Between War and the Tropics

I first travelled to Okinawa, a subtropical island south of Japan, to learn about its history and how it has shaped the landscape today. You can explore the places I visited on the map below.

Okinawa is the Japanese name for the Ryukyu Kingdom when it was annexed to the Japanese Empire in 1879.

After World War Two the United States separated the islands of Okinawa to establish a military government for the ‘Ryukyu Islands’. The United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) controlled the movement of the population of local people, who did not have the same rights as US or Japanese citizens. Applying for a travel permit off the island took money, time and good planning. Few Japanese people visited the island and it remained off topic for most mainlanders in early postwar Japan. Whereas, US soldiers could enter and leave the island in large numbers.

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Okinawa was reverted to Japan in 1971 after years of continued uprisings and popular protest. However, the process of reversion took several years and was finally celebrated with the International Ocean Expo in 1975 to encourage domestic tourism to the islands.

Fences surround the US military bases across Okinawa and separate approximately 30% of Okinawa’s land area for military use. On several different walks in Central Okinawa, native plants obscure the view into the military bases surrounded by a well kept pathway along the fence. On the other side, local people grew vegetables and plants on small plots of land. People on both sides share a similar routine; the fence guides regular walkers and joggers side by side in the early morning and late afternoon.

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I am interested to learn how local people are integrated into global political issues. In Okinawa, the landscape and its people are shaped by the US military and tourist industry. Is Okinawa’s situation unique?

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