Back To Top

Harmony-breaking words from a U.S. official

The assemblies of Okinawa Prefecture and two cities in the prefecture ― Naha and Urasoe ― on Tuesday unanimously adopted resolutions protesting comments by a U.S. official that allegedly disparaged the Okinawans. Other Okinawan assemblies will follow suit.

In an off-the-record lecture in Washington in December before 14 students who were about to visit Tokyo and Okinawa, Kevin Maher, head of the office of Japan affairs at the U.S. State Department, allegedly said “Okinawans are masters of ‘manipulation’ and ‘extortion’” when they deal with the Tokyo government and that “although Okinawans grow goya (bitter gourd), other prefectures grow more than Okinawa. Okinawans are too lazy to grow goya.”

He reportedly says that an account of his lecture made available to Kyodo News is “neither accurate nor complete.” Even so, the alleged comment by a person who served as the consul general in Okinawa from 2006 to 2009, will likely deepen distrust of the U.S. government among the Okinawan people.

Maher has been directly involved in negotiations with Japan over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. He allegedly said in connection with the Futenma issue that the Tokyo government “needs to tell the Okinawan governor, ‘If you want money, sign it (Futenma deal).’” His alleged comment will enrage Okinawan people and stiffen their opposition to the Japan-U.S. agreement to move the Futenma base inside Okinawa Island. It will make them demand more strongly for the relocation of Futenma base outside Okinawa Prefecture.

It is astounding that it did not occur to a diplomat specializing in the Japan-U.S. security setup that the remarks as he allegedly made would deepen resentment among Okinawan people and that a mutual security arrangement surrounded by resentment would not properly function. Referring to Japanese culture of wa (harmony), Maher allegedly said, “While the Japanese would call this ‘consensus,’ they mean ‘extortion’ and use this culture of consensus as a means of ‘extortion.’” If someone takes this reported remark as arrogant and insulting, one cannot blame that person.

(The Japan Times, March 10)