A Brief Overview of Okinawan Separatism

Proceedings of The 9th International Conference on Humanities, Psychology and Social Sciences

Year: 2019

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.33422/9th-hps.2019.04.254

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A Brief Overview of Okinawan Separatism

Peter Simpson



Okinawa and remaining islands of the Ryukyu Kingdom were militarily annexed into the emerging Japanese state in 1869, 260 years after their initial invasion and subjugation by forces from the Kagoshima Domain of the Edo Shogunate. In the centuries prior to this, the islands had emerged as an expanding trading kingdom, establishing tributary relations with Chinese, as well as Japanese centres of power. After the island’s devastation in the last land battle of WWII, Okinawa was ruled for 27 years as a de facto US military colony, before its 1972 “reversion” to Japanese political control. Yet, almost 75% of US bases in Japan remain on the island, in the midst of its 1.4m population, occupying almost a quarter of its territory. Ongoing political discontent, coupled with geographical, cultural and even spiritual distance would seem to provide fertile ground for a mass separatist movement. Nevertheless, since the reversion, mass protests have tended to coalesce around specific issues such as the representation of Okinawa in history textbooks, as well as ongoing disaffection and intermittent rage resulting from the US military presence. This paper suggests some historical, ideological and pragmatic explanations for the relative lack of a grassroots nationalist movement, and seeks to situate these in the context of Okinawa’s collective memories and contemporary realities.

Keywords: separatism; residual and emergent nationalisms; Okinawa; Ryukyu; occupation.