Futenma Update

Vol. 3, No. 7.

“What part of muzukashii don’t you understand?” There are many ways of saying “no” in Japan, and “no” is not one of them.

For example, muzukashii, which by itself means “difficult,” but when spoken in response to a request most likely means “no.”  In other words, muzukashii means “Please do not bother to ask me again because circumstances make it too difficult to comply with your request.”

On Friday June 18, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos visited Okinawa and met with its governor, Hirokazu Nakaima.  The latter told Roos that relocating the Futenma Air Base to Henoko in Nago City would be “difficult in the extreme.”  (Uh oh.)  Apparently unfazed by this rejection—perhaps adhering to the “the-sale-begins-when-the-customer-says-no” principle—our Ambassador assured the Governor that the US government plans to continue seeking ways to “reduce the burden on Okinawa…of hosting the bulk of US forces in Japan.”  There is no sign yet, however, that moving Futenma out of Okinawa is one of those ways being sought.

The following day, June 19, marked the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960.  It is also the date President Eisenhower was scheduled to visit Tokyo but did not.  Here’s why:  The streets of Tokyo through which his motorcade would have to pass were filled with Japanese citizens protesting both the Security Treaty itself and the undemocratic way in which it had been approved in the Diet.

The Prime Minister at that time was Nobusuke Kishi, member of Tojo’s cabinet during World War II, subsequently imprisoned as a war criminal by the U.S. Occupation.  Kishi was released from prison in 1948 as part of the Occupation’s “reverse course” policy, in which immediate post-war projects designed to foster democratization in Japan were sacrificed to Cold War ideology and the need to build up the economy to keep the country from going communist.  As Prime Minister, he was determined to get the revision through the Diet as quickly as possible and in spite of widespread opposition to Japan’s willing and active participation in the U.S. military enterprise, which the revision represented.

According to the Encyclopedia of Japan, “Kishi finally ‘rammed’ the approval through in a plenary session shortly after midnight on 20 May while the opposition parties were unaware that the majority party was voting for the treaty and without providing an opportunity for counterarguments.” Millions of citizens poured into the streets in protest.  (Numbers from the Encyclopedia article:  4,580,000 at rallies; 4,280,000 in demonstrations; 7,060,000 in labor union strikes.)  They were unable to prevent the signing of the undemocratically “approved” revised treaty on June 19.

It is this same Treaty that makes it possible for the U.S. to maintain its military presence in Japan.  Yet the problems both created at the difficult birth of its revision and inherited from its original version have never been squarely faced and adequately resolved. They still lurk in the background, casting their shadows over any attempts to solve the current Futenma crisis.

It might be a good idea if Washington reminded itself of the terms of the Treaty.  One of the new provisions in the 1960 revision states that “the expiration of the Treaty is no longer dependent on mutual agreement. Beginning ten years after implementation of the Treaty [that would be 1970], either party may give notice to the other of its intention to terminate it, and expiration will become effective a year later.”


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