On May 13 at Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, where Osprey aircraft are based, densely populated residential areas encircle the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. This weekend, Shoma Fujimaki NAHA Okinawa will mark the 50th anniversary of its return to Japanese sovereignty, a bittersweet moment for the southernmost prefecture that still shoulders the bulk of the burden in hosting U.S. bases in Japan.
The handover ended 27 years of the U.S. administration that was ushered in after U.S. forces emerged victorious in the Battle of Okinawa on May 15, 1972, which saw some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific War.
Okinawa is home to about 70 percent of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, despite the fact that it only accounts for 0.6 percent of Japan's total land area.
Over the past half century, land on the main islands used by the U.S. military has been returned at a much faster pace than in Okinawa. The difference is stark: 60 percent versus 30 percent.
On May 13, the Okinawa prefectural assembly passed two resolutions and opinion papers with one set calling for the government to a statewide scaling back of U.S. military bases in Okinawa and a complete revision of the Japan-U. Status of Forces Agreement. The other set was a protest against a sex crime committed by a U.S. soldier in Okinawa last autumn.
In Okinawa, a lot has changed since it returned to Japanese sovereignty.
About 60 percent of its 1.46 million or so residents were born after 1972.
Only 22 percent of the students who were given the United States relinquish control of Okinawa Prefecture were able to give the date on which the US government relinquished control of the Okinawa Prefecture, according to a questionnaire distributed to local senior high school students.
The land used by the U.S. military outside Okinawa has dropped from 19,699 hectares to 7,808 hectares compared to 50 years ago. The decline in Okinawa has only decreased from 27,892 hectares to 18,483 hectares.
The concentration of U.S. military facilities in Okinawa is fiercely opposed by the majority of islanders who are already weary of deafening noise pollution from the roar of jets, environmental contamination caused by sloppy handling of toxic chemicals and crimes and accidents caused by U.S. military personnel.
As of December 2020, Okinawa prefectural authorities said 826 incidents involving U.S. military aircraft had occurred, including crashes and parts falling from planes in mid-flight. During the same period, 6,068 U.S. military personnel were arrested for various crimes.
The economy of Okinawa has thrived in the meantime. The prefectural gross product reached 4.5 trillion yen $35 billion or 9.8 times higher than the level before Okinawa returned to Japanese sovereignty in fiscal 2018 as of fiscal 2018.
The ratio of the total income among Okinawa residents that depended on the U.S. military has fallen from 15.5 percent in fiscal 1972 to just 5.1 percent in fiscal 2018.
The manufacturing sector hasn't developed in line with the rest of Japan, forcing Okinawa to depend on tourism as a major revenue source. The COVID 19 epidemic has dealt a huge blow to the tourism industry.
In fiscal 2018, more than 10 million foreign tourists visited Okinawa. The figure for fiscal 2021 was 3.27 million. Travel restrictions on travel restrictions to check the spread of the novel coronaviruses have made it hard for foreign tourists to visit Okinawa in the past two years.
Okinawa ranks as the lowest among the nation's 47 prefectures for local income.
A study by the Okinawa prefectural government in 2016 found that the poverty ratio among children was 29.9 percent, or double the national average.