The Kingdom of Ryukyu, the independent nation of Okinawa, was established in 1429, even before Christopher Columbus discovered the American continent in 1492. The Kingdom of Ryukyu prospered for 450 years until 1879, governing its islands and trading with neighboring countries including China, one of the major powers in Asia.
In 1609, Ryukyu was invaded by the Satsuma-han forces and incorporated into the Japanese Tokugawa Era’s “bakuhan” feudal system. Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan in 1879 when Japan’s new Meiji government abolished hans (feudal domains) and established prefectures nationwide.
During the Pacific War, the people of Okinawa were engulfed in the War’s only ground battle on Japanese territory. After the war, Okinawa was placed under the U.S. administration until 1972 when Okinawa reverted to Japan.
During this period under the U.S. occupation, the U.S. military requisitioned a large portion of the flat land on Okinawa which was considered highly useful. This forced the local residents to build their dwellings on the limited land space surrounding these bases, resulting in the establishment of the socio-economic structure centering on the bases.
Okinawa has never willingly provided land for construction of the bases.
70.6% of the land in Japan that is exclusive to U.S. military facilities are concentrated in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6% of the total land area of Japan.
Okinawa is second to Hokkaido at 19.2％ in terms of the ratio of facilities and areas of USFJ, including facilities that are shared by both the USFJ and JSDF. However, 70.6％ of the land in Japan that is exclusive to USFJ facilities are on Okinawa.
i. Okinawa Prefecture hosts 32 U.S. military facilities including one USFJ-JSDF Joint Use Facility.
ⅱ. The total area of all the U.S. facilities is 18,822.2 hectares.
ⅲ. 31 facilities with 18,609.2 hectares of the total area mentioned above are used exclusively by the U.S. Forces.
ⅳ. The number of service members, civilian components and their dependents as of the end of June, 2011: Total: 47,300
Service members：25,843 (70.4% of USFJ total of 36,712)
ⅴ. U.S. ｍilitary ｂases account for 15% land areas in Okinawa Main Island which is home to over 90% of Okinawa’s population.
ⅵ. Most of the U.S. military bases on Okinawa are concentrated in flat and highly useful lands in the urban area of the Central and Southern part of Okinawa Main Island.
ⅶ. About 80% of the population (approx. 1,200,000) live in the Central and Southern urban area. Its population, land area and population density are equivalent to those of the Japanese ordinance-designated major city.
ⅷ. The U.S. bases in the Central and Southern area have been present, dividing the city district and creating constraints in terms of civic function, traffic system, land use etc.
In mainland Japan, about 87% of the land used for the U.S. military facilities and areas is owned by the national government, while this ratio is about 23% in Okinawa. Remaining 77% is owned by the prefecture, municipalities and private citizens. In addition, a high rate of 40% of such land on Okinawa is owned by private citizens.
The existence of the vast U.S. military facilities and areas adversely impacts the living of our people and natural environments in various ways.
In particular, aircraft noise has serious effects on the health of nearby citizens. The Japanese national government pays a large amount of compensation to residents near Kadena Air Base and MCAS Futenma after the court ruled in favor of the residents who sought for compensation.
During the period from Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972 to the end of 2015, there were 676 aircraft-related accidents. Forest fires caused by live ammunition exercises burnt a total of roughly 3,796 hectares of land, and toxic substances were also found at former military installations; the people of Okinawa continue to bear the excessive burden derived from the presence and operations of the U.S. military bases.
Moreover, Okinawa continues to see repeated incidents and accidents by U.S. service members and the civilian components among others. Since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, there have been 5,896 criminal offenses, of which, 574 are heinous crimes. Furthermore, in April 2016, a despicable incident occurred again, where an on-base U.S. civilian worker was indicted on charges that he raped a 20 year-old woman resulting in death, and abandoned her body.
The percentage of the base-related revenue in the Okinawan economy significantly declined from 30.4% in 1965 before Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, to 15.5% immediately after the reversion, to an even lower rate at 5.1% in 2013.
Return of land = Greater opportunity for development
On the economic front, the existence of the U.S. military bases is now the biggest obstacle to the economic development of Okinawa. The following is a comparison to explain how economic situations changed before and after land was returned, in the case of three major districts. The total direct economic effect for the three areas before land returns, such as land lease fees, was 8.9 billion yen or 84 million dollars. However, the economic effect after the land return increased by 28 times to 245.9 billion yen or 2.3 billion dollars. On top of that, the employment skyrocketed 72-fold to 23,564 from 327 on-base workers at that time. Tax revenues jumped 30 times from 980 million yen or 9.25 million dollars to 29.8 billion yen or 282 million dollars. The economic effects influenced by the redevelopment of former military base sites far exceeds that of base-driven economy before the land return.
ⅰ. Okinawa ranks first in Japan in terms of the per-capita amount of the national treasury disbursement.
Okinawa ranks 18th in terms of the total amount of the local allocation tax.
Okinawa ranks 18th in the comparison of the local allocation tax.
ⅱ. Okinawa comes fifth in the combined amount of both the national treasury disbursement and local allocation tax. Its amount is 75% of that of the prefecture which ranks first.
* Based on the amount of the national treasury disbursement and local allocation tax in the statistics on prefectural financial ｒesults in the fiscal year of 2014.
(Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures in the Tohoku Region are excluded in this comparison.)