At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Party in the USA (Okinawa)

My friend Ron, who blogs at Japan, recently posted a video of Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus.  She's not my favorite entertainer, but this video isn't her new video and isn't her in the video at all.  Instead, it's a video made by, I assume, military affiliated people who live here on Okinawa Island.  I have to admit that I sort of liked this version because it showed parts of Okinawa that I know, but I also wondered how it came across when these individuals were filming it, especially in the middle of the busy crosswalks waving their American flags.  Especially because there is an ongoing socio-political struggle here on this island...

Living in this prefecture, it's easy to get used to a daily unspoken tension all around regarding the presence of the US military on this island.  Every morning I wake up to the roar of  fighter jets or Osprey practicing their formations.  It's just part of life here.  This presence wasn't something I really thought too much about when I lived on Ishigaki Island.  But living on the big island, you come to understand and eventually accept that because you're a foreigner, the Japanese people you meet in passing almost always assume you're somehow affiliated with the military.  Because approximately 25,000 or more Americans are stationed here, military culture is a daily part of living here.  Along with it comes those who are pro-military (including Okinawans who are either employed by the military, who have married someone in the military or whose parents belong to the military, or who are part of a landlord class who make a ton of money renting to the military) and those who are essentially anti-military.  Of course, the majority of people on this island find that taking a stance is very complicated.  They don't like that there are so many bases, but they also have met many Americans and have formed friendships with people from the bases or are enamored with American culture as its performed by those in the military.  Most of the Okinawans that I've met have accepted that the US bases will be on this island indefinitely, though they would prefer that there were no bases or that the base presence on this island was significantly reduced.  I know a few people in the military who might also suggest a base reduction on this island as well.  I try not to take too much of a political stance on my blog, but this daily tension sometimes bothers the hell out of me.  It's almost like the sound of white noise in the background.  You get so used to this, that when you see Okinawan people protesting, you know that it's an anti-US base protest, specifically an anti-Futenma or anti-Henoko protest.  I know these protests are important to the people here, and I also know that these protests have been ongoing for years and will probably continue this way.

Even though I grew up in a city that has a very large air force base, I never felt so exposed to US military culture as I have been since I moved to Japan.  I don't really know how to process it, to be honest.  I think it may be one of the major reasons why I sometimes lament not being placed in another part of Japan, but then again...the grass is always greener elsewhere.  There is so much more to say about this topic and the complexities of living in Okinawa prefecture, but I feel this blog post isn't really going to go there today. I've already done this subject a disservice by briefly summarizing this critical issue.

As for the video, while it's fun and lighthearted, I feel it represents a disconnection between the American and Okinawa cultures when it comes to living on this island.  This video alone should be analyzed for the complex relationship between the two cultures.  Then again, maybe the Okinawan people can appreciate people just having fun and not read too much into the flag waving.  



  1. Met a marine the other day. He has been here a lot longer than I have and is married to an Okinawan woman. I asked him if he liked goya but he had no idea what it was. Total disconnection from the culture.

  2. How strange. Most people who live on these islands know what goya is. That being said, it's really easy for ex-military to live here and live like they're in America, even if they aren't on the bases anymore. I went to someone's home who was married to an Okinawan woman and their kitchen was filled with American food and it had American style appliances, including a large stove with an oven. It had been a while since I'd seen an American kitchen, so I felt nostalgic.

    But, live in Okinawa and not know what goya is?