At the center of Okinawa Island, in Koza, visitors and locals are greeted by a large billboard of a young Asian woman. She is, by any normative standard, “exotic.” She is local, yet has blond undulating hair and blue eyes that gaze at the viewer. The bingata kimono, which was traditionally designed for Ryukyu Kingdom royalty, is sliding off the woman’s shoulders, exposing her cleavage, and her crossed legs are slightly revealed at the hem. She is holding a guitar representing the significant influence of rock music from the US military bases in this town. In the background, there is a sunset reminiscent of the Japanese national flag, with bingata design decorations scattered over the sun. The pink English-language lettering on the billboard says “Welcome to Koza.” The Japanese phrase right beneath it reads “Ban lifted in Koza.”
Koza was a name given to the city by the US military in 1956 during the occupation of the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR).1 Known as a red-light district with A-sign bars during the occupation, Koza continues to exist as a US military rest and recreation zone (R&R)—34 percent of the city is still occupied by the base.2 In many ways, the billboard discursively performs the multiple ways in which the dual empires of the United States and Japan constitute a raced, gendered, and sexualized narrative of postcolonial Okinawans’ lives and social landscapes. In this essay, I unpack the imperial entanglement of dual empires and discuss how tourism and militarism together create conditions for heterosexual relations between local women and US GIs, particularly as parts of Okinawa are staged as US military rest and recreation zones.
The history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Kingdom has been marked by Japanese invasion and colonization since 1609, and then by a US military government at the end of World War II, followed by USCAR from 1950 to 1972. During the USCAR occupation of Okinawa, Japan regained its sovereignty [End Page 583] from the United States. Japan was a modern nation-state, but it also maintained a subordinate position in relationship to the United States, even as the Japanese economy reasserted its hegemony in East Asia.3 Since then, Okinawa has arguably existed as an internal colony of Japan and a military colony of the United States.
Today, even though Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total landmass, it is burdened with 73.8 percent of the US military bases in Japan under the US–Japan Security Treaty. Recently, President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton promoted the further American militarization of Okinawa and the wider Asia-Pacific region. Continuously, the Okinawan people’s right to self-determination has been denied by both nation-states.4 For instance, in 2014, 80 percent of Okinawans voiced their opposition to the construction of a US base in the northern part of the island, Henoko-Oura Bay, and formed the All Okinawa Council (AOC), or Kenpakusho shomagurumi kaigi. As a result, Okinawans elected the current Okinawan governor Takeshi Onaga in June 2014, and the AOC supports around-the-clock sit-in protests at Oura Bay. On October 13, 2015, Governor Onaga revoked the land reclamation permit for the construction of the US military base that had been granted by his predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima. Many Okinawans were relieved and hopeful that their right to self-determination and democracy would be honored. However, the Japanese Defense Ministry quickly filed an “appeal” against Onaga’s revocation.
The AOC sent twenty-six delegates to Washington, DC, to discuss Okinawa’s democratic will with US congressional representatives in November 2015. I accompanied the delegation as a staff member. This meeting continues a history of Okinawan efforts against both empires, fighting concurrently for demilitarization, decolonization, democracy, sovereignty, and the right to self-determination. In the 1940s many Okinawans hoped the US presence in the archipelago would decolonize Okinawa from Japan. The twenty-seven years of USCAR occupation, however, proved similar to Japanese imperialism in many ways. In...