Japanese Greenpeace protesting
affects of a U.S. base on dugongs
Okinawans complain about crime, pollution, obnoxious behavior, litter, and land use problems associated with the Americans and simply being overwhelmed by them. Between 1972 and 2003, there were there were 5,157 crimes committed by American against civilians in Okinawa. Of these 533 were deemed by the Okinawa government to be “heinous crimes such as murder, robbery and sexual assault.” Twelve murders have been committed by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa.

Residents of Okinawa complain that noise from F-15 jets and cargo helicopters disrupts students during the day and people trying to sleep at night. They particularly don't like the nighttime take off and landings and low-altitude training exercises. Sonic booms from American F-16s have broke windows and caused minor injuries to an infant from broken glass. There also been gas leaks, fuel and chemical spills an errant bombs.

There were 39 air crashes between 1972 and 2001 in Okinawa. In 1994, there were two jet crashes and two helicopter crashes near civilian areas. In August 2004, a Marine cargo helicopter crashed into a university building and exploded with a huge fireball in Ginowan, a small city 25 percent occupied by Futenma base. Miraculously no one was hurt and the only people injured were the three Americans on board the helicopter. The accident and the un willingness of the American to let Japanese investigate the crash drew 30,000 people to an anti-U.S. military demonstration.

The United States has plans to deploy the V-22 Osprey---an aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a plane but produce a lot of noise---at U.S. bases in Japan. Already there have been protests in Okinawa over basing the planes there.

Environmentalists are concerned over about a proposal for of new U.S. military heliport on northeast side of Okinawa, which is regarded as a prime dugong habitat. In 2008, after environmentalists in Japan and the United States brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Defense department, a federal court in California ordered the Pentagon to study the effect of the heliport on dugongs.

Okinawans feel there were sacrificed by the Japanese government during World War II and dumped with the burden of housing American bases after the war was over. Many Okinawans are more angry with Tokyo than they are with Washington because the Japanese government unloaded three quarters of the U.S. military bases on Okinawa.

Some old timers are thankful for the American presence. One 77-year-old Okinawa resident told the Times of London, “Personally, I like the Americans, and when I graduated from school---which the U.S. paid for not my parents,”I felt the U.S. helped me, like a rich person helps a poor person. But younger people might not have any relationship with the American people.” A writer with an Okinawan newspaper said, “There is a huge generational gap, and while older people think that Okinawa can not survive without the U.S. The younger ones think we can be self-sufficient.”

American Aircraft and Noise in Okinawa

The U.S. wants to deploy MV-22 Osprey vertical take-off and landing aircraft at Futenma Air Base in October 2012. Locals object to the deployment of the planes which are very noisy and have safety issues (there were several crashes involving the planes durings its long development. An Okinawan prefectural assembly has adopted a resolution demanding that the planes not be deployed.

In October 2011, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan and the United States agreed to shift the location of a U.S. fighter jet training exercise scheduled that month at U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture to Guam. The purpose of the change is to reduce noise caused by U.S. fighter jets at areas surrounding the Kadena base. It will be the first time U.S. military exercises held in Japan will be shifted outside the nation's territory, although the shift is not permanent. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 5, 2011]

Noise problems at Kadena Air Base have become a serious problem for Okinawa Prefecture in recent years, as it is used as a training ground for jet fighters from various other bases in addition to its own. Shifting the location of training exercises is one of the ways in which the governments are trying to decrease the burden of hosting U.S. bases on residents in Okinawa Prefecture. However, some training exercises involving Iwakuni Air Station fighter jets will continue at the Kadena Air Base, the sources said. Japan will pay 75 percent of the expenses incurred by U.S. forces--such as fuel costs--to conduct such training exercises in Guam instead of in Okinawa Prefecture.

Efforts to Reduce U.S. Military Forces in Okinawa

pro-dugong activists
Okinawans want American troops off their island by the year 2015. In September 1996, Okinawans voted 10 to 1 in a nonbinding referendum for a reduction American bases.

In 1996, the United States government made a decision to return 12,350 acres of land to the Okinawans. Three quarters of the land came from a jungle training area formally used by Marines. Protests forced the relocation of a massive listening post called the "elephant cage" in 2001.

In 2003, during a visit to Okinawa by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfled, the governor of Okinawa petitioned the U.S. government to reduce or relocate American bases on the island.

In October 2005, the United States government agreed to a proposal to relocate the U.S. Marines Futema Air Station and heliport in Okinawa and move 7,000 of the 18,000 Marines in Okinawa to Guam and Hawaii. The base sits in a residential area. The plan calls for its it be rebuilt on existing land at Camp Swab. The United States originally wanted to build the base on land reclaimed from the sea.

There were plans to build a $2 billion floating helicopter base off of Okinawa that would involve blowing up a coral reef, building a huge land fill and inserting a steel platform nearly a mile long. The plan was scrapped. By one count over 400 international environmental groups and 890 international experts on coral reefs and the majority of voters on Okinawa oppose the plan. The United States had wanted to move helicopters from Futema Air base there. Many Okinawans saw the plan as way for the Japanese government to funnel money to well-connected construction companies.

In April 2006, the Japanese government agreed to shoulder 59 percent of the $10.27 billion costs of relocating 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Washington also promised to return four U.S. facilities in Okinawa---including Futema---in 2013 with Japan paying $26 billion for the realignment and the United States only only $4 billion.

Futenma Base Issue

After the Hatoyama government was elected in August 2009 a big deal was made the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine’s Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, which local people objected to because it was the source of so much noise. According to the plan, agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 2006 before Hatoyama took office, the flight operations of Futenma’s noisy helicopter facility would be moved a coastal area of Camp Schwab in Nago, a less populated part of Okinawa and 8,000 Marines would be moved from Okinawa to Guam.

Futenma is located in crowded residential area of Okinawa. It is sandwiched in the middle of city. Training exercises are conducted at odd hours and even on weekends. Kuniko Tamioka, an expert on Okinawa, told the Times of London, U.S. forces “still have the mentality of conquerors. They train when they like, never mind the rules, so that for some people the morning alarm call is the sound of helicopters.” An Okinawa politician called the American presence “vast...too many, too much.”

The purpose of the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter unit at Futenma Air Station, which totals about 50 permanently deployed helicopters, is to act alongside about 2,000 soldiers of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which is deployed quickly in military contingencies and natural disasters. The helicopter unit participates in joint exercises with Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines, in spring and autumn, and conducts drills in Okinawa for about six months of the year.

In December 1996, the Japanese and U.S. governments, under the agreement of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), compiled a plan for returning Futenma Air Station to Okinawa and building a base off the east coast of the prefecture's main island. In mapping out the plan, the two governments placed top priority on ridding of the dangers and noise stemming from the Futenma base, which is surrounded by residential and commercial areas and also primary and middle schools.

According to the 2006 deal much of the base at Nago would be made on land reclaimed from the sea to minimize the impact on residents. Among the biggest objectors to the deal were residents of Nago and environmentalist who opposed the effect of construction on sea life in the area. Among those upset by the delay of the move were people that lived around Futenma.

Among the ideas that were floated as alternatives to the base but were ultimately abandoned for lack of support was combining Futenma with Kadena Air base or moving the base to Shimojishima Island about 280 kilometers southwest of Okinawa or even Guam, proposals that had been rejected in earlier negotiations. The larger Kadena base is located slightly to the north. Some analysts believed that it would not be that much more of a burden on Kadena if it took on the missions and training carried out at Futenma. The issue became further complicated in January 2010 when a new mayor was elected to Nago that opposed the base.

As of June 2011, the 2014 deadline to relocate Futenma had been abandoned and it looked as if Futenma would stay where it is indefinitely.

Hatoyama and the Futenma Deal

Hatoyama’s handling of the issue caused a lot of confusion, much of it unnecessary and avoidable. At various times he supported the plan to relocate the base, opposed it and took a number of stances in between. It often seemed that his views were shaped by whatever interest group we last talked to or aimed to please.

In July 2009, before he became prime minister Hatoyama said Futenma should be moved outside at Okinawa. In November he told U.S. President Obama to “trust him” on the issue. In the spring of 2010 trial balloons were released on moving the bases to other locations. None of them went down very well. Later he met with Okinawan politicians to get their support for the relocation plan. Not long after that, in late April 2010, 90,000 showed up in Okinawa for rally against the base.

There is strong opposition to the Futenma base and the deal made with the Americans by leaders of the small political parties that formed a coalition with Hatoyama’s party. Mizuho Fukushima, the female leader of Social Democratic Party, a coalition partner in the Hatoyama government, was among the most vocal and unyielding of the opponents of the base.

The government of U.S. President Barack Obama put strong pressure on the Hatoyama government to abide by the agreement struck before Hatoyama took office. The issue caused considerable strain between the government of Japan and the United States. Diplomatic dinners were canceled. Promises were broken. At one point U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador in the middle of a huge snowstorm to express her displeasure at they way events had unfolded. The New York Times said that Japan-U.S. relations were at their “most contentious” since the trade wars in the 1990s. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates bluntly demanded that Japan live up to its side of the bargain some Japanese viewed the message as “openly hostile.”

Hatoyama originally said he would make a decision on the matter before the end of 2009 but postponed the decision until May 2010. In the meantime the United States said it would not aggressively pursue the matter. On the issue, Joseph Nye, a professor of international relations at Harvard, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “My impression is that has to do with upper house elections...that it is a political situation where you have domestic politics determining the agenda...But I don’t think it’s going to determine the long-term future because we have such strong national interests in common.”

In May 2010, the Hatoyama government said that proposals to move the base outside of Okinawa were unrealistic and unworkable and essentially endorsed the original plane of moving the base to Nago. It proposed a pier runway in Nago with the runway being in almost the same location as the runway in the 2006 plan. Some Japanese pundits suggested that Hatoyama’s acquiescence to American demands hinged on Japan’s desire to get contracts to build high-speed railroads in the United States. In any case the way Hatoyama handled the issue eventually brought down his government and led to his resignation. There is still a lot of anger over the plan. Politicians opposed to the plan have done well in elections in Okinawa.

Naoto Kan and Yoshihiro Noda and Futenma

Neither Prime Ministers Naoto Kan or Yoshihiko Noda were able to persuade Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima that the best solution to the problem of relocating the U.S. Marines Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture was to move the base from Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago in the same prefecture.

In July 2010, the U.S. government announced it was delaying plans to move Marines to Guam, which had been part of the Futenma deal, making it seem that the whole Futenma deal was in jeopardy. In January 2011, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to move some F-15 drills from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to Guam. When Naoto Kan became prime minister in June 2010 his government tabled the Futenma issue and said a decision would not be made until 2011. In December 2010, Kan took a tour of Okinawa and said the existing 2006 base relocation plan was the most viable option.

The Futenma issue became more difficult to solve when Hirokazu Nakaima---a firm opponent of the base who has demanded that it be moved outside Okinawa- was re-elected governor of Okinawa in November 2010. A Yomiuri Shimbun poll taken at that time found that 30 percent of those surveyed said the base was a key issue for them. During his visit to Okinawa Kan tried to persuade Nakaima to be open to the Futenma plan but was rebuffed.

In September 2011, Koichiro Gemba---the foreign minister in the then new government of Prime Minister Yoshihiro Noda---met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York and agreed to steadily implement the plan to relocate Futenma to the Henoko area of Nago. We are willing to steadily move forward [with the relocation] based on the Japan-U.S. agreement. However, the situation in Okinawa Prefecture is extremely tough. I'd like to ask for further effort and cooperation in reducing its burden," Gemba said.

In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Noda told Nakaima in a face-to-face meeting at the Okinawa prefectural office that relocating the air station to Nago was the only way to avoid leaving the U.S. base permanently in Ginowan, but Nakaima insisted the U.S. base be moved outside the prefecture. During the about 20-minute meeting, which was open to reporters, Noda first apologized to Nakaima for the past response of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government to the relocation issue. Noda then unsuccessfully tried to convince Nakaima of the need to relocate the facility to the Henoko area. It is believed Noda will continue seeking Nakaima's cooperation by building a relationship of trust with him. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 28, 2012]

"It would take much time to realize a relocation to the Henoko area. I want the national government to thoroughly consider the matter since the prefecture aims to move it outside the prefecture," Nakaima told Noda, Nakaima also called for a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. Noda said that although various plans were studied with the relocation of the U.S. base outside the prefecture in mind since the DPJ won control of the government in September 2009, Tokyo and Washington agreed in the end to seek the relocation of the U.S. base to the Henoko area. "I understand the people of Okinawa Prefecture had high expectations [about the base's relocation], and their disappointment was as large as their hope was," Noda said. [Ibid]

Views on the Futenma Deal

Ian Buruma wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “The DPJ...would like Japan to play a more independent role, as a more equal ally, rather than a mere protectorate, of the U.S., and thus be a more assertive political player in Asia...the United States did not see things that way. The DPJ threatened to change comfortable old arrangements whereby the U.S. could more or less tell the Japanese what to do, As a result, the U.S. showed little patience with Japan on the question of Okinawa, and has barely concealed its contemp. of the DPJ government. , feeding popular disappointment with its performance so far.”

The Americans largely saw the Futenma agreement as a done deal and saw their agreement to move half of Okinawa’s Marine contingent to Guam as a way of relieving some of the pressure on Okinawa. Japan and the United States spent 15 years hammering out the deal on Futenma that was approved in 2006 and set to be put in place by 2014 . Much of the Japan-U.S. alliance management time had been spent discussing the matter a the expense of more important issues such as threats from North Korea and challenges raised by China.

An editors of an Okinawan newspaper told the Times of London, “Even if the government in Tokyo now decided to relocate the base within Okinawa , people will decide to stop it physically, with boats, with protests.”

American strategist argue that Guam is no substitute for Okinawa in addressing threats in North Korea and challenges in China. In any case, the $150 million funding for the move was not approved by the U.S. Congress in July 2011 because other aspects of the Futenma deal were not carried out.

Chalmers Johnson, the author of Dismantling the Empire: America's Last, Best Hope. wrote in the Los Angeles Times: that he deplored “the U.S. government's arrogance in forcing the Japanese to this deeply humiliating impasse. The U.S. has become obsessed with maintaining our empire of military bases, which we cannot afford and which an increasing number of so-called host countries no longer want. I would strongly suggest that the United States climb off its high horse, move the Futenma Marines back to a base in the United States (such as Camp Pendleton, near where I live) and thank the Okinawans for their 65 years of forbearance.”

Some have suggested that to gain the understanding of Okinawans, the central government should concentrate on moving the base's military exercises outside the prefecture and reducing danger and noise levels as much as possible. If only half of the helicopter unit's exercises were held elsewhere while keeping it stationed in the prefecture, low-frequency noise typical of helicopters would be reduced

Ospreys in Japan

In 2012, several Osprey planes were transported to Japan and later deployed in Okinawa. The Osprey is a U.S. military transport aircraft with rotors that tilt upward allowing it make a vertical takeoff just like a helicopter, and then shift forward, allowing the aircraft to achieve high-speed horizontal flight like an ordinary airplane. The U.S. military is replacing 24 aging helicopters at the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, with Osprey aircraft over a two-year period. The first batch of 12 Ospreys arrived Japan in July 2012. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 16, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Osprey can fly twice as fast as the aging helicopters, and its loading capacity is three times greater. The tilt-rotor aircraft is also capable of long-distance round-trip flights. Compared with the CH-46 helicopter, the Osprey's radius of activities is about four times wider. With a maximum flight distance of 3,900 kilometers, the aircraft is capable of covering the Korean Peninsula. Midair refueling is also possible. It is hoped the Osprey aircraft will boost the U.S. military's strength, making it possible to better defend Japan from an armed foreign attack. However, Ospreys have crashed twice outside Japan this year. Because the Futenma base is located in the middle of a residential area, and flight training involving the aircraft is planned near mountains and elsewhere nationwide, this has aroused concerns among the Japanese about possible danger from such drills. [Ibid]

Accidents occurred one after another in the 1990s when the Osprey was in the developmental stage. In a crash that occurred in Morocco in April 2012, two U.S. pilots were killed. An osprey crash in Florida two months later injured five. Supporters of the Osprey say defects found during the aircraft's development have been resolved to meet the U.S. military's safety standards. More than 130 Osprey aircraft have been deployed around the world by the U.S. Marine Corps alone. In reference to the Morocco crash, the U.S. military said the aircraft has no safety problems as far as the mechanical aspects are concerned. That crash was blamed on human error. The pilot flew the wrong direction into a wind, during the critical transition from vertical to horizontal flight, to avoid flying near troops positioned on the ground. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2012]

In December 2012, Lieutenant General Sam Angelella, Commander, U.S. Forces Japan, announced that the squadron of MV-22B Ospreys was fully operational capable after two months of preparations and safe flying. following its deployment to Okinawa, and an equal amount of time spent in Iwakuni conducting functional check flights. [Ibid]

Reasons the Ospreys Are in Japan

Jun Kato wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The deployment of the U.S. Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Futenma Air Station is expected to significantly boost the marine corps' capability and enhance U.S. deterrence in the Asia-Pacific region. This is because the Osprey is far superior to aging CH-46 midsize transport helicopters, which have been operating for more than 40 years, in terms of flight speed, cruising distance and loading capacity, among others. [Source: Jun Kato, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2012]

The security environment around Japan has become increasingly volatile due mainly to China's military aggrandizement and advances into the Pacific Ocean, as well as North Korea's nuclear development. Deploying the Ospreys is part of the United States' strategy to place greater importance on the Asia-Pacific region. It is also significant for Japan to accept the deployment as part of efforts to reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance. The Ospreys have also been envisioned as part of an emergency contingency plan to rescue Japanese citizens in the event of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The deployment of the Osprey to Okinawa Prefecture does not require permission or approval from the local governments concerned. Japan has no veto rights under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in regard to changing helicopter models and other aircraft. However, it can demand that the United States thoroughly maintain safety measures. [Ibid]

Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., a pilot and commanding general in Okinawa, wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: One thing I have noticed is that there still remains a true lack of understanding about the Osprey. In particular, many people seemed to have missed the main rationale for the MV-22B's introduction to Japan. The actual reason is quite simple--the MV-22B is the medium-lift capability that is part of the aviation element, one of several elements that make up the unique operational doctrine of the Marine Corps known as the MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force. [Source: Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., Daily Yomiuri, December 15, 2012]

The MV-22 is replacing the aging CH-46E throughout the Marine Corps, providing the enhanced range, speed and payload required for modern military and operations, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The state-of-the-art capabilities found in the MV-22B, with more than 115,000 flight hours and several successful high profile operations already, enhances the overall ability of the MAGTF to perform whatever mission it is assigned jointly, rapidly, and effectively. The MV-22B is thus very much an important alliance asset, as the missions it will be part of are performed on behalf of the bilateral interests of Japan and the United States, as well as of the region as a whole. This, in short, is the reason they have been introduced here [Source: Lt. Gen. Glueck, a pilot, is the commanding general of III MEF, headquartered in Okinawa Prefecture.

Deployment of the Ospreys in Japan

In late July 2012, twelve MV-22 Osprey aircraft arrived and were unloaded off the private transport vessel Green Ridge at a U.S. Marine Corps' base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Test flights began when all findings from the investigation were made available and the safety of the planes was confirmed. In the initial testing phase the aircraft conducted low-level flight training at an altitude of 150 meters on six different routes, including those over the Tohoku, Hokuriku, Shikoku and Kyushu regions. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Meanwhile, local governments voiced their disapproval of the aircraft's arrival and deployment. Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda, who had called for the Ospreys' arrival to be postponed, said he feels angry and a sense of distrust toward the central government for failing to seriously consider local opinion. Citizen groups and other organizations also protested at dikes and sea areas surrounding the Iwakuni base. Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said in a statement he is against the deployment so long as local anxiety regarding the matter remains. [Ibid]

In early October 2012, the U.S. Marine Corps began test flights of the MV-22 Osprey at Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture after the first Ospreys were deployed there. Jiji Press reported: “The first MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport left the air station in Ginowan at about 9 a.m. and returned to the base about two hours later. A second Osprey took off soon after. The test flights marked the effective start of Osprey operations in the country, following a pair of overseas crashes involving the aircraft earlier this year. [Source: Jiji Press, October 5, 2012]

Osprey flights from the base, located in a congested urban area, are expected to increase safety concerns among local residents. The Osprey fleet at Futenma plans to conduct aerial refueling and low-altitude flight drills. In addition to the Futenma base, the marines are planning Osprey operations at training areas in the northern and central parts of Okinawa, Kadena Air Base, also in Okinawa Prefecture, and the Iejima island auxiliary airfield. After the training in Okinawa, the Ospreys will move to the Iwakuni base and Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, for about two or three days a month to carry out low-altitude flight drills for about 330 flights per year on six routes over mainland Japan. [Ibid]

100,000 People Protest Osprey in Okinawa

In September 2012, a massive demonstration was held in Ginowan, the home of Futenma Air Station, with over 100,000 people protesting against the planned deployment of the U.S. Osprey military aircraft. Jiji Press reported: “About 101,000 people participated in the rally, according to organizers. Protesters said, "Don't bring the Osprey to Futenma Air Station, the world's most dangerous military base." [Source: Jiji Press, September 11, 2012]

Participants adopted a resolution urging the Japanese and U.S. governments to immediately cancel plans to deploy the MV-22 Osprey, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Ginowan. The resolution also demanded that the military base be shut down and facilities there be removed. Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima said, "As head of the city, I cannot allow the deployment of an aircraft whose safety has not been assured." "I strongly resent the deployment plan," he added. The rally was also attended by Japanese ruling party and opposition lawmakers as well as leaders and senior officials from all 41 municipalities in Okinawa. [Ibid]

Meanwhile, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who remains opposed to the Osprey deployment plan, did not take part, saying his action as administrative head of Okinawa should be differentiated slightly from the citizens' movement. The organizers of the rally are slated to visit Tokyo to deliver the resolution to Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. They are also considering visiting the United States to lodge Okinawa's protest directly to the U.S. government. [Ibid]

Okinawa Rape Incident in 1995

anti-American protest
In September, 1995, four United States servicemen stationed in Okinawa met at a disco, had a few drinks and decided to grab a local girl and have some "fun." One of the soldiers backed out, but the other three---two Marines and a sailor---piled into a rented car and cruised around the city of Naha until they spotted a 12-year-old elementary school girl who had walked from her home to nearby store to buy a notebook.

The men stopped the car, said something to her in English that she didn't understand, and threw her into the car. Her eyes, mouth, arms and legs were bound with adhesive tape. About a mile up the road the car pulled off the road to a deserted beach, where the girl was raped by two of the men and then left on the beach as the car drove away.

The residents of Okinawa were understandably freaked out, especially since a suspect from a 1993 rape case was able to fly home before Japanese authorities could arrest him and the U.S. military refused to hand over three men until they were indicted.

In March 1996, a Japanese court convicted the three soldiers and gave them six and seven year prison sentences. Many Okinawans regarded the sentences as inadequate. The men faced sentences of three years to life in prison. All three admitting to abducting the girl but only confessed to forcibly having sex with her.

Okinawa Rape Incident and Japan and U.S. Relations

The rape incident had a major repercussions on Japan-U.S. relations and seriously threatened the security arrangement between the United States and Japan. Protests attending by 85,000 people were held in Okinawa and smaller demonstrations were held in other parts of Japan. Demands were made to curb the privileges of American servicemen and renegotiate the lateral security pact.

American Ambassador Walter Mondale quickly apologized for the rape incident almost immediately after he was notified about it. U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry publicly apologized on a visit to Tokyo and said that although the force in Japan would not be cut, some of the troops in Okinawa would be moved to other locations. Military forces participated in a one-day stand-down and a day of reflection and collected money to compensate the victims. On-base alcohol sales after 9:00pm was banned.

In reference to the Okinawa rapes, Adm. Richard C. Macke, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said, the incident was "absolutely stupid" because "for the price they paid to rent a car they could have had a girl." Macke later apologized for the remark.

According to a secret agreement made between Japan and the United States in 1958, the U.S. Military was given the de facto rights to try its own personnel for crimes committed in Japan. This agreement contradicted a 1952 agreement that stipulated Japan could exercise jurisdiction over criminal offenses committed by United States military personnel in Japan .

Incidents in Japan Involving American Soldiers in Early 2000s

In 1998, an 18-year-old girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident involving an American serviceman. In July 2000, a 19-year-old Marine was accused of molesting a 14-year-old Japanese girl in her home. The Marines formally apologized. The Marine was drunk at the time and claims he accidently entered the girl's house, thinking it was the house of a friend.

In July 2001, a 24-year-old Air Force staff sergeant was arrested for attacking and raping a Japanese woman in a parking lot outside a nightclub area near Kadena Air Force base. Okinawans were very upset as they were after the rape in 1995. The U.S. ambassador formally apologized and the sergeant was turned over to Okinawan police. It was the first time in Okinawa (second time in Japan) that an American serviceman had been turned over to Japanese authorities for a crime committed in Japan. The sergeant went on trial in a Japanese court in Okinawa. He claimed the sex was consensual. The victim testified that she made it clear it was not. In March 2002, the sergeant was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

In January 2001, a 21-year-old Marine was arrested after he reportedly lifted the skirt of a high school girl and tried to take her picture. A week later two other Marines were arrested on arson charges. In November 2002, a U.S. Marine was arrested in connection with the attempted rape of a Filipino woman. He was tried in a Japanese court.

In May 2003, a U.S. Marine was arrested in connection with the rape of a 19-year-old Japanese woman. The Marine reportedly raped her after punching her in the face. The Marine was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for the crime in a Japanese court.

Incidents in Japan Involving American Soldiers in Mid-2000s

In January 2006, a U.S. sailor robbed and murdered a 56-year-old Japanese women, taking the equivalent of $131 from her purse and beating her so brutally she died from blood loss and head injuries. The sailor was detained for a while at a U.S. base and then turned over up Japanese authorities. The American military response was much different than it was during the Okinawan rape cases. The outcry by local Japanese was less too. The move was seen by an acceptance of American forces in Japan and a willingness of the American military to cooperate with Japanese authorities.

There were two alleged rapes in 2008. In February 2008, a U.S. Marine sergeant was charged with raping a 14-year-old middle school girl in Okinawa. The sergeant claimed he forced the girl down and kissed her but never raped her. The charges were eventually dropped but not before a major fallout occurred. For a while U.S. troops---and their family members---were confined to their bases with a 24-hour curfew that applied not just to Okinawa but all of Japan. The U.S. ambassador publically apologized to the Okinawan governor. Secretary of State Condoleza Rice expressed regret to Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda. There was discussion of installing cameras at Okinawa nightlife areas,.

Okinawa residents were angry that the sergeant was let off and about other crimes and incidents involving U.S. servicemen, including one incident in which a woman came home to find a drunk soldier that she didn’t know crashed out on her sofa A large protest with several thousand Okinawans was staged calling for withdrawal of the American military from Okinawa.

In October 2007, four U.S. marines stationed at Iwakuni Air Station in Iwakumi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, were questioned with gang raping a 19-year-old woman in Hiroshima but the charges were dropped because of inconsistencies in the victims description of events. The four Marines were court martialed by the U.S. military. One of the men, a Marine sergeant, was sentenced to 15 months of confinement, demoted to private and was given a poor conduct discharge for conspiracy to engage in indecent acts. Rape charges against him were dropped as part of plea bargain

In March 2008, a 22-year-old American serviceman killed a taxi driver in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The assailant, Olatunboson Ugbogu, a Nigerian national, stabbed a 61-year-old taxi driver with a kitchen knife in the shoulder and fled without paying a taxi fare of around ¥19,000. Ugbogu was handed over to Japanese police. Prosecutors say that Ugbogu stabbed the driver after a dispute over the fare. Ugbogu said he “heard a voice” ordering him to murder the driver. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In July 2007, a 19-year-old U.S. navy sailor stabbed a 17-year-old girl and 27-year-old woman at an apartment near Yokosuka base. He was tried in a Japanese court as a minor and sentence to eight years in prison for attempted murder.

More Trouble with American Military Personnel in 2011 and 2012

In October 2012, two U.S. sailors were arrested after robbing and raping a local woman in Okinawa. Jiji Press reported: “The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office indicted two U.S. sailors for allegedly raping and injuring a woman in Okinawa Prefecture. The two navy personnel are Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, both 23. Browning has also been accused of robbing the woman of 7,000 yen. Browning initially denied the charges. But he later withdrew his denial and told investigative authorities the two raped the woman. Dozierwalker admitted to the rape charge against him soon after the arrest. [Source: Jiji Press, November 7, 2012)

According to police and other sources, the rape took place in a central part of Okinawa's main island in the early hours of Oct. 16 when the woman was on her way home. The sailors are suspected of dragging her to the roadside and raping her. The woman also suffered a slight injury. The pair was arrested the same day. The Okinawa prefectural police searched the sailors' rooms and found some of the woman's belongings. [Ibid]

The incident has led to anger among local residents. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the assemblies of a number of local municipalities have adopted resolutions to denounce the incident. A protest rally was held in the city of Okinawa, one of the municipalities hosting the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base, late last month, with about 1,300 people participating. In response to the incident, the U.S. military introduced a nighttime curfew on Oct. 19 for all U.S. troops in Japan, including those temporarily in the country. [Ibid]

In November 2012, despite the curfew, a U.S. airman invaded a home in the Okinawa Prefecture village of Yomitan after drinking and assaulted a middle school boy, and a drunk U.S. marine was arrested for alleged home invasion in Naha. [Ibid]

In February 2012,a U.S. Air Force civilian worker given 18 months over fatal car crash that killed a 19-year-old Japanese man in January 2011. The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Doing an abrupt U-turn, the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office indicted a 24-year-old American civilian working at a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture without arrest for a fatal car accident in January. Previously, Naha prosecutors decided not to indict him as was driving home from the base, and considered still on the job. See Below. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, November 25, 2011]

Late-Night Drinking Banned and Curfew Imposed After the October 2012 Rape

In October 2012, Reuters reported: “The commander of U.S. Forces Japan imposed a night curfew on military personnel after two U.S. servicemen were arrested on suspicion of raping a Japanese woman in The arrests come at a time when public opinion in Okinawa is at odds with Tokyo for allowing the U.S. deployment of Osprey hybrid aircraft on the island despite lingering concerns about their safety. [Source: Reuters, October 19, 2012]

"I want to personally apologise for the grief and trauma the victim has endured and the anger it has caused among people in Okinawa," Lieutenant-General Salvatore Angelella told reporters. "I am immediately issuing a curfew to all military personnel in Japan, both temporary and assigned." All personnel will be confined to base from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. He did not say how long the curfew would be in effect. Japanese Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto vowed to press the United States on discipline. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima described the rape as "madness". [Ibid]

November 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet and the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan have imposed a late-night drinking ban on sailors under their command following a series of off-base crimes committed by U.S. servicemen. The sailors of the U.S. naval bases and units in Japan under the chain of command of the fleet and the naval commander in Kanagawa Prefecture have been prohibited from drinking alcohol between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Those subject to the ban include sailors under the control of the navy bases in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. [Source: Jiji Press, November 28, 2012]

Also covered by the order are the navy's patrol aircraft troops stationed in the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, as well as offshore troops of the 7th Fleet, such as those aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The ban was imposed after a number of drunk U.S. servicemen committed crimes outside bases after the curfew was imposed, prompting the navy to strengthen the discipline of its personnel. [Ibid]

Japan Given More Say in Legal Cases Involving U.S. Military Personnel

In December 2011, Kyodo reported: “U.S. military personnel who cause road accidents after drinking alcohol during events deemed as part of their official duties will no longer be able to avoid trials in Japan, the two countries agreed. The revision to the operation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the handling of U.S. service personnel in Japan, was reached by the Joint Committee, composed of government officials and ranking military officers, the Foreign Ministry said. The agreement now states that "drinking intoxicating beverages shall remove such person from his official duty status." [Source: Kyodo, December 18, 2011]

Under the Status of Forces Agreement, Japan has no authority to try U.S. military personnel who allegedly commit crimes in Japan while on duty. The revision came after a bilateral agreement in November to allow Japan to have jurisdiction over accidents and crimes involving civilian staff at U.S. bases while they are on duty under certain circumstances. [Ibid]

The changes are seen as efforts by Tokyo and Washington to make progress in relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture. The relocation plan has met strong opposition in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. The prefecture has also been frustrated with a lack of authority to deal with wrongdoing by U.S. military personnel. [Ibid]

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba informed Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima of the new arrangement in Tokyo. "I will make utmost efforts to respond to the feelings of people in the prefecture as much as possible," Gemba told the governor. [Ibid]

The indictment a U.S. Air Force civilian worker in November 2012 after a fatal car crash that killed an Okinawan came after Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said that Tokyo and Washington have agreed to re-examine the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to allow Japanese authorities to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed in Japan by U.S. civilians working for the military while on the job. Demand for a review of the SOFA grew afresh in the prefecture after the Naha committee for the inquest of prosecution concluded in May that the case merited an indictment. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, November 25, 2011]

The Asahi Shimbun reported: “The SOFA dictates that the United States has first jurisdiction over American servicemen and civilian workers who have committed crimes or caused accidents in Japan while on duty or on the job. But U.S. civilian workers deemed responsible for crimes have not been tried either in the United States or Japan since 2006 because of U.S. law, which allows for such civilians to be tried in U.S. courts. The committee said it was "unreasonable" that the case was not tried in Japan. [Ibid]

Tokyo and Washington concluded a new agreement on the SOFA on Nov. 23. Under the agreement, U.S. authorities will decide if they will bring criminal prosecution over a case and notify the Japanese side of their decision. If U.S. authorities decide not to prosecute the case, the Japanese side can request a trial within 30 days after the U.S. notification for their agreement to be held in Japan. The United States has agreed to give "favorable consideration" to such a request over a serious case such as a fatal car accident, effectively allowing Japan to exercise its jurisdiction. [Ibid]

The agreement comes amid a deepening gulf between the Japanese government and Okinawa Prefecture over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in the prefecture. More flexibility in the application of the SOFA is apparently meant to lessen the burden on the country's southernmost prefecture over the U.S. bases. [Ibid]

But the latest development does not resolve the problems facing Japan over crimes committed in Japan by U.S. military personnel and civilian workers while on duty. Despite slightly more flexibility in applying the SOFA clauses, the United States retains the right to try the accused first. If U.S. authorities decide to seek criminal prosecution, the trial will be held outside Japan. Sixty-two civilian workers at U.S. military bases in Japan were deemed responsible for crimes against Japanese between September 2006 and December 2010, according to the Justice Ministry. Of these, 35 were disciplined while 27 received no discipline. Most cases involved car accidents. [Ibid]

Image Sources: 1) 2) xorsyst blog 3) 4) 5) 6) Yokota Air Base 7) 8) Greenpeace Japan; 9) 10) 11) U.S. Miliarty Occupation fo Japan blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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