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Response to letters to Japan Update concerning Okinawa Internationalization

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-16

Recently, Japan Update received quite a few comments about an article that I wrote, which was titled "Okinawa lacks the foundation for internationalization." I would first like to thank all the readers of Japan Update, who occasionally write us. We always appreciate your comments, and it helps us to determine the kind of topics that our readers are most interested in. I would further like to invite more readers to send in their comments, or any opinions they may have concerning any issue.

The article I wrote, which appeared on the front page of the April 30 - May 6 (Volume 12, No. 18) issue of Japan Update, seemed to have touched a nerve with many of our readers, but I would like to address some of the readers, who I feel misinterpreted the article's meaning. I wrote the article not out of feeling frustrated as a foreigner living in Okinawa, nor because I felt that there are any prejudices involved in some of the points that I focused on. In not one line did I mention the word "racism" or "discrimination", nor did I make any references to either word. "Racism" is a term that is played with and used too much by the media. We much too often overlook common things that happen in everyday life, which show the good side of human beings.

We should never confuse racism with misinformation and inexperience. The obstacles that Okinawa faces in becoming an international resort island are not because of racism. I am not saying that racism does not exist on the island. Racism, unfortunately, still exists everywhere in the world, at all different levels, but I don't feel that it is the reason for impeding Okinawa's potential to becoming a true cosmopolitan island. I feel the shortcomings of Okinawa are caused by the inability by the Prefectural Government to put into action a realistic plan to "internationalize".

One of the major problems within the government that has resulted in some of the problems I discussed in the article is a lack of experts in different fields. The system of government that exists has members changing sections every two years, making it difficult to properly complete any new projects along the originally intended guidelines. Employees are often handed jobs, for which they have no experience, often causing total inefficiency. If more consultants and experts from outside the government were contracted to supervise projects for internationalization, many of the difficulties could be overcome. This applies to the education system also. Many government officials feel that it needs to be revised, but actions to initiate change have been slow. The system makes workers fall into a rhythm, which makes it easier to simply follow what was done in the past, as opposed to trying something new.

A recent change within the system, which will allow foreigners to apply for jobs within the Prefectural Government will hopefully be a step in the right direction.

However, I believe that everyone can be part of a solution to some of the problems that Okinawa is now facing. We need to work together to become more "internationalized". It is also up to foreigners, as well as Okinawans, to become more involved in what is happening on the island. Too many people complain, but never act. Problems can only be solved through communication and action. There are many foreigners and Okinawan citizens that have formed organizations, and who are individually acting to help facilitate internationalization. Many of these groups, such as the French Okinawa Association, have been featured in the Japan Update. There are also many events that happen throughout the year, which draw thousands of people of all different races, all focusing on one goal. Just a few weeks ago, Japanese elementary school students and American students came together at the Sunabe Sea Wall to paint environmental messages for Earth Day. The organizers of these events are doing their part in society to create a positive change, and they are focusing on our most precious resource- children.

There is no "paradise" on earth, but we should always be striving to build one. Citizens and grass-roots movements can have big impacts on society. The Prefectural Government may not have the ability to grasp the true meaning of internationalization, but it is our responsibility as citizens to help change that.

For those of us that truly love this island, we must believe that our voices and actions will bring about positive change. Letís all be a part of the solution.

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