Nissan Seminar: Japan’s Failed Nation Building: Okinawa, 1972-2022

Convenor(s): Professor Hugh Whittaker and Dr Giulio Pugliese

Speaker(s): Professor Gabriele Vogt, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU Munich)

Japan’s Failed Nation Building: Okinawa, 1972-2022

On May 15, 1972, two decades after the main islands of Japan regained full sovereignty, the Ryūkyūs were released from US administration, and Okinawa prefecture was re-established in the Japanese state. Locals expected life under Japan and its “peace constitution” to bring political stability and economic wealth, to strengthen people’s civic rights and to reduce the massive presence of US military facilities and units. A popular slogan at the time was “in line with the mainland” (hondo nami), which expressed Okinawa’s wish for equality with other Japanese prefectures. However, to this very day, fifty years after the so-called “reversion” (fukki) took place, grave imbalances between Okinawa and other prefectures persist, and the perceived injustice continues to spark political protest. Okinawa has repeatedly seen mass mobilizations and, more recently, a rise in regional populism in local politics. Both are fuelled by a strong local identity that is based in people’s historical consciousness about the conflict-laden historical encounters with Japan. Even beyond party politics or regional and generational boundaries, in Okinawa it is commonly agreed that the “reversion” was not a success story. Contrary to the stance of the state, “Japan with Okinawa” has not emerged as a nation. This talk will focus on Okinawa’s identity politics, and will discuss several milestone events that have contributed to the failed nation-building process, one that continues to haunt Okinawa-Japan relations to date.

The roundtable will consist of a main presentation by Prof. Vogt followed by two sets of comments. The first comment is by Tom Sutton whose MPhil research is on the US-Japan Security Alliance and how anti-base protests have affected it.  The second comment is by Daisuke Nagahama whose MPhil research is on the politics of Okinawa, seeking to understand the reasons why Miyako-Jima is a conservative (LDP) stronghold.

Gabriele Vogt holds the Chair in Japanese Studies and serves as Director to the Department of Asian Studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU Munich). In 2002, she obtained her Ph.D. with a study on the anti-base coalition of civil society and local politicians in Okinawa, and its impact on Japan’s system of multilevel governance and the US-Japan Security Alliance. She continues to research Okinawa under the framework of citizen-state interaction.

Tom Sutton is a second year MPhil student in Japanese Studies and a Daiwa Scholar in Japanese Studies. He graduated from Durham University in 2020 with a BA in Japanese Studies, winning the Ivan Morris Memorial Prize for his dissertation on student protest in Japan.

Daisuke Nagahama is a first year MPhil student in Japanese Studies. He originates from Miyako-Jima Island, Okinawa Prefecture.