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1. Establishing Control


“The United States does not have a military base on Okinawa;

Okinawa is a base”[1]


Okinawa suffered comprehensive devastation during the war. A large majority of all private housing, public buildings, and transportation infrastructure to the island's south lay in waste.[2] Public utilities were largely inoperable. Crops and farmland had been shredded by shelling and bombardment, with livestock inadvertently slaughtered during the hail of metal or consumed by civilians and retreating Japanese troops. There was no option but to rebuild from scratch. The big difference was that Japan was now no longer Okinawa's master.[3] Victory in the Battle for Okinawa gave the United States (US) de facto authority in the region. A more concrete, or de jure basis for control was provided by the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague Convention) of 1907,[4] which upheld the belligerent's right to exercise military governmental powers in the conquered and occupied territory of another nation, but simultaneously obliged those forces to protect the people and property of the occupied territory. The US could not unilaterally decide on the shape of postwar policy toward Japan and Okinawa, given that the Pacific War was an allied effort involving the United Kingdom (UK), Nationalist China, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), but the US played the largest single role in the campaign against Japan and sought a postwar role commensurate with its wartime sacrifices.[5] US Army General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), succeeded in blocking the implementation of any policy not consistent with his own views.[6] 

The US had no solid plans for Okinawa during the very early postwar period. In the aftermath of war American forces did their best to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population through provision of food, clothing, shelter, and medical assistance. The goal had been to launch a major assault on mainland Japan from Okinawa, hence a build up of troops and equipment, but the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, led swiftly to surrender. With the need for assault on the mainland gone there appeared no compelling reason for US forces to stay long-term. Yet as de facto administering authority, regardless of whether it intended to remain for any length of time, it fell on the US to initiate the rebuilding. In outlining Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands (MGR) objectives in December 1945, SCAP ordered that living standards should be restored "consistent with those existing prior to the war," a "sound programme of economic development…be instituted" helping Okinawa achieve the highest level of economic independence, and "a self-governing community should be established" as early as possible.[7] Though US efforts met with much success in the first few years, given Okinawa's state of ruin, there came a freeze in progress. There were several reasons for this.

First, the long-term political status of Okinawa had yet to be decided.[8] The US Congress was unwilling to pour investment in if Okinawa was soon to be returned to Japan. Debate amongst the Allied Powers on the disposition of former territories had resulted in accord that Japan be expelled from areas "taken by violence and greed."[9] No mention of Okinawa was made, suggesting that the islands were seen as an integral part of Japan. Later statements were also ambiguous, with Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration of July 1945: which constituted the terms by which Japan surrendered, talking of Japan's sovereignty limited to the four main islands of Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido and "such minor islands as we determine."[10] Here Okinawa is highly conspicuous in its absence. Allied planners were now either genuinely unsure of Okinawa's status vis-à-vis Japan, deliberately holding the islands with some specific objective in mind,[11] or hedging bets by delaying a decision. Okinawa was clearly considered a primary base area by the US Department of Defence (DoD) in Washington and, like Greenland and Iceland, "necessary for both the security of the US and for the projection of its postwar military operations."[12] Continued US control, either by direct annexation or, at the very least, through a United Nations (UN) trusteeship agreement, was assumed.

The US Department of State (DoS) opposed such a policy, believing that political and diplomatic factors made it necessary to consider the Ryukyus “minor islands which should be returned to Japan and demilitarised.”[13] This internal friction between the moral imperative versus security requirements stances of the DoS and DoD, respectively, would characterise US policy toward Okinawa for the next two decades. Second, upon Japan's surrender the US was financing an occupation of the mainland and Okinawa simultaneously. Funds and manpower were devoted to the demilitarisation of Japan so that it would never again become “a menace to the peace and security of the world,”[14] yet taxpayers could not be expected to continue financing the reconstruction of a former adversary without return. This economic situation could not be divorced from the ongoing debate on the status of Japan and Okinawa. Finally, conflict between the Army and Navy on how Okinawan lands seized during wartime would be distributed hindered resettlement and other MGR civilian development projects.[15] This, in turn, led to morale problems among personnel involved with reconstruction efforts.[16]

Refugee Camps and Politico-Administrative Reconstruction

As of April 1945, Okinawa fell under US military occupation. According to status survivors were placed in horyo, or prisoner of war (POW) camps, or nanmin shuyojo, or refugee camps.[17] Civilians were placed in one of eleven camps on Okinawa Island or one of five camps on islands nearby. Conditions in the camps were appalling. Poor sanitation aided the spread of disease and sickness. Food was so scarce malnutrition was rampant. Within the camps along the Kin to Ginoza northeastern coast, for example, people were forced to eat a kind of starch produced from the sotetsu, or cycad, and tsupaki, or camellias.[18] People crammed in makeshift shelters which more often than not lost the battle with the rain. Since war was very much ongoing to the south the US established camps in the north. Civilians were relocated along the northeast coast in districts from Nakagawa in Kin, toward Henoko and Oura Bay, or on the northwest coast from Taira as far north as Kijoka in Ogimi-son.[19] In the aforementioned Kin to Ginoza northeastern region there were six nanmin shuyojo, the locations curiously designated by the MGR as 'cities.'[20] Given the state of chaos at this time it is difficult to establish the precise number of detainees at each location.[21] Technically, movement between camps was prohibited. Permission had to be obtained from the MGR. Captured Japanese soldiers and boeitai forces were sent to POW camps located in Naha, Urasoe, Chatan, Yomitan, or Yaka (Kin).[22] Some POW's were transported from Okinawa as forced labour, mostly to Hawaii or North America.

The birth of a postwar Okinawan civil administration under US guidance can be traced back to the nanmin shuyojo. Contrary to expectations, US forces arriving on Okinawa in April 1945 discovered "no government whatsoever through which control of the population could be exercised."[23] While the vast majority of the civilian population was more concerned with day to day survival than political matters, the MGR needed a mechanism through which it could liaise with Okinawans and establish indirect control,[24] The MGR gathered a group of Okinawan representatives: mostly prewar village heads, community leaders, and the like, from each of the disparate nanmin shuyojo camps in Ishikawa 'City' for the inauguration of an Okinawa karishimonkai, or ‘Provisional Okinawa Advisory Council.' Less than week after Japan's surrender in August 1945, this became the Okinawa shimonkai, or 'Okinawa Advisory Council.'[25] Fifteen committee members, most of whom had been teachers or assembly members before the war, were selected by the MGR upon the recommendation of more than a hundred "outstanding Okinawans."[26] Shikiya Koshin was nominated as chairman and Kin-born Matsuoka Seiho vice-chairman.[27] The first order of business was the ironic dissolution of the nanmin shuyojo and repatriation of refugees. The process began in many areas in October 1945,[28] and by the early part of 1946, 80% of refugees had been returned to their home villages.[29] Also in early-1946, the functions of the Okinawa shimonkai were expanded in line with requirements of rehabilitation projects, and each of the 15 members given responsibility for a specific area, such as education, public health, et cetera. On 8th April, the MGR established an Okinawa chuo seifu, or Central Okinawan Administration.[30] The former shimonkai chairman Shikiya Koshin was nominated by 86 representatives from each of Okinawa’s shi-cho-son to the position of chiji, or Governor. Recognition of this appointment by the MGR came on 24th April. By October, elections for mayors and council members had been held. Thus, by the end of 1946, Okinawa had in place a local government system, a centralised bureaucracy, and, if you will, a political figurehead.

The conditions that had limited immediate postwar interest in political affairs had stabilised somewhat by 1947. Within a period of 5 months, from June to October, 4 political parties: the Okinawa Minshu Domei, or Okinawa Democratic Alliance (ODA); the Okinawa Jimminto, or Okinawan People's Party (OPP); and both the Okinawa Shakaito and Ryukyu Shakaito, or Okinawa and Ryukyu Socialist Parties, respectively, had emerged. The latter two merged to form the Shakaito, or Socialist Party (SP), on 20th October. Each of the parties addressed the issue of Okinawa’s long-term sovereignty in their earliest platforms, though each was rather different from the other. The ODA, which would develop into the most conservative of the three, favoured the establishment of the Ryukyus as an independent republic; the OPP, which was consistently left of centre, called for immediate reversion of Okinawa to Japan on racial grounds; and the SP, which was more conservative than super-radical, called for Okinawa to be put under a United Nations trusteeship.[31] It is difficult to judge which of the diverse views was more popular among the local population at this stage as there was no system of permanent civilian government and, therefore, no general election. The nature of the system was strictly military, as exemplified in the order permitting the formation of parties in the first place. Further, while the right to organise political parties was bestowed on the people by the MGR in MG Special Proclamation No. 23, titled “Political Parties” (seito ni tsuite) on 15th October 1947, parties were prohibited from criticising any aspect of military policy.

Although there was no means of accurately assessing local public opinion on the party platforms at this stage, the OPP stance on reversion to Japan seems to have been the weakest of the three in terms of potential public support. The local media, limited to one existing newspaper, the Uruma Shimpo, had throughout 1946 concentrated on how Okinawa had been duped and victimised by the GOJ and Imperial Army during the Pacific War. This view was clearly shared by a large segment of the population. As was covered in Chapter One, while Okinawans had been well assimilated as Japanese by the time of W.W.II. there still existed a certain amount of ambivalence as to identity. A history of negative (and positive) discrimination directed against Okinawa in the post-Meiji annexation through to prewar period, which culminated in the Daihonei’s fushin strategy[32] and sacrifice of the main island in a last-ditch, no-hope battle with US forces, seemed only to illustrate that Okinawa was simply an expendable asset. The end of war provided Okinawans with an opportunity to reevaluate attitudes toward Japan and the Japanese, with the arrival of US forces and of completely new conditions providing the catalyst. These US forces, in contrast to the Japanese, were regarded as liberators who would bring democracy to replace colonialism, and liberalism in place of militarism. Governor Shikiya stated in August 1947 that Okinawa "desired to build a peaceful state under the protection of the US" and that only a minority was in favour of realignment with Japan.[33] Since US forces were providing relief and instituting policies designed to bring self-government and economic self-support as quickly as possible to Okinawa, the measures combined to create support for the US presence and rejection of any swift reassociation with Japan.

By the late-1940's, Okinawa had adjusted to the new political systems instituted by the MGR toward the promotion of democracy and began demanding changes to facilitate an even greater move in that direction. The brand of ‘civilian’ government on Okinawa was still very military in character with no provision for, for example, the public election of Governor or membership of the Okinawa minseifu. The US had rejected the idea of setting up a permanent civilian government while the status of the islands was undetermined in the immediate postwar period, but by this time a decision had been made to hold the Ryukyus as a geostrategic area and construct military bases. Commensurate with this commitment came a change the nature of civilian and military governments. A civilian Okinawa Gunto seifu, or Okinawa Gunto Government, was formally inaugurated on 4th November 1950,[34] with provisions for the general election of Governor and assembly members. The new military Ryukyu retto Beikoku minseifu, or United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) was established on 15th December.

Although gubernatorial and assembly elections were carried out in September 1950, against the backdrop of the Korean War, the start of the US military base construction programme, and an impending multilateral peace settlement with Japan, the main focus of the candidates involved was relatively vague. There was clearly concern with the post-treaty status of Okinawa and US bases, but this manifested itself in suggestive rather than explicit fashion. Taira Tatsuo, a non-affiliated agriculture union president, garnered 65% of the vote on a platform rejecting both Ryukyuan independence and any UN trusteeship arrangement. Although he did not state that he was in favour of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan this approach was implied. In winning, he comprehensively beat the OPP candidate Senaga Kamejiro, a left-wing proponent of reversion,[35] as well as conservative Matsuoka Seiho, who followed the anti-reversion sentiments of the SP and the ODA.[36] As such, the Governor Taira was basically a liberal, pro-reversion proponent, who had taken two-thirds of the vote. Fifteen out of twenty assembly members elected a week later took the same position as Taira. As soon as the election was over, Taira and the fifteen assembly members formed the new Okinawa shakai taishuto, or Okinawa Socialist Masses Party (OSMP).

[1]An expression used by US military personnel in the 1950's and 1960's. Ryukyu Ginko, Sengo Okinawa keizaishi (Naha, Ryukyu Ginko, 1984), 415.

[2] On the dislocation of civilian life see 'Report of Military Government Activities for Period From 1st April 1945 to 1st July 1946,' reprinted in Okinawa-ken Bunka Shinkokai., editor, Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 2000), 5-6.

[3] By Article I and II of 'United States Navy Military Government, Proclamation No. 1' issued by Fleet Admiral C. W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief US Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas and Military Governor of the Islands of Nansei Shoto and Adjacent Waters, on 5th April 1945, "All powers of government and jurisdiction in the Islands…and over the inhabitants thereof, and final administrative responsibility are vested in me as Fleet Admiral…commanding the forces of occupation and as Military Gov­ernor...All powers of the Government of Japanese Empire are hereby suspended." Gekkan Okinawa Sha, editor, Laws and Regulations During the US Administration of Okinawa, 1945-1972 (Naha, Ikemiya Shokai and Company, undated), 38. An amendment was issued by Rear Admiral John Price, Chief Military Government Officer, under 'Navy Military Government Proclamation No. 1-A,' 26th November 1945, specifying that the administered area were the islands and waters "south of thirty (30) degrees North Latitude," Ibid., 41-42. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, Douglas MacArthur, formally separated Okinawa's administration from Japan in the 'Jakkan no gaikaku chiiki o seijijo gyoseijo Nihon kara bunretsusuru koto ni kansuru oboegaki (memorandum)' on 29th January 1946. Nampo Doho Engokai, Okinawa fukki no kiroku (Tokyo: Bunshodo, 1972), 279-280.

[4] This document will be discussed more thoroughly in the section on the legality of US land acquisitions. Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV), proces-verbal ratification, 18th October 1907. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague04.htm

[5] The Far Eastern Commission (FEC) and the Allied Council for Japan (ACJ) were established in December 1945 to determine the shape of postwar policy toward Japan. The FEC was charged with formulating policies, principles, and standards in conformity with which the fulfilment by Japan of its obligations under the surrender terms would be accomplished, but was powerless in Okinawa since it could not make recommendations on the conduct of military operations or territorial adjustments. The ACJ was a purely consultative body consisting of the four veto powers of the Soviet Union, British Commonwealth, US, and Nationalist China (under Chiang Kai-Shek). The US presided over both with Douglas MacArthur instituted as chairman. 'Agreement of the Foreign Ministers at Moscow on Establishing the Far Eastern Commission and the Allied Council for Japan,' 27th December 1945. Kashima Heiwa Kenkyusho, Nihon gaiko shuyo bunsho: nenpyo - 1941-1960 (Tokyo: Genshobo, 1983), 89-90.

[6] For a discussion of the FEC, ACJ, and the role of MacArthur see George H. Blakeslee, The Far Eastern Commission (Washington, DC: Department of State Publication, Far Eastern Series 60, 1953), and Gordon Daniels, 'Nationalist China in the Allied Council: Policies toward Japan, 1946-1952,' Hokkaido Law Review, November 1976.

[7] Objectives of the Military Government as determined by Douglas MacArthur,  Commander in Chief of the Far East (CINCFE), in December 1945. US Department of the Army, Army General Staff, MacArthur in Japan; The Occupation - Military Phase (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1966), 86. Government Printing Office hereafter abbreviated to GPO. For further reading see Leonard Weiss, ‘US Military Government on Okinawa,’ Far Eastern Survey July (1946).

[8] The earliest substantial talks on the disposition of Japan's former territories took place in the Political Problems Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy: a think-tank established in February 1942 within the US Department of State. Herein, US policy-makers were agreed that Japan “should not start off the new era with territories obtained through aggressive action.” Iriye Akira, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War 1941-1945 (Harvard University Press, 1981), 60. On these early discussions pertaining to Okinawa see Robert D. Eldridge, The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem: Okinawa in Postwar US-Japan Relations, 1945-1952 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001).

[9] US, Department of State (DoS), Foreign Relations of the United States (hereafter abbreviated to FRUS) Diplomatic Papers: The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943 (Washington, DC: US GPO, 1961), 448-449.

[10] US, DoS, FRUS, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, Volume Two (Washington, DC: US GPO, 1960), 1474-1476.

[11] On Okinawa's ambiguous position see Ota Masahide, 'The Occupation of Okinawa and "Postwar Reforms" of Japan,' Ryukyu Daigaku Hobungakubu Kiyo 24 (1981), 72-83.

[12]Kono Yasuko, Okinawa henkan o meguru seisaku to gaiko: Nichibei kankeishi no bunmyaku (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppan Sha, 1994), 9.

[13] Arnold G. Fisch Jr., Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 1945-1950 (Washington DC: Army Historical Series, Centre of Military History, US Army, 1988).

[14] State-War-Navy Co-ordinating Committee (SWNCC) 'US Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan,' 6th September 1945. This was an plan elaborated out of the principles contained in the Potsdam Declaration and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender of 2nd September 1945.

[15] Land allocation was a significant problem. Between them the Navy and Army still possessed 40,000 acres of Okinawa Island's total of 92,000 acres of arable land as of mid-1946. Both branches were averse to handing any of this land back while the permanence of their roles on Okinawa had yet to be determined, and equally averse to having civilian settlements in proximity to these tracts. A May 1946 MGR report remarked that this made their job particularly tough in that: "Separate and explicit authorisation had to be secured for each strip of land which was resettled." 'Report of Military Government Activities for Period From 1st April 1945 to 1st July 1946,' in Okinawa-ken Bunka Shinkokai., editor, Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 2000), 7.

[16] Those interested in the MGR's early reconstruction efforts should locate in addition to the above-mentioned Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports, Daniel Karasik, 'Okinawa: A Problem in Administration and Reconstruction,' Far Eastern Quarterly 2 (1948), Leonard Weiss, 'US Military Government on Okinawa,' Far Eastern Survey July (1946), Arnold G. Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyus, 1945-1950 (Washington, DC: Army Historical Series, US Army, 1988), and Ryukyu Ginko, Sengo Okinawa keizashi (Naha: Ryukyu Ginko, 1984), especially Chapters 1-4.

[17] Referred to locally as 'kyampu' or 'kanpan.' Kurima Yasuo, Aniya Masaaki and Keishun Gibe, Sengo Okinawa no rekishi (Tokyo: Nihon Seinen Shuppan Sha, 1971), 70.

[18] Ibid., 77. For testimony on and description of conditions in the Kin and Ginoza nanmin shuyojo see Ginoza-son, Ginoza-sonshi: dainiken shiryohen - imin, kaikon, senso taiken (Ginoza: Ginoza-son Yakuba, 1987), and Kin-cho, Kin-choshi: dainiken – senso honpen (Kin-cho: Kin-cho Kyoiku Iinkai, 2002), 327-359.

[19] As the US campaign progressed down the island and the number of civilian refugees rapidly increased camps were set up in central Okinawa Island at Nodake, Koja, Maebaru, and Ishikawa, and eventually in Chinen-son, southern Okinawa. Kin-cho, Kin-cho to kichi (Kin: Kin-cho, 1991), 14.

[20] Nakagawa and Kanna were merged to form the Kanna City. Ginoza, Okubo, Soke, and Fukuyama villages were merged to form Ginoza City, Soke City, and Fukuyama City. Sekibaru, Kocha, Takamatsu, Maebaru, and Ganeku were amalgamated into Takamatsu City and Kocha City.

[21] Speculative estimates for the period from September-October 1945 give figures of 20,000 in Kanna City, 40,000 in Ginoza City, and 20,000 in Kocha city. Thereafter repatriations began. Kin-choshi: dainiken – senso honpen, 334.

[22] People from the Yaka and Igei districts were interned in the Ishikawa refugee camp. Igei and Yaka residents were relocated to Igei from Ishikawa on 6th December 1945. The people of Yaka were unable to return home even though all Japanese POWs had been repatriated by the end of 1946 and the Yaka POW camp had been closed. The Yaka camp became a US military 'Rest Centre,' with civilian entry prohibited. The people of Yaka could not return to their communities until July 1947.

[23] 'Report of Military Government Activities for Period From 1st April 1945 to 1st July 1946,' in Okinawa-ken Bunka Shinkokai., editor, Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 2000), 54.

[24] Another interesting motivation behind the MGR's prioritisation of early establishment of civilian government was that it was preferable "because it is economical of personnel and overhead." 'Report of Military Government Activities for Period From 1st April 1945 to 1st July 1946,' in Okinawa-ken Bunka Shinkokai., editor, Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 2000), 53.

[25] The activities of the shimonkai are documented in Okinawa-ken Okinawa Shiryo Henshusho., editor, Okinawa-ken shiryo: sengo 1 - Okinawa shimonkai kiroku (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 1986).

[26] 'Report of Military Government Activities for Period From 1st April 1945 to 1st July 1946,' in Okinawa-ken Bunka Shinkokai., editor, Okinawa-kenshi: shiryohen 9 - Military Government Activities Reports (Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyoiku Iinkai, 2000), 54.

[27] For biographical details on this popular figure. Kin-cho, Kin-choshi (Kin, Kin-cho, 1983), 654-657.

[28] According to directions laid out in the MGR's Kaku shichoson no genkyujuchi e no ido keikakuan of 23rd October 1945. Kurima Yasuo, Aniya Masaaki and Keishun Gibe, Sengo Okinawa no rekishi (1971), 80.

[29] When the refugees were finally given permission to return to their villages, of course, many found changes had been made in their absence. US Military engineers had constructed roads, storage facilities, makeshift personnel housing, and the like, or areas had been seized by the military for no apparent purpose. Some residential housing was demolished to make room for military facilities, and some housing was destroyed without any apparent reason.

[30] This became the Okinawa minseifu, or Okinawa Civil Administration, on 1st December.

[31] For a detailed analysis of political party formation and early policies see Nakachi Kiyoshi, Ryukyu-Japan-US Relations 1945-1972 (Quezon City: Abiva Publishing, 1989), 33-35, and Higa Mikio’s excellent Politics and Parties in Postwar Okinawa (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1963), especially Chapter Two. Higa’s book was later translated into Japanese as Okinawa: seiji to seito (Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1965).

[32] See the Battle for Okinawa section of Chapter One for an outline of the strategy.

[33] Watanabe Akio, The Okinawa Problem: A Chapter in Japan-US Relations (Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1970), 11-12.

[34] The term gunto means ‘archipelago,’ or ‘island group.’

[35] Although Senaga did not explicitly state his reversion stance and chose to focus instead on Okinawan self-government.

[36] The latter became the Kyowato, or Republican Party, on 28th October 1950.


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