Okinawa's Anti-Base Protest in Japan's National Newspapers

Article excerpt

Since September 2009 in which the Democratic Party of Japan came to power, Washington raised concerns about its campaign promises to call for a more "equal partnership" with the United States. A critical media approach to the newspaper coverage over the Futenma base problem explicates the ways in which Tokyo's policy change was framed in the national, local, and international light. In the eyes of mainland Japanese, "Futenma" turned into such personal attacks at new premier Hatoyama as "left-leaning," "indecisive," and "inability" to take the initiative. For Okinawans, "Futenma" became a symbol of excessive environmental damage as well as an unfair burden. Given the political quagmire, Washington perceived the breakdown in talks to be a tough choice between appeasing the U.S. government and being responsive to domestic public support for the inexperienced Hatoyama administration.

Okinawa's antibase protest unspoken in Japan's national newspapers

Although international and local stories may appear differently in Japanese national newspapers, the national papers shape our worldview. In case of the relocation of the U.S. Marine air base in Futenma off the southern island, Japanese national papers altered the perspective and details shown to give more, or less, information. What was shown? What was not shown? Whose voices were missing? How was it covered up? Why was it covered up? This study explores the ways in which Japan's largest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, nationally conditioned the significance of "Futenma" from the Democrats' historic election victory over the long-governing Liberal Democrats on 30 August 2009 to the resignation of newly elected Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio on 2 June 2010. In order to uncover what makes Okinawa "mute" in the national coverage, the study takes into account such American and local Japanese papers as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Okinawa Times, and the Ryukyu Shimpo.

Since September 2009 when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) came to power, a majority of Japanese expected the new regime to keep one of its campaign promises to call for a more "equal partnership" with the United States. A critical approach to the Yomiuri Shimbun covering up the Futenma issue explicates a relativist view of the newspaper, especially how differently Japan's policy shift might be presented from the American and local Japanese papers. In Japanese national dailies, the "Futenma" story turned into personal attacks on the new premier Hatoyama such as "left-leaning" or "left-of-center" tendency, "indecisive" character, and "incompetent." The new regime faced a tough choice between appeasing the U.S. government and assuring the domestic public that the government would fulfill its campaign promises. Because of the cover up, the "Futenma" story lost its possibilities to appeal to the mainland Japanese to reflect on environmental damage as well as on the unfair burden imposed on the local residents of Okinawa.

What follows first provides the context in which the Futenma issue came out on the national scene, then focuses on three rhetorical strategies used by the Japanese national daily Yomiuri Shimbun to cover up "Futenma" in the eyes of mainland Japanese, and describes the consequences of Hatoyama's attempt to review Japan's security alliance with the U.S.


Fifteen years ago, on 12 April 1996, U.S. Ambassador Walter F. Mondale and Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro made the dramatic announcement via TV that the United States will "return" the 1,200-acre Futenma Marine air base to Japan within Ave to seven years. On one hand, this unexpected base deal was planned to sooth tensions over the U.S. forces before President Bill Clinton's arrival for a state visit. On the other hand, the agreement addressed "legitimate concerns the people of Okinawa have about noise levels, access to land" by Japan and the U. …