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Okinawa is an Island on Earth, not a Different Planet

Date Posted: 2000-03-05

This week, we publish a letter that was recently sent to us by a very attentive reader. It is only one in many letters, phone calls and emails that we receive very often as feedback to the efforts we make daily to provide our readers with the best information they deserve.

Some letters have complained about the fact that we now publish a lot of material on children’s activities, while others praise us for including those stories in our newspaper, thereby proving that the children on this island must be recognized for their contributions to the life of the island. Other letters mention with regret our emphasis on reporting all major Japanese cultural events when they would rather have a list of all the parties going on from Nago to Naha. At the same time, even more messages of support come in to congratulate the newspaper of being a catalyst of unity within the community, a bridge between local Okinawans and foreigners, by providing information that encourages and promotes cultural exchange. Others have congratulated and thanked us for opening up to religious leaders and their activities, hence involving their congregations in the partnership, while some just think that we should never mention the name of God in our newspaper.

Of course, no human enterprise is perfect. We cannot satisfy everyone, and we cannot become the world’s best newspaper overnight, with the meagre resources that are ours. But we can safely say that there is a conscious ongoing effort here to make things better, taking into account contributions from our readers and partners. We accept all opinions and constructive criticisms. That is why we have published the letter.

The main idea here, as always, has always been to give out as much information as possible on activities in Okinawa, preferably those that bring together the US Military community, the local nationals and the other foreigners living on the island. Japan Update has been doing that for over 10 years, and intends to continue in that light. Japan Update is - and will be for a good amount of time to come, the main English language source of news and information on Okinawa. We therefore accept any advice to apply that part of our mandate with more rigor. We are currently experiencing a shortage of bilingual (Japanese/English) reporters, and we promise to bring even more local events and entertainment as soon as we have recruited qualified people to fill the vacancies. We refuse to fill the newspaper with poor information, just because we want to give you news about Okinawa. But we pledge to give you more whenever we can.

However, although Okinawa is an island, it is not at all detached from the rest of the world. At this time in the history of humanity, with modern communications, sattelite technology and the Internet revolution, people living in Okinawa cannot isolate themselves from what is going on in Mainland Japan, in the Southeast Asia region, in the rest of Asia or in the world. Financial decisions made in New York can have a major impact on Japan’s economy as a whole, and a statement made by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or Defence Secretary Herman Cohen, in Washington, DC, could have lasting effect on US-Japan relations and the US Military bases in Okinawa.

Besides, the current US primaries certainly have a high degree of importance for quite a good number of Americans living on this island. Even Japanese students in the major high schools and universities here, who are studying politics, American contemporary history or world affairs, have something to learn from the current political process in that great nation. You don’t have to like the United States, or to have any particular motivation, to realize that a US presidential race at the beginning of a New Millennium can have a major impact on the whole world. Japan Update never transformed the US into the world’s only superpower with dozens of military bases and tens of thousands of military personnel and their families living on Okinawa; it is a fact we must live with.

If President Clinton, for any reason, cannot make it to the G-8 Summit in Okinawa this coming July, the Vice-president, Democratic candidate Al Gore, may have to interrupt his campaign to come to Okinawa. If President Clinton makes it, who knows if he would come with or without his wife Hillary, now campaigning for the Senate seat in New York? There are lots of women’s groups on Okinawa - local and military - that are currently preparing venues and imagining events to host the US First Lady, in case she comes. Japan Update also has the duty to continue giving them the necessary information, from time to time, on those political activities in the US that may have even the slightest impact on the local life here.

Just bear in mind that any of the candidates’ economic, fiscal, health, foreign or defence policies will obviously have a direct impact on several Americans living on Okinawa. Moreover, Okinawa, being the place with the greatest number of US bases in this region - and where many local businesses rely heavily on the Miltary market - will obviously be the first place in Asia to feel the impact if a change of power in the United States brings with it a major shift in policies.

In providing information to our readers on US politics, we have NOT made the mistake of writing stories about topics already “dissected and discussed ad nauseam in the International Herald Tribune, the Japan Times, the USA Today and the Stars and Stripes.” Our articles on the US presidential campaign are timely. We monitor the results of each primary that takes place on Tuesday in the US, or Wednesday in Okinawa - and the last results do not come in till very late on Wednesday afternoon. So, by the time the newspapers are out on Thursday morning, we have our own version of the political events, just like the others. We are neither behind nor ahead of the big international newspapers; and that is the only reason why we do it.

By the way, not everyone on Okinawa has access to the International Herald Tribune. Not all families get a copy of the Japan Times, or even know what it is. Not everyone working on a US Military base, or that has access to one, reads USA Today. And, believe it or not, only a few English speakers in Okinawa, military, civilian and local citizens alike, actually read the Stars and Stripes. So, the fact that they cover any story cannot - and should not - stop the Japan Update from covering it too if the event in question can have even a remote impact on the island’s future. The Washington Post does not write only about events in DC, and the New York Times does not cover only events in New York. All newspapers have a national and international dimension, which certainly cannot be more important than their local news content, but which must exist to give them greater credibility. We are a local newspaper with an international dimension, and we must maintain that.

This very Friday, all the students of Kadena High School will be participating in a great political awareness event - a mock Super Tuesday primary election (read page ....). The event in itself means that there are obviously people in Okinawa, most of whom are readers of the Japan Update, that are interested in US politics and would like to be informed about the once-every-four-years presidential primaries. We cannot leave them behind, even in our quest to be the best source of information on Okinawa.

If and when hostilities between China and Taiwan do escalate, it is obvious that several US Air Force, Marines, Navy and Army staff would be mobilized here in Okinawa to play their primary role of safeguarding regional security. It is not going against our readers’ interests to inform them of events in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, Korea, etc. We still give Okinawan news and events a priority, and we pledge to continue giving more information on island activities. But we cannot neglect newsworthy events going on around Asia, in the United States and the rest of the world. Okinawa is an island, but it is not a separate planet.

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