Japan Report at University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras – 8th Meeting of International Women's Network Against Militarism

Country Report Japan (DRAFT)

Feb 20, 2012

Kozue Akibayashi

Japan is located in “ the Far East” as you can see in the map, with a population of about 130 billion on the land roughly the size of the State of California in the US. We are very far away from you. Many of us from the Asia-Pacific region traveled great distance to Puerto Rico. Not many people in Japan are familiar with the history and the conditions of Puerto Rico, or vice versa. So I’m grateful for this opportunity to visit PR to learn and to talk about Japan.

Unlike my friends in the Asia-Pacific region who, like you, experienced colonial rule by Spanish and United States, except a short period after WWIII or Asia Pacific War, Japan was not colonized. We were rather, a part of the colonizing powers of the region in its modern nation-building period and after. Japan colonized Korea, the Philippines, Guam and Okinawa, competing with the United States. Colonization of Okinawa by Japan remains to this day as a form of imposition of a disproportionately large portion of US military bases on Okinawa. This is why in IWNAM, Japan and Okinawa form separate groups.

There are three of us from the mainland Japan participating in the conference. We come from Kyoto, the ancient capitol of Japan in the western part. Our daily lives may not be visibly affected by the US military presence, unlike the experiences of the people of Okinawa, but we, people of Japan too, are affected by militarism and militarization of both Japan and the United States.

In this short presentation, I would like to touch upon 4 points. 1. Brief facts about the US military in Japan, 2. Japanese military, which is called Self Defense Forces of Japan, 3. 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami and the military, and 4. “Sympathy” budget, a part of the Host Nation Support of the US military stationed in Japan. An important aspect of this country report is not so much of the actual negative influences of the US military presence, but more implicit militarism in Japan.

There are about 133 US military facilities in Japan. All four forces, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are there. I indicated those in the map. Some of them are located in and around Tokyo, the capitol. Some of them are in more remote areas or less populated areas. About 50 of them are used jointly with the Self-Defense Forces of Japan.

The number of troops stationed in Japan is about 38,000, and 43,000 dependents also reside, according to US Forces in Japan. You will see later the majority of them are stationed in Okinawa. In addition to these troops, Japanese ports, together with Guam, host the 7th Fleet, the largest numbered fleet, that consists of 60-70 ships, 200 – 300 aircrafts, and 40,000 marines and sailors in daily operation. Among them is the only “forward-deployed” nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, George Washington, home ported in Yokosuka in Tokyo Bay in rather populated area. On mainland Japan, US military presence may not be as visible as they are in Okinawa. But these facilities cater to various needs of the US forces including training and practices, communication, storage, airfields, housing, etc. and communities around the bases on mainland Japan have also been suffering from noise, risk of radiation leak or other forms of environmental destruction, crimes and accidents by US personnel.

After its defeat in Asia-Pacific War, Japan was occupied by the United States until 1952. In the post-war period, with the US initiative, the Japanese constitution was drafted and adopted to democratize Japan. One of the features of our constitution was that Japan renounces war as a means to solve international disputes, and possession of armed forces. However, Japan Self-Defense Forces of Japan was established in 1954, soon after the Post WWII US occupation ended, partly as a Cold War Shift of the United States against USSR and also by those Japanese who had been the militaristic regime during the war who wanted to rearm Japan. The SDFJ is one of the highly equipped militaries in the world with the sixth world largest military spending according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It has long been debated whether the SDF is unconstitutional, but the no clear judicial ruling has been given. Meantime, the number of troops has grown to about 23,000. Like other militaries, SDFJ has created jobs in more economically disadvantaged areas, particularly now as the nation faces extremely slow economy.

SDFJ’s more publicly recognized face in Japan is its emergency rescue efforts. Their tireless efforts were highly praised for example, at the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 in which more than 6000 people died or the recent East Japan great earthquake last March in which earth quakes and tsunami hit a vast area with death toll of over 15,000 and still missing of more than 5000.

The usage of the military at emergencies has to be more closely scrutinized. While individual troop’s dedication is appreciated and valued, the institution’s highest priority is to wage wars and prepare for wars. Their primary training is to destroy. Their efficacy and adequacy of their equipment in emergency rescue is questionable. If SDFJ can be truly converted to civil purpose, they may be genuinely contributed to the security of people as the IWNAM has advocated.

Emergencies are in fact an opportunity of intensifying militarization. At the East Japan Great Earthquake last year, the US military conducted Operation Tomodachi, meaning “friends” in English, in which the Marines stationed in the region was dispatched to clean up the debris or help building temporary shelters. The media coverage and publicity by the two governments of the operation was enormous. But again, the questions remain: How actually effective were they? In addition, it was revealed later that the major part of the cost of the operation was born by the Japanese government. The area is in great need for help in every aspect, including urgent and adequate policies to address the nuclear power crisis of Fukushima. The Japanese people desperately need more resources to deal with this crisis now.

One of the more implicit aspects of militarization is “Sympathy budget.” It is a part of Host Nation Support for the US military stationed in Japan that covers salaries of Japanese workers on the bases, utilities of the facilities on the bases or building cost of luxurious entertainment/recreational facilities, and some training related costs. The current amount is about 1.6 billion per year but it used to be much larger. We have been known for being very generous. This part of the HNS was named “Sympathy budget” because this part of the HNS is not required by the US-Japan security agreement or related laws. When it was proposed by the government to the Japanese parliament in late 1970’s, the administration could not rationalize it other than saying, “Let’s show our sympathy to the US military in Japan.” For so long, we have used our tax money for this. Yet, now, the US government is demanding that the vast part of costs for relocation of the Marines from Okinawa to Guam be paid by the Japanese government including building housings in Guam.

In April 2012, after the 3.11, the International Women’s Network against Militarism issued a statement to call for the US government to decline “Sympathy budget” so that resources can be allocated to recovery of the vast areas devastated by the tsunami and earthquake. As I said a short while ago, our daily lives have increasingly become vulnerable. We are no longer a strong economy. These resources need to be used for the securing livelihood of people.

These are only a part of much larger and deeper militarism in Japan. Building strong social movement against the US military presence is difficult as not many people do not recognize it. Building movement against militarism is even more difficult. But the current situation of increasing insecurity can be an opportunity for wider network in Japan for genuine security. I hope our movement will be closely connected with yours.

Thank you very much.