By Sugimoto Koji
Revisions were made to remarks that Prime Minister Kishida Fumio delivered at the May 15 event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion. The word “yorisou” [stand with someone or give in-depth consideration to others’ feelings] was deleted from the original draft.
In a question-and-answer session held on April 28 at a Lower House plenary session following the adoption of a Diet resolution to call for promoting the Okinawa economy and reducing the base-hosting burden on the prefecture, Kishida pledged to “make tangible progress in reducing the base-hosting burden in consideration of [yorisou] the feelings of the Okinawa people.” Kishida’s original speech on the Okinawa reversion included “yorisou,” but its inclusion provoked a backlash.
“The word ‘yorisou’ creates the impression that there is a distance between oneself from others, which means that Okinawa is regarded as being separate from the mainland Japan,” says Lower House member Kokuba Konosuke, who hails from Okinawa and was elected to the Lower House from the Kyushu proportional representation constituency. He belongs to the Kishida faction (Kochikai) and serves as a special advisor to the LDP president. He lobbied Kishida and other people in the government not to use “yorisou” in the speech for the reversion ceremony.
Kokuba was born in January 1973, eight months after Okinawa’s reversion. The late Okinawa Governor Nishime Junji once described how the Okinawan people felt in their hearts as “they want to become Yamatonchu [mainland Japanese] but cannot become one.” Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Nishime Kosaburo, the third son of the former governor, says that “for people in my generation, that kind of feelings has been already petered out, and when it comes to Kokuba’s generation, who were born after the reversion, they do not have such a feeling at all.”
Kishida’s decision not to use the word “yorisou” reassured the Okinawan people that they are indeed brothers and sisters of people from the other 46 prefectures. The challenges facing Okinawa will become clearer if others take Okinawa’s problems as their own.
Okinawa’s per capita income is the lowest in Japan and child poverty in the prefecture is twice the national average. According to a poll on people’s awareness released by the prefecture in March, 42.1% of people surveyed answered that politics should give top priority to “promoting measures to address child poverty.” The percentage was the highest among all respondents. Meanwhile, the “promotion of resolution of base issues” was ranked fourth.
One factor behind the prefecture’s child poverty is the weak manufacturing sector. Twenty-seven years of U.S. military rule made the local economy dependent on imports and failed
to incubate manufacturing industries. LDP-led economic promotion measures mostly focused on large public works projects, and reformist forces, which should have pursued the improvement of people’s social welfare, poured most of their energy into “anti-U.S. and anti-base” campaigns.
How can we relieve the pain of Okinawans? To deal with issues facing Okinawa, we must address these as our own problems and need to “pay heed” not only to calls expressed in loud voices but also to calls raised in softer voices that hardly draw political attention.