Parallels drawn between Okinawa and Ireland

Island is also trying to come up with ways to position itself for the future as the 21st century unfolds

Up in arms: a rally denouncing the relocation of a US military base in Okinawa recently. Photograph: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

Up in arms: a rally denouncing the relocation of a US military base in Okinawa recently. Photograph: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 01:00

During the recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations, parallels weres drawn between the island of Ireland and Okinawa – an island where people have been oppressed for years by an imperial capital (for London read Tokyo) and where economic straits forced millions to emigrate.

Okinawans went to Hawaii, Peru and Brazil, rather than Liverpool or Boston – bringing with them folk music and a reputation for humour.

The look of Okinawa is indeed similar to that of say the west of Ireland. The landscape is rugged, and the people are independent and open in a way that you don’t experience in Tokyo.

That said, the weather is a lot warmer, and Ireland cannot lay claim to inventing karate. But, like Ireland, Okinawa is also trying to come up with ways to position itself for the future as the 21st century unfolds.

Okinawa has suffered from the stagnation of recent years. The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate in Japan seems reasonably steady at 3.7 per cent, but it is nearly double that in Okinawa.

Okinawa is known as the site of an epic battle at the end of the second World War and, since then, it has been home to many US military bases, including Futenma.

It is the US’s biggest overseas air base, and one the Americans are hoping to relocate up the coast. Local opinion is very divided on the matter. While most people deeply resent the US military presence there, there are many who feel that the economy would suffer if the Americans pull out.

Earnings from the military bases account for 5 per cent of the economy and tourism makes up 10 per cent.

Late last year, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged hundreds of millions of yen in next year’s budget to promote the prefecture’s economy.

However, many on the island feel that this is part of the problem, that the island needs to become more independent if it is going to thrive.

One possibility is that the local economy could get a boost from casinos. Sheldon Adelson is hoping to build on his Las Vegas and Macau fortune by building something in Japan, and Okinawa is one of the sites he is considering.

Casino gambling isn’t legal in Japan, but he hopes to maybe bring about a change. After all, if Singapore can legalise it, then so can Japan.

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