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3. Reversion Decided: Official and Independent Initiatives

A big problem for those trying to formulate credible plans was the fact that the date of reversion and, as such, the conditions to be addressed, were unknown. A jolt of realism came with the communiqué between Sato and US President Richard Nixon in November 1969, that the GOJ and USG would consult on accomplishing reversion in 1972.[1] The GOJ agreed in turn to US retention of bases in Okinawa “required in the mutual security of both countries.”[2] The Tokyo-based Japan-US Consultative Committee took overall responsibility for preparations, but a trilateral junbi iinkai, or Preparatory Commission (PREPCOM) was established in Naha in place of ADCOM to consult on measures relating to administrative transfer.[3] This was in recognition of the fine groundwork ADCOM had done[4] and the need, especially at this time, for continuity. A major difference between PREPCOM and ADCOM, however, was that by the time of its first meeting in March 1970,[5] the USG-GOJ balance of power had shifted. While still retaining full authority in Okinawa the USG stepped back to allow GOJ pre-eminence in decision-making. At the same time, just as ADCOM before it, PREPCOM was the sole forum for Okinawa in the policy-making process. By the terms of its creation PREPCOM was duty-bound to take account of the “interests of the inhabitants of Okinawa and the views of the GRI."[6] By late-1970, a working reversion framework had been agreed upon by the Consultative Committee. The USG began designating more administrative functions to the GRI, which in turn benefited from increased GOJ participation.[7] On 20th November, consistent with the majority opinion that legislation was required, the GOJ approved the first of a three-part set of Okinawa fukki taisaku, or ‘Okinawa Reversion Countermeasures.’[8] In the preamble it was stated that these had been devised “to build a prosperous Okinawa,” and that the GOJ had “prioritised the study of matters considered to exert the most influence on the livelihoods and industrial activities of the Okinawan people.” In formulating the Okinawa fukki taisaku, of course, the GOJ had made “the utmost efforts to reflect the wishes of the GRI and the local people."[9] At least 95% of the contents were ittaika countermeasures covering education, health, welfare, labour, transport, local autonomy, and the like, but there were economic promotion initiatives as well as reversion blow-softening policies. 

Although the GRI was represented on PREPCOM and made to feel part of the planning process this trilateral organ met just eight times over ten months. Given also that the GRI representative was Yara Chobyo, Okinawa’s first publicly-elected Chief Executive, rather than a policy-making veteran as Senaga Hiroshi was, one can see that PREPCOM was more symbolic than practical. In all honesty, few in Okinawa were deluded into thinking that their views would carry much weight as the GOJ behemoth rolled toward reversion day. With the aforementioned fukki taisaku it was generally a case of overlaying prevailing mainland Japanese systems and modus operandi. Since it was not universally accepted in Okinawa that the ideal reversion path was according to Tokyo’s specifications public and private agencies and individuals (and mainland sympathisers) continued to suggest alternative approaches. Between the Sato-Nixon Communiqué in November 1969, and the Reversion Agreement of June 1971, the GRI devised one major long-term economic plan: the Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku (Long-Term Economic Development Plan),[10] but there were other, mainly non-governmental, proposals circulating on economic development and political status. Okinawa’s main newspapers (the Okinawa Taimusu and Ryukyu Shimpo) and both academic and mass circulation journals (Sekai, Chuo Koron, Chiiki Kaihatsu, Shin Okinawa Bungaku) were the main fora for unofficial initiatives.

The Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku mixed elements of other plans with a degree of originality.[11] It recognised the fragility of the Okinawan economy in its reliance on US bases and that while reversion may be tough it was essential to unify Okinawa and Japan and “consolidate the foundations for the development of our prefecture.”[12] In particular, social overhead capital was in need of investment. These were prerequisites for Okinawa’s self-reliant (jiritsu) development. In devising a jiritsu strategy, however, it was necessary that “the people of Okinawa Prefecture concentrate their knowledge and abilities on it.”[13] As such, self-reliance was to be achieved though the efforts of Okinawans themselves rather than as a GOJ hand-me-down. In this respect Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku and the earlier Okinawa keizai no jiritsu ni mukatte are unique. In many plans jiritsu is bandied about, much like ittaika or kakusa zesei, but with no real meaning. The GOJ certainly mentions jiritsu in national development strategies, but simultaneously subsidises Okinawa to a level surely precluding any chance of it. An interesting characteristic of the GRI plan was that it was formulated by sodoin: that is, it was put together by about 100 individual or group participants from the public and private sector, and academics across many fields;[14] a practical approach to policy-making rarely found at the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) level these days. A goal of the GRI plan was "the creation of a society and economy in which all can enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life (heiwa de yutakana seikatsu)."[15] The key was in turning the kichi keizai (military base economy) into a heiwa keizai (peaceful economy). The plan aimed to “achieve a level of parity” between Okinawa and Japan by rectifying the disparities (kakusa no zesei) in social overhead capital, income, and standard of living."[16] It raised the need for economic and cultural exchange with other prefectures at home while performing the role of ‘way station’ for exchanges abroad, particularly with Southeast Asia. An aim was for Okinawa to become “our country’s [Japan’s] southernmost genkan.”[17] The GOJ, apparently impressed by the plan, declared in the aforementioned Okinawa fukki taisaku: daiichibun that it would be accorded “due respect” as the final economic plan was put together.[18]

There was nothing close to unanimity of opinion on the ideal shape of a post-reversion prefecture. While a majority favoured reversion there were doubts whether Okinawa would be better off.[19] This was exacerbated by the fact that negotiations on the precise terms were between the GOJ and USG and that no one had any idea which base formula would be adopted.[20] Clearly, a reduction in US bases would impact the economy significantly. Then, as now, economic uncertainty and bases were the big issues, yet the symbiotic relationship makes dividing them virtually impossible and there, as Shakespeare might say, is the rub. An Asahi Shimbun opinion poll in early-1968 asked about economic prospects if bases were reduced after reversion, to which 34% saw a decline on the horizon, 32% thought little would change, with 34% unable to respond either way.[21] This division of opinion persisted into the Chief Executive elections in late-1968, with many voters not bothering to turn out for reformist Yara Chobyo or pro-US base Nishime Junji.[22] Such a low turnout and only a 30,000-vote victory margin for Yara was hardly emphatic, especially in a very contentious election with stakes so high.[23] The complexity of the military base-local economy relationship complicated Okinawan politics, as it still does. The moral high ground had long been with the idealistic reformists pushing for removal of bases and reversion to Japan so that the ‘MacArthur’ Constitution would apply to Okinawa, but with so many now employed by or dependent on US bases for their livelihoods, more pragmatic material arguments were equally persuasive. At the extreme tip of conservatism some rejected reversion entirely suggesting the base system simply continue as now.[24] Nishime Junji, arguing for a slightly later (1973 or 1974) reversion, was a mild conservative at best. Yara reversed his anti-base position at the eleventh hour, making him a mild reformist at best. At the extreme end of idealistic reformism came those advocating reversion by a different formula, including the creation of a new kind of prefectural system that provided Okinawa greater autonomy in its politico-economic affairs in recognition of a unique history vis-à-vis Japan.

The earliest, and least politically-nuanced work in this regard was by National Diet Library foreign affairs researcher Nishino Terutaro, a specialist in the problems of economic development and political (in)stability in micro-states (kyokubi kokka),[25] mostly ex-colonial territories. In 1968, Nishino shifted emphasis to mini-island states (kyokubi shimaguni) and the extent which experiences in other regions could be of use in preparing Okinawa’s reversion. Malta was used to show the difficulties associated with a transformation from a military base economy after independence from Britain in 1964,[26] and studies of Panama and Puerto Rico in terms of their complex politico-economic relationships with the US.[27] Nishino is possibly best-remembered for his study of the many types of autonomous relationship systems between the inhabitants of small islands and larger states. Nishino prefaces his work by discussing the scarcity of mini-state research, arguing that if Okinawa does not pay attention reversion may be imposed from above, just as the disposition of Ryukyu (Ryukyu shobun) had been carried out in 1879.[28] Okinawa had no choice in the means of assimilation. Nishino’s text is a definitive reference guide to the kind of relations between mainlands and small islands globally. In order to spark some debate in Okinawa he cites the example of the independent small island republics of Cyprus, the Maldives, and Iceland, since some in Okinawa were calling for independence (dokuritsu) from Japan. He also examines relationship systems between several of the world’s major powers and small islands, like the British commonwealth concept (Eirenpo) in the case of Barbados;[29] the Dutch autonomous state (jichikoku) idea in the Antilles;[30] the French départments d’outre-mer (overseas prefectures or kaigaiken) in Martinique,[31] and US quasi-state (junshu) idea in the Virgin Islands,[32] examining the similarities and differences between them.[33] Finally, there are studies of autonomous island regions: like the Isle of Man (Britain); Greenland and the Faroe Islands (Denmark), and; Sicily and Sardinia (Italy). While Nishino is a name rarely seen in footnotes, bibliographic references, or mentioned in discussions about pre-reversion planning for Okinawa his contribution to alternative politico-economic reintegration formulas was immense.[34]

Among Nishino’s contemporaries were a number of more nuanced ideas about Okinawa’s future. More nuanced in that the question of Okinawan identity, in and of itself and in relation to Japan proper historically, was a factor determining the need for, or suggesting the appropriateness of, the creation of a different prefectural system. In a 1970 Chuo Koron article, Illinois University Professor of Industrial Relations Taira Koji rejected any formula where Okinawa would simply be swallowed by Japan upon reversion. By analogy, Taira argued that the people of Scotland, while British citizens legally, identify themselves first and foremost (dai ichijiteki ni) as Scottish.[35] As such, being British did not entail the loss of one’s nationality. With Ryukyu, as Taira leans toward rather than its prefectural designation as Okinawa, impending reversion offers an opportunity for Japan to rethink an antiquated system of regional autonomy and develop instead a republican political system. Taira offers historical evidence to show that unlike Japan’s 46 other prefectures[36] Ryukyu was a separate nation state prior to annexation in 1879. Reversion provided a chance for Japan to, if you will, restore an independent Ryukyuan nationality.[37] Ryudai Political Scientist Higa Mikio argued for a different reintegration formula for Okinawa, but in a much less emotional way. Higa proposed that rather than the GOJ take control of administrative functions from the GRI upon reversion that Okinawa should gain a greater burden of responsibility for its affairs. Given the uncertainty surrounding reversion amongst Okinawans, added to the fact that the GOJ sacrificed Okinawa for the greater good of Japan proper in 1945 and again in 1951, and that Okinawa had suffered discrimination from the mainland since annexation, that a system of special self-government (tokubetsu jichi) was warranted. He proposed the idea of an Okinawa jichishu, or autonomous province.[38] The theories advanced by Higa and Taira were very sophisticated arguments for autonomy that an over-paternalistic GOJ could not comprehend: that is, recognition of diversity in one’s midst through the diffusion of powers can preserve rather than weaken the unity of a state.[39] That neither argument was taken seriously by the GOJ in its reversion Special Measures Laws (fukki ni tomonau tokubetsu sochi ni kansuru horitsu) and Promotion and Development Special Measures (shinko kaihatsu tokubetsu sochiho) in December 1971, did not reflect any flawed logic on the part of Higa, Taira, Nishino, or others, but rather an intransigence toward power-sharing by the GOJ.[40]

[1] US DoS, Department of State Bulletin 1590 (1969), 556-557.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In structure PREPCOM was similar to ADCOM. It prioritised: a) identification of problems to be solved before reversion and the devising of measures to solve such problems in Okinawa; the measures including, inter alia local preparations to establish Okinawa Prefecture and facilitate the application to Okinawa of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and disposition of the functions of USCAR, and: b) taking into consideration the long-term economic development of Okinawa, devising measures to minimise economic and social differences between Okinawa and Japan before reversion. ‘Principles and Guidelines for the Preparations for Reversion and the Functioning of the Preparatory Commission,’ Adopted 21st April, 1970. USCAR, Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands Report for the Period 1st July 1969 to 30th June 1970, Vol. 18, (Naha: HiCOM, 1970), 275-276.

[4] It should be noted, that by the time of the 189th and final meeting of ADCOM, on 16th May 1970, it had approved 47 very important ittaika measures. All were in some way incorporated into Japan’s later reversion counter measures planning and legislation. Furthermore, through its trilateral debate on a large number of economic development initiatives ADCOM had certainly influenced the policies that followed.

[5] PREPCOM met eight times between 24th March 1970 and 27th January 1971. For a summary of the meeting agendas and conducted business see Okinawa fukki no kiroku, 378.

[6] ‘Exchange of Notes Between Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi and US Ambassador to Japan Armin H. Meyer on the Establishment of the Preparatory Commission,’ USCAR, Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands Report for the Period 1st July 1969 to 30th June 1970, Vol. 18, (Naha: HiCOM, 1970), 272-274.

[7] The delegation and relinquishment of administrative functions was to be accomplished in three phases: 1) from the now until the date of signature of a reversion agreement; 2) from the date of a signature of a reversion agreement until the date when necessary legislative support is obtained, and; 3) from when necessary legislative support is obtained until reversion day. ‘Agreement to Facilitate a Smooth Transfer of Civil Administrative Rights of the United States to Japan upon Reversion,’ approved by the members of PREPCOM in Naha on 9th November 1970 [Photocopy].

[8] These important pieces of legislation were rolled out piece by piece as reversion approached. The first part, Okinawa fukki taisaku yoko: daiichijibun, was enacted on 20th November 1970; the second, Okinawa fukki taisaku yoko: dainijibun, on 23rd March 1971; and the third, Okinawa fukki taisaku yoko: daisanjibun, on 3rd September 1971. For the countermeasures in their entirety see Okinawa fukki no kiroku, 673-697, or the official GRI, Okinawa fukki taisaku yoko: gutaiteki sochi, daiichijibun – daisanjibun, (Naha: GRI, 1971).

[9] Okinawa fukki no kiroku, 675-76.

[10] GRI, Kikakukyoku Kikakubu, Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku (Naha: GRI, 1970).

[11] The initial element of the economic planning committee first met in October 1969. Only the idea of a long-term plan was under discussion. Less than a week later specific departments were established and substantive debate began. A draft version was published in December for perusal by ADCOM. By late-February 1970, the basic concepts for the long-term economic plan had been hammered out. A final version was ready in July, and approved by the GRI in September. Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku was to run from 1971-1980, and based on the premises that the population will increase at the current rate and that there will be a decrease in base-related earnings by the plan’s mid-term.

[12] GRI, Kikakukyoku Kikakubu, Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku (Naha: GRI, 1970), 1.

[13] Ibid., 1.

[14] Contributors were from labour movements, Ryukyu Daigaku, trading corporations, banks, educational institutions, newspapers, the Ryukyu Petroleum Corporation, Ryukyu Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Financing Corporation, Jichiro Okinawa Office, Ryukyu Power Corporation, Nissan Car Company Okinawa Branch, Military Base Workers union, Youth League of Okinawa, Ryukyu Development Loan Corporation, etc., with help from people attached to the Prime Minister's Office Special Areas Liaison Bureau and representatives from GOJ ministries. The group fell under the chairmanship of Miyasato Tatsuhiko, Chairman of the Ryukyu Trading Company.

[15] GRI, Kikakukyoku Kikakubu, Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku (Naha: GRI, 1970), 2.

[16] Ibid., 2.

[17] The GRI suggestion was that Okinawa be treated as a single bloc within the Kokudocho revised national development plan. Ibid., 3.

[18] Okinawa no fukki kiroku, 680. The GRI plan is discussed later in this section. GRI, Kikakukyoku Kikakubu, Choki keizai kaihatsu keikaku (Naha: GRI, 1970).

[19] Opinion poll surveys indicate well in excess of 85% of the population in favour.

[20] Realistically, there were four scenarios: 1) that the US would return Okinawa but retain rights to store nuclear weapons there; 2) that the US would give up the rights to store nuclear weapons on Okinawa after reversion; 3) that the US would place its bases in Okinawa under the same conditions as those on the mainland, giving Japan full rights of prior consultation on troop and equipment deployment, and; 4) the removal of all US bases from Okinawa before or after reversion.

[21] Japan Quarterly 1 (1968), 46-49.

[22] Only 440,000 voters out of a population of just less than 1-million participated. Given that these were the most important elections in Okinawa’s postwar history this is significant. Neither political left nor right, it would appear, had all the answers.

[23] In one famous statement, known as the imo hadashi ron, Nishime argued that if Yara were elected the Okinawan people would end up walking around barefoot and limited to a diet of sweet potatoes. Kurima Yasuo, Aniya Masaaki, and Keishun Gibe, Sengo Okinawa no rekishi. (Tokyo: Nihon Seinen Shuppan Sha, 1971), 251.

[24] Some hard line opponents of reversion and base reductions argued aggressively and positively FOR reductions in the hope that this would encourage the USG to become more determined to stay.

[25] Mini-state or micro-state. Kyokubi means microscopic.

[26] Malta was the smallest sovereign state in terms of land area accepted into the UN. Nishino Terutaro, 'Kichi keizai kara no tenkan katei: shimaguni Maruta no keizai kaihatsu.' Referensu 215 (1968).

[27] Nishino Terutaro, ‘Amerika no Pueruto Riko seisaku: Okinawa no fukki junbi tetsuzuki ni kansuru sanko toshite,’ Refurensu 234 (1970), and Nishino Terutaro, ‘Taibei shiseiken henkan yokyu no ichi jirei: Panama kyowakoku no unga chitai henkan yokyu,’ Refurensu 225 (1969). Puerto Rico was a common place mentioned in connection with Okinawa because of its strange relationship with the US. Puerto Ricans decided to become US citizens by a referendum in 1967, but not to become the 51st US state. As such, while having citizenship and economically benefiting from being part of the US, Puerto Ricans paid no federal taxes and, therefore, were unable to vote. More than a few people in academic and government circles pushed a Puerto Rico-type formula for Okinawa as particularly good for tourist promotion and the establishment of Free Trade Zones (FTZ). See, for example, details of a speech by Shisido Toshio of the GOJ Economic Planning Agency at the First Economic Vision Study Seminar on 18th June 1968,’ Ryukyu Shimpo, 19th June 1968. 

[28] Nishino Terutaro, ‘Kokusai kankyo kara mita Okinawa fukki: tosho jumin no jiketsuken to jichiken,’ Okinawa fukki no kihon mondai: 1970 Okinawa chosa hokoku, (Tokyo: Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan Chosa Rippo Kosakyoku, 1971), 20.

[29] A completely independent state that was voluntarily part of the British Commonwealth.

[30] A part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but possessing its own flag and national anthem.

[31] There being no fundamental difference between ‘overseas’ and ‘home’ prefectures.

[32] Elected their own governor but were unable to participate in US presidential elections

[33] The major powers often operated multiple systems in the same region. Britain, for example, defined the Bahamas as an ‘autonomous colony’ (jichi shokuminchi) with a British-appointed governor but locally-elected Prime Minister. Dominica was a rengokoku (part of the union), an autonomous state that was voluntarily a part of the United Kingdom. Barbados was an independent state that voluntarily joined the British Commonwealth.

[34] Nishino contributed, with some of Okinawa’s foremost independence-autonomy advocates, to a book marking the passing of the first post-reversion decade. Nishino Terutaro, ‘Taiheiyo shominzoku no dokuritsu to Okinawa no sentaku,’ in Arasaki Moriteru, Kawamitsu Shinichi, Higa Ryogen, and Harada Seiji, editors, Okinawa jiritsu e no chosen (Tokyo: Shakai Shiso Sha, 1982), 39-51.

[35] Taira Koji, '[Ryukyujin] wa uttaeru: anina [fukki] ron, taimanna [hondonami] shiso o haishite, dokuritsu kuni Ryukyu no fukken o setsuni shuchosuru.' Chuo Koron (November 1970), 96-97.

[36] It should be pointed out that Taira Koji, long an advocate of a republican system of government for Japan within which could exist an independent Ryukyuan republic (Ryukyu kyowakoku), also makes the case for a Hokkaido kyowakoku. See Taira Koji, ‘Atarashii sekaikan to Ryukyu kyowakoku,’ Okinawa jiritsu e no chosen, 2-18.

[37] Taira has persisted with his advocacy of Ryukyuan independence over the course of almost three post-reversion decades. While such consistency of position has to be respected, his arguments are often, in the opinion of the current writer at least, somewhat extreme. Taira theorised in a 1986 article that were one to put together all of Japan’s various minorities, which he calls “the other Japan” (mo hitotsu no Nihon), this would constitute some 15% of the total Japanese population. Yet to make this 15% Taira incorporates Japan’s disabled population. Taira Koji, ‘Ainu, Uchina, Nihon – Nihon shosu minzoku fukkenron,’ Okidai Keizai Ronso (March 1986), 120. Taira also (arguably) misappropriates the word jiritsu (self-reliance) to mean ‘independence’ which, while technically possible at a stretch, has not been the case in practical usage for at least the past thirty years. Take, for example, a quote from Taira as recently as 1997: “Whether or not Okinawa should become independent is no longer the question. Practically everyone agrees it should.” Taira Koji, ‘A Reinvigoration of the Political Debate in Okinawa, 1995-1997,’ The Ryukyuanist 38 (1997), 1. There simply is no such consensus in Okinawa.

[38] Higa Mikio, 'Okinawa jichishu kosoron: Okinawa no shorai o ketteisuru no wa kyukokuteki ni wa Okinawa jumin de shikanai. Jichiken kakuritsu no arigata o kangaeru.' Chuo Koron (December 1971), 132-141.

[39] There are too many autonomy/independence-related references to fit in the small space available. For an excellent analysis of pre- and post-reversion autonomy and self-reliance ideas from an economist’s view see Tomikawa Moritake, Mabui utocharu Uchinanchu: ningen, bunka, fudo no shiten kara mita Okinawa keizai. (Naha: Shinboshi Tosho Shuppan, 1987), 229-257. Kakazu Hiroshi’s ‘Okinawa keizai jiritsu e no michi,’ Shin Okinawa Bungaku 56 (1983), is covered in the Tomikawa text but should be read separately. For a thoughtful grouping of essays on post-reversion economic development see Ito Zennichi and Sakamoto Jiro (ed), Okinawa no keizai kaihatsu. (Tokyo: Choshinsho, 1970). For a definitive collection of essays and materials by Okinawan autonomy/independence/special prefecture advocates see the aforementioned Okinawa jiritsu e no chosen. For a guide to independence-related publications see Shin Okinawa Bungaku 53 (1982), 120-127. For an overview of the reversion debate from the perspective of many prominent Okinawan scholars one should consult ‘Chiiki Kaihatsu tokushu: Okinawa kaihatsu shimpojiumu hokokusho.' Chiiki Kaihatsu 85 (1971).

[40] ‘Okinawa no fukki ni tomonau tokubetsu sochi ni kansuru horitsu,’ enacted as Law No. 129, on 31st December 1971, Okinawa fukki no kiroku, 747-809, and ‘Okinawa shinko kaihatsu tokubetsu sochiho,’ Okinawa fukki no kiroku, 842-866. For further reading Okinawa Shinko Kaihatsu Tokubetsu Sochiho Kenkyukai, Okinawa shinko kaihatsu tokubetsu sochiho no kaisetsu, (Naha: Okinawa Kaihatsucho Somukyoku Kikakuka, 1974).


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