【PART 1】 Mystery of Okinawa: Military Bases and the Constitution


【13】 18% of Okinawa’s land and 100% of its airspace are under the control of U.S. Forces


To return to the previous topic of my experience in Okinawa, after my initial trip there I went back once to Tokyo before going to Okinawa again for an extended stay. This time I rented an apartment near the Futenma base and spent about half a year creating my book. Since this report on the bizarre state of affairs in Japan is written by a complete novice on the issue of U.S. military bases, someone who had been clueless until four years ago, I think it is very easy for others like me to understand. Let me explain further using a few pictures.

Before embarking on the investigative project, I’d been to Okinawa for pleasure twice before. Since I’d only gone by ship from Taiwan, however, or simply to play golf, I had no idea about the low-altitude flying of U.S. aircraft over residential areas. Planes come and go very quickly, so you can’t really grasp how dangerous they are unless you actually live there.

Now, let’s examine the large picture of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. You can see that 18% of the main island of Okinawa is occupied by U.S. bases. In the upper right of Naha City is the well-known Futenma base, and above that is the Kadena base, which I mentioned earlier. The triangular shape poking out way above that is the Henoko Peninsula.

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Above: The Main island of Okinawa and U.S. Military Bases (Approx. 18% of the main island of Okinawa occupied by U.S. military bases)


Actually, in starting to investigate U.S. military bases in Okinawa I did not rely on the help of specialists, since I had no acquaintances at all in Okinawa in the first place. So I explored Okinawa Prefecture’s website and discovered well-organized information on U.S. bases. After printing it out, I started my tour of U.S. bases with only this in hand.

This means that I’d already seen the map [see page 2] before flying to Okinawa with Mr. Suda, the photographer. We knew that U.S. bases accounted for 18% of the main Okinawa island and had been exclaiming, “Oh wow, U.S. bases take up almost one fifth of the land! It must be so stressful for the Okinawan people.”

However, this view turned out to be too optimistic. It’s true that the military bases account for 18% of the land area, but we must not forget that their aircraft fly over areas that are not directly above the bases. They fly not only over land, but over sea as well.

What’s responsible for this is something called the “Kadena airspace.” Until very recently, the airspace above Okinawa had been completely under U.S. military control, as shown in the lower diagram below. (Its control rights were officially returned to Japan in March 2010, but this seems to have been for form’s sake. The situation has hardly changed.)

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Therefore, when I point out that 18% of the area is occupied by U.S. military bases, I have to add the startling fact that 100% of the airspace is controlled by U.S. Forces. In two dimensions, it looks like they rule 18% of the territory, but in three dimensions they have 100% control. U.S. aircraft can fly over any area freely except for U.S. residential zones, and they can fly as low as they like. They can do anything. They are not subject to any laws, Japanese or American.