the most generous host-nation” in financial support for the US military presence.[24] Thus, while Okinawa was applauding force reductions from the early-1990’s on, the GOJ was annually paying more money to retain them. Such a stark contradiction in attitudes between centre and periphery was possible in early-1995.

[1] On this issue see Chibana Shoichi, Burning the Rising Sun (Kyoto: South Wind, 1992).

[2] Report in the Asahi Shimbun, 16th December 1989. Presented in Gabe Masaaki, '1990 Nendai saihen no naka no zaioki Beigun kichi,' in Shimabukuro Kuni and Gabe Masaaki, ed, Posuto reisen to Okinawa (Naha: Hirugi Sha, 1993), 69.

[3] Katahara Eiichi, Japan’s Changing Political and Security Role: Domestic and International Aspects, (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1991), 24.

[4] Egami Takayoshi, ’55 nen taisei no hokai to Okinawa kakushin kensei no yukue: 68 nen taisei no keisei to hokai,’ Nihon Seiji Gakkai Nenpo (1996). On the GOJ response to the Gulf War see Courtney Purrington, ‘Tokyo’s Policy Responses During the Gulf War and the Impact of the “Iraqi Shock” on Japan,’ Pacific Affairs 2 (1992), 161-181.

[5] In 1990, unemployment stood at 3.9%. By the end of Ota’s tenure it had reached 7.7%. Okinawa keizai handobukku: 2000 nendo, 11.

[6] On the background and ramifications of resort development see Okinawa Kondankai, ed., Okinawa kanko (Naha: Boda Inku, 1994), Higa Teruyuki, ‘The “RDA” - Its Impact on Okinawa,’ Sangyo Sogo Kenkyu 1 (1994), 39-68, and Shimabukuro Shinzo, ‘Recent Resort Development by Big Enterprises and its Impact on Land Use in Okinawa,’ Ryukyu Daigaku Hobungakubu Kiyo 35 (1992), 67-91.

[7] Ota Kensei Hachinen o Kirokusurukai, Okinawa heiwa to jiritsu e no tatakai: shashin to goroku de miru Ota chiji no 2,990 nichi. (Naha: Ota Kensei Hachinen o Kirokusurukai, 1999), 185-187.

[8] Ibid., 186.

[9] Interview with ex-Vice Governor Yoshimoto Masanori in ‘Shin seiki e no Okinawa no bijiyon: hondo fukki 25 shunen ni atate," Nira Policy Research 4 (1997), 56.

[10] Yoshimoto is one among many who claims that the ODA and other GOJ agencies devised the third plan between them. It was not devised according to the official legislation by which the Governor of Okinawa is responsible for formulating a plan which is then presented before the Prime Minister for approval. Ota was left entirely out of the loop. ‘Shin seiki e no Okinawa no bijiyon: hondo fukki 25 shunen ni atate,’ Nira Policy Research 4 (1997), 56. For analysis of the second plan and a nod toward the third see Okinawa-ken, Dainiji Okinawa shinko kaihatsu keikaku sotenken hokokusho: Okinawa shinko kaihatsu no genjo to kadai. (Naha: Okinawa-ken, 1990).

[11] Yokkaichi Masatoshi, ‘Kokudo keikaku kara mita Okinawa: kaihatsu no rekishi,’ loc. cit., 12.

[12] Daisanji Okinawa shinko kaihatsu keikaku enacted on 28th September 1992. Okinawa-ken, Kikaku Choseishitsu, Okinawa no shinko kaihatsu keikaku kankei shiryo (Naha: Okinawa-ken, 1995), 10.

[13] Ibid., 22.

[14] Ibid., 22.

[15] Ibid., 22.

[16] Ibid., 11-12.

[17] Ibid., 21.

[18] Okinawa-ken, Okinawa-ken churyu gunyochi sekichi riyo kihon keikaku (Naha: Okinawa-ken, 1993).

[19] Ibid., 1.

[20] Ibid., 1.

[21] Gabe Masaaki, '1990 Nendai saihen no naka no zaioki Beigun kichi,' loc. cit., 96-97.

[22] Ryukyu Shimpo, 9th September 1994. For a good description of the Hoshuyama Incident see Arasaki Moriteru, Okinawa gendaishi (Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 1996), 180-183.

[23] Daily Yomiuri, 28th February 1995. Most of these forces (89%) would continue to be deployed at US bases in South Korea (37%), Guam (7%), and Japan (45%).

[24] In 1991, Japan contributed $3-billion in host nation support (HNS) toward US base costs, but by 1992, closer to $3.7-billion. In 1995, Japan paid $5-billion in HNS. Richard Holbrooke, ‘Japan and the United States: Ending the Unequal Partnership,’ Foreign Affairs 5 (1991-1992), 49, and the Asahi Evening News, 28th February 1995.


the ryukyu-okinawa history and culture website © 1995-2017 john michael purves