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Okinawans pay homage to island’s 1972 reversion to Japan

Date Posted: 2008-05-24

Peace marches drew thousands over the past week as Okinawa commemorated the prefecture’s reversion to Japanese control 36 years ago.

Okinawa was officially returned to Japan May 15, 1972, after being under U.S. administration and control since the end of World War II. Peace marches, which have been an annual event during the commemoration, which some years included ceremonies.

Ginowan City’s Kaihin Park was the focal point of this year’s three-day march May 16th ~ 18th, with several thousand Okinawan and a similar number of mainland Japanese beginning the walk from three different start points across Okinawa. Shiko Sakiyama, chairman of the Okinawa Peace Campaign Center, led the speakers at Kaihin Park.

“We have a process for a great campaign to make a peaceful Okinawa,” Sakiyama told the assembled crowd, “and we must get rid of military bases.” Ginowan City’s anti-bases mayor, Youichi Iha, echoed the call that “we have to fight until the military bases are gone from Okinawa.” Iha also made the appeal that “bases should not be spreading to all of Japan.”

Most of the peace marchers were older Okinawans, mainland Japanese and members of activist anti-military or anti-bases groups. The younger generation, says a professor at Okinawa Kokusai University, doesn’t even remember the days when Okinawa was under American administration.

Professor Manabu Sato conducted his own survey on the question, asking his students the significance of May 15th. Only 13% of his students knew the answer, he says. Not only that, they knew nothing about the term ‘rebirth’ which some attributed to Okinawa’s new life after reversion. Students told Sato “We are Japanese since birth. There is no special ceremony for rebirth and nobody cares about rebirth anymore. It was 36 years ago.”

Other students said they learn history in school, but that classroom lessons are easily forgotten when school finishes. Professor Sato says “It’s very important to let students understand about rebirth, and also the importance of May 15th. Another student told the professor “I’ve heard about rebirth but haven’t had a chance to discuss it, so I don’t know the day or the word. Nobody speaks about rebirth anymore.”

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