This is the "Photos of Okinawans Protesting U.S. Bases" page of the "Political and Cultural Identity in Postwar Japan" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

Political and Cultural Identity in Postwar Japan   Tags: primary source world  

Last Updated: May 27, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Photos of Okinawans Protesting U.S. Bases Print Page

Primary Source

Futenma Protest
November 8, 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
by thechrisdavis


About this Activity

Suggested for grades 8 to 12

Key Questions

1. What variety of opinions are held by the Okinawan people about the U.S. military bases in Okinawa? In what ways were these opinions expressed during the April 2010 protest?

2. Why is the relationship between the U.S. bases and Okinawa characterized by so much tension?


Curriculum Connections

Try using this activity when teaching about...

  • World War II
  • Occupation (Japan, or Iraq and Afghanistan)
  • Environmental threats
  • International relations
  • Modern Japan
  • Non-violent protests
  • Community action

Common Core Connections

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.



After victory in the bloody World War Two Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the United States Marine Corps established an air strip called Futenma to launch B-29 bomber raids in the Pacific. When the war ended, the U.S. retained this small strip beyond the 27-year U.S. occupation of Okinawa, developing it into a larger base in the 1950s and 1960s. The location of the base proved useful for U.S. involvement in conflicts including the Korean War and Vietnam War. Over time, the U.S. government established bases for different branches of the U.S. military across about 20% of Okinawa territory. Futenma Base is unusual in that it sits within the downtown of Ginowan City.

Many Okinawans resent the disproportionate demands placed on them to host American bases. Currently, 75% of the U.S. military presence in all of Japan is located in Okinawa, a source of tension between Okinawans and other Japanese. As an independent country until 1879 called the Kingdom of the Ryukyu, Okinawa, has been distinct culturally and historically from the rest of Japan, and today is less wealthy and politically influential than other regions.

Many, though not all, Okinawans welcomed the 2009 election promise of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to remove Futenma Base from Okinawa. This pledge followed the negotiation of an agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments in 2006 to relocate Futenma from Ginowan City to a less crowded part of Okinawa, in hopes of relieving tensions between the Marines and Okinawans. However, the proposed new location would destroy the habitat of an endangered species, the dugong (a marine mammal similar to a manatee).

For its part, the U.S. government insists that the Japanese government abide by the 2006 agreement to relocate the base within Okinawa, citing the need to keep air and ground units in close proximity to Taiwan and North Korea so they can respond quickly to regional emergencies. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has told Japan’s Foreign Minister that the Marines are a key element of the Japan-U.S. bilateral alliance, though he has not been explicit about the role of the Futenma garrison. The U.S. has offered to move 8,000 Marines to Guam in the next 6 to 8 years, but only if a new acceptable location for Futenma on Okinawa is found. There is dissent within Washington about the U.S. role, with Veteran House Armed Services Committee member Barney Frank telling MSNBC in July of 2010, "It's unclear to me what they're doing there...I don't want to see China given a free hand over there vis-a-vis Taiwan, but 15,000 Marines aren't going to land on the Chinese mainland and confront millions of Chinese soldiers. You need some air power and sea power."

The photographs in this activity are from Stars and Stripes (the U.S. military's independent newspaper), and depict a rally that took place in Yomitan, Okinawa, on April 25, 2010. On this day, 90,000 protesters gathered to object to the building of any new U.S. military bases in Okinawa, to advocate for the closing of Futenma, or to support the complete removal of all bases from Okinawa. Shortly after this protest, the Obama Administration's refusal to remove Futenma Base from Okinawa was a chief reason cited by Prime Minister Hatoyama for his resignation on June 2, 2010.



An ethnically and culturally distinctive chain of islands located southwest of Japan, and one of Japan's prefectures. After World War II, Okinawa was governed by the United States for 27 years. In 1972, control of Okinawa returned to Japan, but a strong U.S. military presence remains.
Futenma Marine Corps Air Base
A Marine Corps base located in Ginowan, Okinawa. It houses approximately 4,000 Marines and has been in Okinawa since 1945.
The period from the end of World War II to 1952 in which Japan was occupied by the Allied Forces, led by the United States. During the Occupation, Japan’s Constitution was rewritten by the Allies to enforce disarmament, liberalization, and other reforms.
A subdivision of the government of Japan – a local government similar to a state.
LDP (Liberal Democratic Party)
A conservative political party in Japan that had control of the government from 1955 to 2009.
DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan)
A liberal political party in Japan that took control of the government in the 2009 election.
Yukio Hatoyama
Prime Minister of Japan from September 2009 to June 2010, and a member of the DPJ. Hatoyama came into office with a high approval rating, and was compared to American President Barack Obama. His popularity rapidly declined when he failed to meet many of his campaign promises, made during better economic times. He resigned as a result of his inability to remove Futenma Base from Okinawa.

Pre-learning Activity



If students have access to computers, have students take the Google Earth tour of Okinawa, either individually or in pairs. Otherwise, use printouts of the 3 maps of Okinawa. As they proceed, have them discuss the following:

  • To what countries is Okinawa closest? (China/Taiwan, Korea)
  • What might be viewed as strategic about its location?
  • Where is Okinawa in relation to the rest of the Japanese islands?
  • View the map of WWII battles in the Pacific. Why was fighting over Okinawa in WWII so fierce? How would you surmise both sides viewed control of Okinawa?
  • Does anything about the aerial views or maps of U.S. bases on Okinawa surprise you?
  • What do you notice about the location of Futenma Base?

Primary Source Activity



1. Together with your students read the introduction to the history of the U.S. military in Okinawa. Read only the beginning through the 10th paragraph (which ends "in the early 1990s"). Have students answer the following comprehension questions

  • Why have these military bases been important to the United States? What have they been used for?
  • Why are the Okinawans protesting against the presence of these bases? What are their specific objections?
  • In what ways does this article show an American perspective?

2. Either project the slideshow of images from the protest (hide captions), or print out the images and post them around your classroom. Have students work in groups to answer the following questions:

  • First step: Observation of the photographs (no theories or questions yet)
    Ask students:
    • What do you see?
    • How are people dressed?
    • What do you notice about who is present at the protest (demographics)?
    • In what language are the signs written?
  • Second step (still in small groups): Developing theories and questions
    Focus students' attention upon images 2,4,9, 10, 11, 14, 16, and 17. Ask:
    • What questions do you have about what you see? What more do you need to know to understand the images?
    • On the basis of what you have seen and read so far, what theories do you have about the intended audience(s) of the protest, the differences of opinion among the Okinawans, and the key sources of Okinawan anger?
    • What do you think the relationship is between the U.S. bases and Japan's postwar identity as a "peace state" that shuns war? [For more information, see Japan's Peace Constitution.]
  • Third step: Context and Discussion
    Reshow the slides and discuss the captions. Ask students: do these captions fit in with the inferences and theories you came up with in Step 2?

    As a whole class, have students draw upon their prior reading and map study as well as the images to answer questions raised in Step 2. Here you may want to highlight for students certain aspects that the photographs reveal (and the captions partially explain) and that the Stars and Stripes article accompanying the photos addresses, such as:
    • The wearing of yellow as a soccer analogy – the U.S. gets a "yellow card," as in soccer, for committing an offense.
    • The wearing of white towels with "No War" bands is a tradition from Vietnam-era protests. Okinawans in that period protested the shipping of war supplies to the U.S. and allied soldiers in Vietnam through Okinawa. 
    • Street protests are relatively rare in Japan in general.
    • The environmental aspects of this case, as the proposed relocation site for Futenma at the Cape of Henoko is considered a risk to the dugong (animals similar to manatees).
    • The noise pollution and crash risk suggested in the man's picture depict children near military planes. Futenma is in fact next to an elementary school.
    • The fact that some protesters objected to crimes committed by U.S. soldiers, and their immunity under the Status of Forces agreement. (For more information about this, see an article from CNN.)
    • The presence of supporters of the bases, for security, economic, and historical reasons.
    • The protesters want to attract the attention of the U.S. government and the Japanese government, as well as other Japanese (through media coverage).

Extension Activity

  1. For a current events connection, have students continue to follow the news for more information about the military base, and whether or not it will be moved or removed.
  2. For a science connection, have students research the environmental impact of moving Futenma Base to Henoko, particularly the effect on the endangered dugong.
  3. For a history or English Language Arts connection, have students read The Girl With the White Flag by Tomika Higa for more context about the history of Okinawa in World War II.

About the Author

Karen Zawisza teaches 8th grade Humanities (English and Social Studies) at Watertown Middle School in Watertown, Massachusetts. She majored in Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College, studied Japanese for two years, and recently traveled to Japan with Primary Source. Her professional interests include the history and culture of Japan and China.

Loading  Loading...