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Reviewed by:
  • Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa
  • Robert D. Eldridge (bio)
Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa. By Miyume Tanji. Routledge, London, 2006. xix, 234 pages. $170.00.

Hailing from Japan's northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido, Miyume Tanji examines the "political responses" of the people of the country's southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, to "their abuse and marginalization" (p. 2). [End Page 193] Capably and in much helpful detail, she demonstrates that the response of the Okinawans is more complex than is generally thought and that the "protest community" is less "unified, homogenous, and single-minded" than most observers recognize. Indeed, Tanji convincingly argues that "in the long history of protest in Okinawa, the defining character has been internal diversity and differences" (p. 3).

Myth, Protest and Struggle is divided into nine chapters and a conclusion, and looks at the myths (which Tanji defines as "a story or a narrative that resonates in the community of protest") during and after three waves of protest, adopting the chronological markers of antiwar/antibase activist and scholar Arasaki Moriteru (p. 6). After theoretical and empirical discussions on social movements in general, assimilation in Japan, and pacifism in Okinawa in chapters 2 through 4, Tanji examines the three waves of the postwar period: opposition to U.S. military land acquisition in the 1950s (chapter 5), the movement toward reversion in the 1960s (chapter 6), and rise in opposition to the bases after a 1995 rape incident involving U.S. servicemen (chapter 9). Chapters 7 and 8 consider what Tanji calls the "low" period in mass protests. The focus here is on the antiwar landowners' movement, which "provided the 'glue' needed to build an anti-base coalition" (p. 107) following reversion in 1972, and on environmental movements in Kin Bay in the 1970s and Shiraho, Ishigaki City, in the 1980s and 1990s, which "influenced the strategies and philosophy of subsequent Okinawans' protests against the U.S. bases" (p. 127) in the latter half of the 1990s.

Early on, Tanji makes clear that she is questioning not the movement's existence "but its mode of existence," stating that the "single most important characteristic of the movement's life is its informality" (p. 7). She uses various "undocumented experiences and memories" and "unwritten histories" to demonstrate the "mythic character" of the movement. Along the way, Tanji, partisan on the side of the antibase movement, consciously or unconsciously creates or perpetuates myths that the reviewer would like to correct for the benefit of the readers. The first several concern the U.S. military presence.

First, she repeats the often-used figure of Okinawa Prefecture hosting "75 per cent of the U.S. forces deployed in Japan," which confuses number of personnel, area of facilities, and type of facilities. Seventy-five per cent represents "exclusive use facilities" (sen'yō shisetsu) in Okinawa, not the percentage of forces in the prefecture. That percentage is lower—69 per cent (out of approximately 32,800 U.S. troops in Japan, 22,700 are nominally in Okinawa). In fact, many are deployed and so the actual number is far lower. Less commonly cited data include the fact that approximately 23 per cent of the area of all types of U.S. bases in Japan is located in Okinawa, and 42 per cent of the number of exclusive use facilities (37 bases out of 89 throughout the country) are in Okinawa. The figure for U.S. military personnel in Okinawa is closer to 50 per cent, but many are deployed, often in humanitarian [End Page 194] operations such as Operation Unified Assistance after the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami, or in Theater Security Cooperation–related activities to promote trust, transparency, and confidence-building measures throughout the region. Second, Tanji describes the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) as one that excludes the U.S. military from local jurisdictions. That is far from the case, and the U.S. and Japanese governments and police have developed a close working relationship that helps to overcome most perceived political problems with the SOFA. Moreover, she does not mention that more often than not the military's prosecution of an accused will be even more vigorous than that by civilian courts...


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