Since the end of World War II the United States and Japan have been strong allies. As well as rebuilding the nation through huge amounts of financial aid, the United States also agreed to defend Japan from invasion. In exchange for this military agreement the United States retained large amounts of Japanese land in the form of military bases, the most famous of which are in Okinawa, an island group 640 kilometres south of the Japanese mainland. However ordinary people in japan are starting to grow tired of this arrangement.
Japan has a difficult history when it comes to the role of the military. Obviously during the Second World War there were famous atrocities like the 1937-38 Rape of Nanking and the activities of Unit 731, however Japanese history is also littered with examples of Bushido-induced ritual suicide, military coups, and brutal massacres. Unsurprisingly the public knowledge of this history of militarism has led many Japanese people to be sceptical of an aggressive foreign policy. The current Japanese constitution was written by the victorious Allies powers and specifies Japan’s commitment to peace:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
As a result of this opposition tens of thousands of people descended on Okinawa’s capital Naha in protest. An estimated 65,000 people travelled to Naha to protest the United States’ military presence in Japan. Furthermore the US is seeking to relocate its current Marine Corps air station in Okinawa to another part of the island after a 12-year-old girl was raped by three American personnel in 1995. The plan remained controversial due to the strain it would place on the local community but anger about the rape of this girl had subsided in recent years. However people were recently outraged once again after a former US Marine was arrested by Japanese police on suspicion of the murder of Rina Shimabukuro, a 20-year-old woman from Okinawa.
The only sustainable solution for both parties is for the US to withdraw its military forces from Japan. From a US perspective a large amount of money would be saved as these Japanese bases would not have to be maintained. The US would see a diminished level of influence in the region but I do not believe this would be a bad thing as I don’t believe that the world should be dominated by hegemonic powers. Furthermore, the US would still remain incredibly influential as it would retain a military presence in Guam and military alliances with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan would remain in tact. From a Japanese perspective local people would no longer have to accommodate a huge number of foreign military personnel and the land that is currently used by the US military could be used for public services or housing.
Japan currently has a very right-wing government under Shinzo Abe and he has reinterpreted the Japanese constitution to allow for a more interventionist foreign policy. This should be resisted as Japan has a proud record over the last 70 years of peaceful mediation and a commitment to non-violence. However having said this the United States should still withdraw from Japan. There was a time when the United States military was needed to maintain the peace, but that time ended when Japan was rebuilt after WWII. The US needs to stop being an empire and get rid of these military bases, and if they do I believe that American-Japanese relations and the perception of America among the Japanese people will improve.