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Kevin Maher calls Okinawans 'lazy': Former Consul General lambasts Okinawans

Date Posted: 2011-03-13

The former Consul General at the American Consulate Naha, now the principal U.S. official in charge of Japanese affairs at the State Department has stirred a hornet’s nest after reports surfaced he described Japanese culture of maintaining social harmony as a means of “extortion”, while at the same time characterizing Okinawans as “lazy”.

Kevin Maher, who headed the U.S. State Department consular operations at the American Consulate Naha from 2006~2009, is said to have made the comments during a speech given in Washington D.C. in December. Written accounts from students who attended the American University lecture given by the 56-year-old Maher described Okinawan people as “masters of manipulation and extortion” in their relations with the central government in Tokyo. Maher is now chief of the Japanese Affairs Office at the State Department headquarters in Washington.

Accounts of Maher’s speech found their way to Japan’s Kyodo News. The former consul general has rebuffed queries, saying ‘‘I am not in a position to comment on the record at this time.’’ What Maher is saying is that his briefing was an off-the-record event, and that the account made available to Kyodo News is ‘‘neither accurate nor complete.’‘

A 30-year State Department veteran, Maher has been involved in bilateral negotiations with Japan over the controversial issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station. He’s been on record as advocating a plan to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago City in northern Okinawa, a plan that has stirred anger among Okinawans, particularly within the past year.

A scholar on postwar Okinawan history, Teruo Hiyane , calls Maher’s remarks ‘‘racially discriminating against Okinawa,’’ while former Japanese diplomat Ukeru Magosakisaid Maher’s reported view on Japan is ‘‘biased and completely distorted.’‘ Maher spoke on December 3rd at the request of American University to a group of 14 students just before they began a study tour to Tokyo and Okinawa.

Maher isquoted as saying, ‘‘Consensus building is important in Japanese culture. While the Japanese would call this ‘consensus,’ they mean ‘extortion’ and use this culture of consensus as a means of extortion.’ By pretending to seek consensus,” he said, “people try to get as much money as possible.” Maher also criticized people in Okinawa as being ‘‘too lazy to grow ‘goya’ , a popular locally grown vegetable in the southern prefecture.

Speaking about Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan, Maher allegedly said while Okinawans claim the base is the most dangerous in the world, they know that is it not true. He said civilian airports in Fukuoka and Osaka are ‘‘just as dangerous”. Maher was quoted as saying that the Japanese government ‘‘needs to tell the Okinawan governor, ‘if you want money, sign it,’’ in reference to the Futenma relocation plan.

Students who produced notes of Maher’s speech said he definitely made the remarks, with at least one saying it was surprising to hear statements full of bias from a person with a position in the U.S. government. Maher, who has also been posted to Tokyo and Fukuoka, says he ‘‘cannot control how individual students themselves might interpret remarks’’ and ‘‘it would therefore not be appropriate’’ to attribute any specific remarks to him ‘‘based upon secondhand information coming from students or others.’‘

While assigned to Okinawa In the summer of 2008, Maher stirred controversy after he questioned why the local authorities were allowing the construction of homes in the residential area around the Futenma base. Plaintiffs seeking damages over noise from the U.S. base presented him with a written demand calling on him to immediately leave Okinawa. Magosaki, former head of the international intelligence office at the Foreign Ministry, said he had the impression that ‘‘U.S. officials in charge of recent U.S.-Japan negotiations shared ideas like those of Mr. Maher,’’ adding ‘‘in that sense, his remarks were not especially distorted.’‘

Hiyane, professor emeritus of the University of the Ryukyus, said he ‘‘cannot overlook’’ remarks describing Okinawans as ‘‘lazy’’ and ‘‘masters of manipulation and extortion,’’ adding Maher’s remarks represent ‘‘a blatant mentality of occupation.’‘ He also took the U.S. to task, noting ‘‘The U.S. military has for over 60 years after the war occupied land best fit for agriculture in Okinawa. Were it not for American bases on Okinawa, the economy including agriculture would have been different.’’

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