Okinawa, located in the southernmost prefecture in Japan, is a nature-rich area consisting of 49 inhabited islands and countless uninhabited islands. About 1.39 million people live in these islands.
Okinawa is the only place that experienced ground battle during World War II. The disastrous battle of Okinawa claimed some 200,000 lives. This includes some 95,000 civilians and 12,500 American military personnel. Tragic incidents are still well remembered by many, such as the mass suicides when many residents, including children, were forced by the Japanese military to take their own lives. The history of U.S. military bases in Okinawa has been shaped by U.S. military occupation during World War II and the subsequent forced confiscation of lands under U.S. rule.
Today, approximately 21,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Okinawa, of which 12,000 are Marine Corps. Together with their families, this amounts to approximately 40,000 residents stationed on the islands. The number of military personnel in the prefecture amounts to about half of the total number of U.S. military personnel stationed throughout Japan. In Okinawa, there are 33 facilities exclusively for the U.S. military, 29 water areas for military training and security, and 20 air force facilities.
Due to the overwhelming presence of the U.S. military in Okinawa, they are often called the “Islands of Military Bases.” While Okinawa’s population accounts for only 1% of the total Japanese population, a disproportionate 74% of all U.S. military facilities are located in Okinawa, covering more than 10% of the Okinawan prefecture. For an area that only amounts to 0.6% of mainland Japan, this situation places an inequitable burden on the Okinawan people.
Equally significantly is that fact that 19% of Okinawa’s main island – the demographic and industrial center of Okinawa – is occupied by U.S. military bases. Residents are forced to live adjacent to the base, in less desirable areas outside the vast U.S. military bases, which occupy most of the flatlands, impeding further economic and industrial development.