manga by U.S. Navy aimed
at getting support for
basing a U.S. nuclear-powered
aircraft carrier in Japan
There are 58,500 Americans working for the American military in Japan (2003). These include 14,000 sailors whose home ports are in Japan and 28,900 servicemen in Okinawa. There are also large numbers of American servicemen nearby in South Korea.

An LDP member once described American policy towards Japan as little more than making Japan into an “aircraft carrier” for the U.S. In the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty the U.S. promises to protect Japan and defines the U.S.’s commitment to protect Japan . In return the United States gained access to much of the eastern Pacific. Agreements between Washington and Tokyo in 1996 and 1997 allow the United States to use Japanese commercial and military air fields in the event of a crisis or war.

American soldiers have to abide by a midnight to 5:00am curfew and are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages off base except at off-base residential districts. The soldier’s salaries of around $1,200 a month are so small in expensive Japan that when they go out on dates with local girls, the girls often pay.

Many of the ships and aircraft in the U.S. Seventh Fleet---which is made up of 50 to 60 warships, 350 aircraft and 60,000 sailor and marines---are based in Yokosuka, a U.S. Navy base in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo and Yokohama on Tokyo Bay. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa is the largest U.S. Air Force facility in the Far East, with a total of 100 aircraft stationed there, including about 50 F-15 fighters.

Other non-Okinawa bases include: 1) Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, home of the U.S.’s 5th Air Force, comprised mostly of C-130 transports; 2) Atsugi Air Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, home to F/A-18s and a site for aircraft carrier take off and landing drills; 3) Camp Zama in Kangawa Prefecture, headquarters of the U.S. Army in Japan; and 4) Iwakuni Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, home to Marine F/A-18 -fighters and helicopters.

Japan is contemplating participating in joint military exercises with the U.S. and South Korea. In December 2010, Japan and the United States conduct their 10th joint operation and military drills together. The operation involved 45,000 personnel from the U.S. and Japanese militaries. The South Korean military for the first time observed the drills.

In July 2011, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force would held joint military drills with the U.S. and Australian navies in the disputed South China Sea, apparently aiming to restrain China's increasing maritime ambitions. The exercises were held near Brunei near waters claimed by China.


Good Websites and Sources: Global Security Guide on the Japanese Military ;Military Pictures on Defence Talk ; Military Pictures on Military Photos ; Wikipedia article on Japan Self Defense Forces Wikipedia ; PBS Documentary on Japan’s Self Defense Forces ; Japan Ministry of Defense ; U.S. Forces Japan Official Site ; U.S. Military Bases in Japan

Sympathy Budget

The “sympathy budget” is a term used to describe payments by the Japanese government for things like Japanese staff employed at U.S. military bases and other expenditures that help American forces in Japan. These expenses are about $2.2 billion a year, with most of it going to labor expenditures.

The United States pays about $40 billion to keep troops in Asia. The United States reportedly pays 88 percent of the cost of keeping an American presence in Korea but only 50 percent of the costs in Japan. Some sources report that Japan pays 70 percent of the cost, but that figure excludes troop salaries.

The Japanese government shells out $4 billion to subsidize 94 military based located on Japanese soil. About $3.3 billion of that covers the cost of labor, utilities, facility improvements and land rental; and the remaining $700 million is for tax exemptions.

Why the U.S. Military is in Japan

In January 2010, Japan and the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of their alliance that began with the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The anniversary was not celebrated with any great fanfare and in fact occurred at a time when relations between the two countries was being tested over the controversy surrounding the Futenma air base.

On the presence of American troops in Japan, Joseph Nye, a professor of international relations at Harvard, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “What the troops provide you is a security guarantee which is credible. Japan is faced with both China and North Korea as nuclear powers and of course Russia. Japan needs an American guarantee if it doesn’t wish to develop its own nuclear weapons. How do you make that guarantee credible? You make that credible by having American troops in Japan. Anyone who attacks Japan?North Korea for example---is going to kill Americans as well as Japanese.”

On why it was necessary to have the troops in Japan rather than some other place Nye said, “If you took all the marines off Okinawa and put them in Guam, they’re going to be less efficient if there’s a problem in North Korea, for example. It’s that much farther away. So from a military efficiency point of view, there would be some loss.”

Japan-U.S. Relations As Japan Adapts Military to Chinese Threat

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Given its limits, Japan’s strategy for now appears for it to become a fuller military partner of the United States, which maintains 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Japanese planners now speak of a division of labor between the two militaries, in which a more robust Japan carries a greater load in areas like anti-submarine warfare, freeing up the Americans to focus elsewhere. The December guidelines also call for “integrating” Japanese and American forces by sharing command centers and intelligence. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 28, 2011]

Analysts say Tokyo seeks to bind the two militaries together in order to keep the United States engaged in East Asia, and from becoming too distracted by its financial crisis and war in Afghanistan. “Japan is strengthening itself as an alliance partner,” Richard J. Samuels, an expert on Japanese security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the New York Times “while also hedging against the day when U.S. capabilities might slip below U.S. commitments.”

“Indeed, Japan seems to have reached a new consensus about the need to remain close to the United States, even while strengthening itself,” Fackler wrote. “The governing party, the left-leaning Democrats, briefly experimented with pulling away from Washington under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who in 2009 called for taking Japan closer to China, and clashed with Washington over an air base in Okinawa. However, his successor, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, has worked to regain Washington’s trust. China also inadvertently pushed Japan back toward the United States in September, when Beijing’s heavy-handed pressuring of Tokyo to release a detained Chinese trawler captain surprised and angered many Japanese. [Ibid]

American Aircraft Carriers in Japan

In September 2008, the United States announced it would keep a nuclear-powers vessel---the aircraft carrier USS George Washington’stationed in Japan for the first time. Ordinary Japanese have safety-related concerns about the vessel and object to anything associated with nuclear power and the United States in Japan.

The 333-meter-long George Washington---the largest warship in the world, weighing 97,000 tons and capable of carrying 75 aircraft and 6,000 people---is the first nuclear powered vessel based outside the United States. The vessel is powered by two pressurized water reactors and was placed in Japan as a response to China’s military build up.

The George Washington will be based at Yokosuka. It will replace the non-nuclear Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier. The Kitty Hawk was the oldest active American aircraft carrier until was decommissioned in 2008.

Attitude of Japanese People Towards American Military

Yokota Air Base
In a 1995 poll, 60 percent of Japanese said that they supported the security alliance with the United States but 77 percent said they want to see a "major reduction" in the number of American troops in Japan. In another poll taken around the same time only 5 percent of Japanese said they thought American bases were for the benefit of Japan while 46 percent said they were for the benefit of the United States

One Japanese military analyst told the Washington Post, "Japanese people have a very simple question: Why have Americans reduced their troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War, and not here?" One major reason is to contain China and another is have troops nearby if North Korea invades South Korea.

By the mid 2000s, with threats coming from North Korea are tension rising with China, many Japanese soften their view on the presence of the U.S. military in Japan.

See Operation Tomodachi, 2011 Tsunami

Reducing the United States Military in Japan

Yokota Air Base
There has been a lot of discussion about reducing the number of American troops in Japan and letting Japan make up the difference. In August, 2004 U.S. President George Bush announced plans to significantly cut the number of troops in Asia. The plan called for the reduction of 100,000-man force in Japan and South Korea by 15,000 to 25,000 troops, with 10,000 being withdrawn from Japan.

The realignment plan includes: 1) relocating the U.S. Marines from Futema Air Station in Okinawa; 2) merging and integrating bases in Okinawa; 3) making changes at the facilities at Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture; and 4) creating and economic stimulus package for municipalities near the U.S. bases.

Among other proposals that being considered are the relocation of U.S. Army 1st Corps Headquarters from Fort Lewis Washington to Camp Zawa in Japan, the integration of command functions of Yokota Air Base and Andersen base on Guam and the transfer of Marines from bases on Okinawa to Camp Zawa and other non-Okinawan bases.

In October 2006, it was estimated the cost to Japan of the U.S. military alignment would be ¥1.86 trillion. This is lower than the U.S. government’s initial estimate of ¥3 trillion.

In April 2007, the Japanese lower house passed the bill on U.S. force realignment.

United States Military on Okinawa

Nineteen percent of Okinawa is occupied by U.S. forces. Okinawa contains the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States, the largest U.S. Air Force base in Asia and a major port for the U.S. Seventh Fleet. About 50,000 Americans are stationed on Okinawa. They include 28,890 troops (2003), about two thirds of the American troops in Japan, of which 17,600 are Marines.

Known to American servicemen as "The Rock," Okinawa is the home of 30 separate facilities and American military installations, which cover about a fifth of the island. Japan pays most of the operating expenses for the bases. Among the largest facilities are Kadena Air Base, the largest air base in Asia, and home to 100 aircraft, including F-15 fighters, KC-135 airborne refueling tankers and F-22A Raptor stealth fighters; and Futenama Air Station, a Marine facility with 70 aircraft, mostly attack and transport helicopters.

Okinawa is valued by the American military because of its strategic location between Japan, Korea and Taiwan and the fact it is within easy striking distance of North Korea and China. One U.S. official told National Geographic, "North Korea is unstable and dangerous. China's military is growing; its future leadership---who knows? Peace in the region depends on American military presence. And there is no better place for that than Okinawa."

History of American Occupation of Okinawa

One forth of Okinawa's civilian population died during the bloody World War II battle (See World War II). After World War II, American soldiers gave food to hungry people, and over the years introduced Hollywood movies, American cigarettes, spam, A&W root beer, jazz and rock music and Playboy centerfolds. They are also said to have raped hundreds, maybe thousands, of Okinawan women.

Describing the history of Okinawa after World War II Chalmers Johnson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In 1945, Japan was of course a defeated enemy and therefore given no say in where and how these bases would be distributed. On the main islands of Japan, we simply took over their military bases. But Okinawa was an independent kingdom until Japan annexed it in 1879, and the Japanese continue to regard it somewhat as the U.S. does Puerto Rico. The island was devastated in the last major battle in the Pacific, and the U.S. simply bulldozed the land it wanted, expropriated villagers or forcibly relocated them to Bolivia.” Chalmers Johnson is the author of several books, including Blowback and Dismantling the Empire: America's Last, Best Hope. [Source: Chalmers Johnson, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2010]

Okinawa was occupied for nearly 30 years by United States. In the 1960s, the U.S. maintained 88 bases and had 44,000 troops on Okinawa. The bases were used as supply and staging areas in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Okinawa was returned to Japan until 1972.

“From 1950 to 1953, the American bases in Okinawa were used to fight the Korean War, and from the 1960s until 1973, they were used during the Vietnam War>” Johnson wrote. “Not only did they serve as supply depots and airfields, but the bases were where soldiers went for rest and recreation, creating a subculture of bars, prostitutes and racism. Around several bases fights between black and white American soldiers were so frequent and deadly that separate areas were developed to cater to the two groups.” [Johnson, Op Cit]

“The U.S. occupation of Japan ended with the peace treaty of 1952, but Okinawa remained a U.S. military colony until 1972. For 20 years, Okinawans were essentially stateless people, not entitled to either Japanese or U.S. passports or civil rights. Even after Japan regained sovereignty over Okinawa, the American military retained control over what occurs on its numerous bases and over Okinawan airspace.” [Ibid]

Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) in Okinawa

Explaining the operational doctrine of the Marine Corps in Okinawa known as the MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., a pilot and commanding general in Okinawa, wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: The MAGTF is the principal way the U.S. Marines organize its forces. The MAGTF is trained, organized, and equipped to perform a variety of missions, which often include disaster response and humanitarian assistance, as we saw last year during Operation Tomodachi in the immediate wake of the terrible disaster that befell the Tohoku region of Japan. The formal doctrine has been in existence for nearly 50 years, and we first employed the MAGTF concept during the Korean War. [Source: Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., Daily Yomiuri, December 15, 2012]

MAGTFs are balanced air-ground, combined arms task organizations formed under a single commander. The size of a MAGTF varies and is scalable to meet the situation. The largest MAGTF is a MEF, or Marine Expeditionary Force, which may be up to 100,000 personnel. The next largest size MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Brigade, or MEB, with a high range of about 20,000 personnel. A Marine Expeditionary Unit, like the 31st MEU in Okinawa, is the smallest type of MAGTF, with about 2200 Marines and sailors. There is also a Special Purpose MAGTF (SPMAGTF). [Ibid]

Every MAGTF, regardless of size, consists of a Command Element, a Logistics Element, a Ground Element, and an Aviation Element. These elements are complimentary and designed to operate together as an integrated force. The Aviation Element provides the air power to whatever MAGTF is formed. It includes all aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, their pilots and maintenance personnel, and those units required for aviation command and control, including the ability to build and operate expeditionary airfields. [Ibid]

The majority of aircraft employed within a MAGTF, depending on the missions, is for close air support or transport for the ground or logistics forces. For both regular training and rapid deployment, it is vital that the aircraft be in close proximity to the ground forces they support. The six main functions of the Aviation Element include assault support, antiair warfare, offensive air support, electronic warfare, control of aircraft and missiles, and aerial reconnaissance. These functions are performed by a variety of aircraft, including CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, UH-1Y Huey utility helicopters, AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, AV-8B Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing ground attack aircraft, F/A-18 Hornet supersonic carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, and KC-130J Hercules tanker/cargo airplanes, among other aircraft. [Ibid]

Nuclear Weapons and Okinawa

Documents revealed in 2008 indicate that Sato made a secret deal with U.S. President Richard Nixon, negotiated by Henry Kissinger, in which the United States agreed to return Okinawa to Japan in return for being allowed to keep nuclear weapons on Japanese soil in Okinawa in the case of an emergency. This agreement, which was reportedly signed in a small room off the Oval office in the White House, contradicted a 1967 Japanese declaration which stated that no nuclear weapons would be brought into Japan and a 1969 agreement between Japan and the United States that called for the removal of all nuclear weapons from Okinawa.

In late 2009, the Hatoyama government revealed to the public a document concerning the deal to bring nuclear weapons to Japan signed by Sato and Nixon that was found in Sato’s home and other records on the deal. In addition, an American diplomat and Japanese bureaucrat admitted the secret agreement was made.Sato won the Nobel Peace prize. He reportedly cried over the deal that brought nuclear weapons to Japan.

Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times in 2010, “Japan ended decades of denials by confirming the existence of secret cold war-era agreements with Washington that, among other things, had allowed American nuclear-armed warships to sail into Japanese ports in violation of Japan's non-nuclear policies. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, March 10, 2010]

“The existence of the pacts, known in Japan as the ''secret treaties,'' has long been known from declassified documents in the United States and the testimony of former American and Japanese diplomats. But successive prime ministers denied their existence, turning the agreements into a symbol for many Japanese of how insider-driven Liberal Democratic governments had turned their country into a stunted democracy run without full consent by the public.” [Ibid]

“After ending the Liberal Democrats' nearly unbroken 54-year grip on power last summer, the new Democratic Party government opened an investigation into the pacts as part of their promised housecleaning of Japan's postwar order. Exposing the truth about their nation's secret dealings with the United States was also part of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's pledge to put Tokyo on a more equal footing with Washington.” [Ibid]

“Japanese foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, said investigators had found evidence of clandestine agreements that also required Japan to pay for the cleanup of former American bases on Okinawa after that island's return to Japan in 1972. They also found evidence of an agreement giving the United States unrestricted use of its bases in Japan in the event of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula, he said. Many crucial documents had inexplicably disappeared, he said, though he said it was too early to know if they had been intentionally destroyed. Okada refused to answer questions about what would happen if the United States were to try to bring in nuclear weapons in the future. He also left vague whether American warships had actually brought nuclear weapons into Japan in the past. He said there was no evidence, but the possibility could not be denied.” [Ibid]

“The findings could push the Japanese public to face one of the biggest contradictions in Japan's postwar diplomacy: the reliance of this avowedly non-nuclear nation on the United States' nuclear deterrent for its security. “'This will lead us to ask new questions about Japan's current nuclear policy,'' Kazuhiko Togo, a retired diplomat who has written about the pacts and whose father, Fumihiko Togo, was a diplomat who helped negotiate them, told the New York Times. ''It was hard to ask these questions until now because there was a complete closing off of information.'' [Ibid]

American Community in Okinawa

military drill
Okinawans and the American troops live in two separate communities. The Americans live on military bases, with golf courses and swimming pools, that cover 20 percent of the main island of Okinawa and are surrounded by 10-foot-high barbed wire fences. "

Near the U.S. bases are clusters of bars and lap dancing clubs. Most interaction between the soldiers and Okinawans takes place at restaurants, shops and bars with names like "Be Girl," "Pyramid" and Bacchus. One Marine from California told Time, "Hey, we're 19-year-old guys, we're away from home, we're pumped up and we're horny. Of course it's all about sex." After watching a drunk serviceman weaving around on the road, one Okinawa resident told the Times of London, “We all pull clear. There are so many accidents.”

Describing the weekend scene outside Kadena Air Force in Chatan, Tim Larimer wrote in Time, "The crowd spills from the bars onto the sidewalks...The streets turn into a bacchanal of hard drinking, drag racing, loud music, sweaty dancing. Tattooed guys in muscle shirts and cargo pants rub against women in midriff-baring T-shirts and tight jeans."

In an effort to win hearts and minds in Okinawa, American soldiers give free English lessons, dress up like Santa Claus and delivering presents, and host face painting parties for kids.

Okinawa Economy and U.S. Military

Japan rents the land used for the American bases from 450 individuals. Landowners receive fairly generous rent from the Japanese government for land used by the U.S. military, but there are still numerous land disputes.

American servicemen were tolerated, especially when beer and food were cheap, and they brought in much needed money. But these days American soldiers only account for about 5 percent of the economic activity on Okinawa, down from 20 percent in the 1970s and 40 percent in the 1950s. Prices are so high that the soldiers can't spend as much as they used to. Businesses, whose customers used t be 70 percent American servicemen , now have none. There are only 30 bars down from 150 in the 1950s and 60s.

There is currently plan for the U.S. military bases to be removed from Okinawa by the year 2105 and for Okinawa to be a "cosmopolitan city" linking Japan and Southeast Asia. It is hoped tourism will replace the American military as a major income earner

Many Okinawans now rely more on tourists form Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for income than American soldiers and are concerned about protecting the environment for their ecotourism businesses.

U.S. to Keep Two Marine Units Intact While Moving 8,600 Troops from Okinawa

In March 2012, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The United States is set to maintain the command element of the U.S. Marine Corps' III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) in Okinawa Prefecture as part of a review of a 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces, it has been learned. The U.S. government also reiterated its intention to maintain the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a main combat unit of the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa Prefecture, according to both Japanese and U.S. government sources. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2012]

Currently, there are about 18,000 marines stationed in the prefecture. The two governments have agreed to relocate about 8,000 of them to Guam and other locations. While the U.S. government is determining the specific units and number of personnel to be transferred to Guam and other locations, it aims to maintain 10,000 troops in Okinawa Prefecture by relocating combat forces instead of the III MEF Command Element and the 2,200-strong 31st MEU, the sources said. By announcing it would leave the two units untouched, the United States indicated its belief that they are indispensible to its key frontline base against China and North Korea, according to observers. [Ibid]

A MEF is the largest unit of a marine task force, comprising a command element, a ground combat division, an air combat division and a logistics division. The III MEF, which is estimated to be staffed by 18,000 to 21,000 personnel, is headquartered at Camp Courtney in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, while the two other MEFs are based in California and North Carolina. The III MEF Command Element oversees marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture, including the helicopter squadron at Futenma Air Station in Ginowan. The III MEF Command Element is the only one of its kind outside the United States. It is commanded by a lieutenant general, who also serves as the Okinawa Area Coordinator, the leader of U.S. forces in the prefecture. [Ibid]

In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reportedly that a total of 8,600 U.S. marines are set to be relocated abroad from Okinawa Prefecture and that Tokyo and had agreed that Japan's financial assistance for the relocation, which has been the focus of attention in Japan, will include construction costs for training sites on the Tinian and Pagan islands of the Northern Mariana Islands, where the two governments plan joint defense drills. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2012]

According to the agreement, as the U.S. relocation has been scaled down, the total relocation cost to Guam will be lowered from the 10.27 billion dollars (837 billion yen) agreed upon in 2006 to 8.7 billion dollars. Japan will provide 3.12 billion dollars--the maximum amount of 2.8 million dollars agreed upon in 2009 in Guam, adjusted for inflation--in financial assistance. Because Japan will cover the cost of building training sites on Tinian and Pagan, construction costs for Guam facilities will also be lowered from the amount decided upon in the 2006 agreement. Of the 8,600 U.S. marines to be relocated, 4,000 will be sent to Guam, 2,600 to Hawaii, 1,200 to Australia and 800 to the U.S. mainland. [Ibid]

The number of U.S. marines based in Okinawa Prefecture in 2012 was now 19,500. Although the two governments had agreed to reduce the number of U.S. marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to 10,000, the 10,900 remaining soldiers will stay in the prefecture for the time being. [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 October 2013

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