How do Okinawans view the U.S. forces in Japan, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) bases, and the passing down of the experience of war to future generations? The results of the 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo Survey of Prefectural Residents offer a glimpse of the complex emotions Okinawans have regarding the U.S. bases. The survey also reveals that most residents believe the experience of the Battle of Okinawa should be passed down to future generations.
[The Ryukyu Shimpo Survey of Prefectural Residents is conducted every five years by Ryukyu Shimpo. The 2021 poll was conducted in November 2021 and is the fifth survey in the series, following the 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016 polls.]
Asked to name issues facing Okinawa today and given a list of responses to choose from (up to three responses permitted), 74.5% of residents said “low income,” making this the most frequently given response for the fourth consecutive survey since the 2006 poll. Regardless of age group and geographical area, most Okinawa residents see income level as problematic, and the percentages have increased substantially.
More respondents in the 2021 poll than in the previous polls identified “[U.S.] base issues” as a problem facing Okinawa today. In the 2001 survey, 36.3% of respondents gave that answer, while 46.1% of pollees cited base issues in the 2021 poll. Hoshino Eiichi (68), professor emeritus at the University of the Ryukyus, notes that interest in [U.S.] base issues differs by age group.
In the recent poll, 27.0% of respondents in their 20s identified base issues as a problem, the lowest percentage of any age group. The percentage increased by age group with some 62.2% of those age 70 or over citing the bases as a problem, the highest percentage of any age group. About the same percentage of those age 70 or over saw low income as a problem Okinawa faces (64.4%).
Asked how the U.S. bases in Okinawa should be handled, the most frequently given response overall was once again that “the bases should be reduced.” Adding in the percentage who said “the bases should be removed” and the total comes to over 60%, as in previous polls. The 2021 poll saw a change in view by age group. Around 45% of those in their 20s and 30s said that they are “unsure” how the bases should be handled, while 38% to 47% of those in their 40s to 60s said they “should be reduced” and 43.9% of those age 70 or over said that they “should be removed.” These are the most frequently given responses in the various age groups.
Looking at the responses to the two abovementioned questions, Professor Emeritus Hoshino suspects that “those with a strong interest in [U.S.] base issues have a strongly negative view of them while those with little interest are unsure about how they should be handled.” At the same time, he noted that Okinawans’ views on the U.S. military change with the number and types of incidents and accidents that occur and pointed out that trends should be monitored going forward.
Oshiro Shoko (41), part-time lecturer at Okinawa International University, analyzes the results of the question about passing down to future generations the experience of the Battle of Okinawa and the findings on the question about views on the U.S. bases in Okinawa.
A total of 92.4% of all respondents said that the experience of the Battle of Okinawa should be passed down either “more than” or “as much as” at present. This finding has remained at around 90% since the first survey in 2001. There is no major difference in view by age group. In other words, the majority of prefectural residents share this opinion. The 20s age group had the highest percentage of respondents who said that the experience of the Battle of Okinawa should be passed down “more than at present” (67.0%).
Yet, few respondents in their 20s or 30s said that the U.S. bases in Okinawa should be “removed” or “reduced,” and the most frequently given response in these two age groups was that they are “unsure how the U.S. bases should be handled.” Lecturer Oshiro sees this as an indication that Okinawans in the younger age group view the Battle of Okinawa as separate from the U.S. bases. She points out that “the connection between the Battle of Okinawa and the U.S. bases should be made when relating the experience of the battle and reflecting on the history of the Okinawan people, who ‘supported’ Japan’s war of aggression.”
The majority of all respondents said that they are “unsure” about how they view the SDF bases, with this trend being strongest among the younger age groups. Oshiro comments: “Residents who had their land expropriated for the U.S. military bases are in a situation where their communities have been destroyed and rebuilding is hard. This relates to the SDF base issues on Ishigaki, Miyako, Yonaguni, Kitadaito, and Amami Oshima islands.”
[Polling methodology: For the  survey, Okinawa was divided into five geographical districts, 17 municipalities were selected from them, and 100 locations were further selected based on the population ratio. Based on the population in each location, pollees were randomly selected from the registry of voters. The survey was conducted of a total of 4,000 prefectural residents age 20 or over. Questionnaires were sent out on Nov. 1, and responses were received from 953 people by postal mail or via the online questionnaire by the deadline of Nov. 24.]