By TSUKASA KIMURA
NAHA--Could Okinawa become an independent state? Five Okinawans formed a group to study the possibility on May 15, the 41st anniversary of the island prefecture's reversion to Japanese sovereignty.
While only a minority of Okinawans are calling for independence, a growing distrust among islanders toward those on the mainland, who have left the southern prefecture burdened with U.S military bases, could lead to more empathy for the idea.
Okinawa Prefecture accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s landmass, but it hosts 74 percent of all U.S. military bases in the country.
The group, “Ryukyu Minzoku Dokuritsu Sogo Kenkyu Gakkai” (Ryukyu tribal independence general study association), is led by Yasukatsu Matsushima, an economics professor at Ryukoku University.
The members plan to conduct research on Scots who seek independence from Britain as well as on the possible effects on the local economy if all U.S. bases are withdrawn.
Matsushima decided to form the group after he heard about a meeting of prefectural governors in 2010. At the meeting, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima demanded that central and local governments significantly reduce Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. military bases, but almost no governors supported him.
“To achieve a breakthrough on the bases issue, discussions on the option of independence are necessary,” said Matsushima.
The argument for Okinawa's independence stems from the “anti-reversion theory,” which was propounded around 1970 when Okinawa was still under U.S. administration. The theory stated that it is an illusion to believe Okinawans can live a peaceful life under Japanese sovereignty.
But the idea failed to gain widespread support from islanders at the time.
“Expectations for the return to Japanese sovereignty were so great that the anti-reversion theory was largely ignored,” said Akira Arakawa, 81, who advocated the theory.
Arakawa said he pins his hopes on the new group formed by Matsushima and his colleagues.
“Okinawans have continued to be betrayed by Japan after they were returned to Japanese administration, and some support the idea of independence,” Arakawa said.
Kantoku Teruya, 67, a Lower House member from the Okinawa No. 2 district, mentioned the new study group on his blog.
The entry in April comes under the sensational heading, “Okinawa finally becoming independent from Yamato." Okinawans refer to the Japanese mainland as Yamato.
“It is sad to discuss independence, but we should have enough backbone to discuss it (to call attention to Okinawa's problems),” Teruya, of the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview. “The call for independence represents an objection filed against the nation of not treating its people the way it should.”
According to Teruya, some people on the mainland sympathetic with Okinawans regarding the U.S. bases issue have told him that the tiny island prefecture should break away from Japan.
But Teruya said he has a key question for such people.
"I want to ask whether they are prepared to take on the U.S. bases (abandoned by Okinawa) on the Japanese mainland," he said.