Although you can call both Guam and Okinawa colonies, there have been historically different in terms of decolonization discussion. Both were incorporated into a colonial country which took steps to destroy the culture and dictate the levels of the colonized people. Both of them receive benefits from the colonial relationship, but have also been mistreated or afforded a lower status. Although both have a high level of inclusion with their colonizer, and have assimilated and accepted much of the way their colonizer wanted them to exist, they nonetheless still struggle with very practical feelings of difference. Both feel that they have not just a casual difference with their colonizer, but one that their history of colonization insists be taken seriously. But while Guam has spent the past 30 years developing a lexicon for discussing political status and decolonization there, has Okinawa undergone a similar way of creating a framework for speaking of their colonial status and how it might be resolved?
In 2006, I helped provide a tour to a group of activists from Japan who wanted to see Guam, since it had just the Fall before been put on the radar of Japanese peace activists by being named the site of Marines being transferred out of Okinawa. Over the years I've given tours and spoken to many such delegations, but this was the first that I can recall. The delegation was a nice mix of activists from different communities across Japan who are the unfortunate hosts to US military bases or training areas. The oldest of the visiting activists was a trade union leader from Okinawa.
I remember asking him as well as the other (mainland) Japanese activists about Okinawa. Most importantly for me was wanting to learn more about how Okinawans understood their former and current colonization and if they had any feelings similar to some on Guam where they wanted to resolve that unequal relationship even to the point of possibly seeking independence from the colonizer. In other words, I knew that Okinawa, like Guam, didn't quite fit in with the rest of the country that claimed it, and so were there people who didn't just feel that difference, but seek to act upon it, and seek to decolonize the relationship between Okinawa and the rest of Japan?
This older Okinawan activist responded in the way most did to my question over the years. They would argue for a clear difference, but a cultural one and not a political one. The Okinawan people see things different and may want different things not because they have different political dreams, but because they have been distinct from mainland Japanese culture for so long. He said that Japanese and Okinawans are different in terms of culture, and argued for the need to protect that distinct culture.. He did not however, claim any political difference beyond simple discrimination. No real desire for a different political relationship. He did not refer to any aspirations for a political existence that allowed one to politically protect that culture, but simply accepted the politics of their subordination and argued instead that the realm of culture is where the differences and distinctiveness issue should be directed. In other words, this activist admitted to the way colonization had damaged himself, his culture and his language, but did not see any political way of understanding that.
For years everyone I would meet from Okinawa would make similar statements. It was intriguing the way the older the person was, the more they would see it as a mere cultural difference and beg off any political aspects to their struggle. They would hear about Guam, its history and its colonial present, and see so many connections there, and feel good that the people of Guam were working towards decolonization, but never seem to reflect on what that might mean for themselves.
In 2010 I met the first Okinawan activist who said something a little bit different. Her name was Shinako and she travelled with myself and Bruce Gagnon from The Global Network on a solidarity trip to South Korea. Throughout the trip we would speak about what was going on in our communities and around the world. I learned alot about Okinawa by listening to her presentations and just asking her questions. While riding in a taxi cab in Seoul one afternoon, she remarked to me about how the way I talked about Guam, as needing to be decolonized, made a lot of sense for analyzing or understanding Okinawa's situation as well. Although very few people there think of it that way, through ideas of for example independence from Japan, it made a lot of sense to consider the work that she and others were doing to be decolonial in nature. She even went on to use the term "self-determination," and Okinawa needing more self-determination.
The first component to this conference is the International Forum, where delegates from across the Asia-Pacific region are sharing their ideas and providing updates as to what is happening in terms of peace movements, antibase movements and militarization. I have been surprised to hear more than one Japanese activist use the term "self-determination" when speaking about Okinawa, and what it needs or what it wants in terms of its struggle. I haven't heard anything formal, for example I have yet to see "Free Okinawa" or "Decolonize Okinawa" t-shirts or signs yet, but I will be on the lookout for them. This means that either the political dimension perhaps always was there and was just never articulated in a way that appeared to be political, or that Okinawans may possibly be shifting in terms of their critique of their situation. Who knows, in a few years, their own decolonization movement was emerge at either the grassroots or governmental level.