The Oppression against Indigeneity in Hosting U.S. Military in Japan

Masatoshi Kuniyoshi, Texas A&M University

Since Okinawa’s annexation by the Japanese in 1879, Okinawans have occupied ethnic minority status in Japan. Since the mid-twentieth century, Okinawans’ subordinate status has been reflected in disproportionate placement of military bases on the island, which forces Okinawans to bear the numerous physical, social, and environmental risks that are associated with the presence of military bases. In this paper, I consider how structural theories of settler colonialism and the minoritization of indigenous people can be used to understand persistent patterns of race and racialization in Japan under late capitalism. Specifically, I analyze the differential responses by the Japanese government to two cases of civilian casualties stemming from US military exercises— accidents involving combat helicopters crashing into university buildings in Fukuoka in 1968 and a similar incident in Okinawa in 2004. I argue that efforts by the Japanese government to define Okinawans as an ethnic minority rather than an indigenous group with claims to control of ancestral lands –a central part of settler colonialism-- was a crucial step in maintaining the Japanese racial state during the postwar era. I argue that the efforts of the Japanese government to shift the burden of military base placement from the Japanese mainland to Okinawa contributed to ongoing processes of racialization in the Japanese context.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session P35. Parallels and Divergences in Race and Ethnicity