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SECURITY > Okinawa

GSDF’s presence triggers shift in consciousness of Yonaguni residents

  • June 1, 2017
  • , p. 12
  • JMH Translation

One year has passed since the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) newly formed a coastal observation unit on Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni, Okinawa Prefecture. The population of the small island has obviously increased as a result, but there has also been an adverse effect that had not been anticipated.


Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama took the initiative in bringing the GSDF to the island. He had previously asked the central government to designate Yonaguni as a special district to revitalize the island by increasing exchanges with Taiwan. But the proposal was turned down. Then he came up with the idea of revitalizing the island by hosting the GSDF, which turned out to be successful.


At the ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the GSDF unit’s establishment on the Yonaguni base, Hokama said with a smile, “GSDF members and residents are actively communicating with each other.” But his remarks carried a hidden message about a new problem that the island faces.


The population of the island rose by 203 to 1,693 people after 160 GSDF members and their families moved to the island. The number of students at Yonaguni Elementary School had been on the decline, but after receiving the new students, the number increased from 50 in the previous fiscal year to 69, allowing the school to stop combining different grade levels in the same class.


The Ministry of Defense (MOD) spread the 160 GSDF officers out to the island’s nine districts as requested by the Yonaguni municipal government in a bid to integrate the GSDF personnel into the island. When a meeting was held at a community center in Sonai District last month, about 20 people attended, half of whom were GSDF members.


While the attendance rate of GSDF members at the meeting was nearly 100%, that of local residents was extremely low. There was a time when Yonaguni Island held a referendum on whether or not to accept the GSDF after the tiny island became sharply divided over the issue..


The residents who didn’t attend the meeting were not only those who oppose and are unhappy with the GSDF’s presence. What is problematic is that many local residents who supported the GSDF’s presence were absent as well. One local resident says, “I have a feeling that I don’t need to engage (in local activities) because the Self-Defense Force is doing it.” As a result of the active communication between the GSDF and local residents, local residents have started to rely on the GSDF, according to the mayor.


This problem will have a more serious impact when it comes to elections. It has become certain that GSDF members and their families, who account for 17.4% of the island’s eligible voters, will have a strong influence on elections. Chiyoki Tasato, a member of the town assembly, says, “Mayoral candidates who are critical of the Ground Self-Defense Force won’t be able to win.” He also points out that Yonaguni will become “a GSDF island” both in name and reality.

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