On January 27 this year, a large group of residents from Okinawa prefecture – including mayors, assembly members and labor union leaders – gathered in the glitzy streets of Ginza in Tokyo to protest the deployment of MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft to a U.S. military base on the southern island. As the Okinawan protest marched by, a large group of people also gathered by the sidewalks, carrying their hinomaru rising-sun flags (Japanese war flag) and raining insults and threats on the protesting southerners.
The sidewalk crowd were shouting “You traitors!” Another common insult was “Get out of Japan!” The fact was that the seeds of the motion to stop the protest started online. A women’s group called Soyokaze (literally “Breath of wind”) and other such organizations had posted on internet forums and message boards urging people to discourage the protest by the Okinawans. When videos of the march were later posted around the Internet, their comment boxes were filled with a flood of racist comments and conspiracy theories – linking the Okinawans either to China or North Korea. The commenters were of the opinion that the Okinawa residents were deliberately trying to weaken Japan’s defenses and give China an advantage in the escalating territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Most comments said that “left-wingers in Okinawa are Chinese spies” and the protesters are “receiving funding from China.”
Others believed that North Koreans were trying to compromise the US-Japan mutual defense agreements by funding and backing the anti-U.S. base sentiment in Okinawa Prefecture. A man posted a message that said, “People who are protesting the Osprey are ethnic Korean residents in Japan,” without any backing of evidence to his statements. The same man said in an e-mail that “most Okinawans do not feel uncomfortable about the stationing of the U.S. military” – obviously oblivious to the fact that mayors and assembly members elected by the people of Okinawa were the ones who led the protest.
Takeshi Taira, deputy managing editor of the Okinawa Times, remembered decades past when Okinawa’s popularity was spreading across Japan. With TV actors and singers from the prefecture becoming immensely popular, so rose the nation’s favor for its southernmost prefecture. Now, he says, the feelings toward Okinawa have become hostile. “It is distinctly different from what I thought Japan’s mainland is like,” he said. Admittedly, there are movements in Okinawa that point towards the prefecture separating from Japan and becoming an independent entity. One of the pioneers of such ideas is Yasukatsu Matsushima, a 50-year-old economics professor at Ryukoku University who has been verbally calling for Okinawa’s independence from Japan. Matsushima has received death threats, but they have not stopped him from creating awareness of his ideas. “People concerned about the threat from China have attacked me, saying, ‘Do you intend to betray Japan?’ ” Matsushima said. “But Okinawans have long been betrayed by Japan following the war.”
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