by Pa Rock
Modern Okinawa is a product of several cultures, with the three most prominent being a unique blend of native Okinawans, Japanese, and American military. And while the American influence on Okinawa is limited to the sixty-five years after the end of World War II, a relatively small portion of the island's history, the impact that American servicemen and their families have had here is substantial.
The post-war Japanese have brought in big amounts of cash, and built some beautiful hotels - but it is the Americans who have had the biggest impact on the island. Thousands of Okinawans work on the military bases, and thousands of others have jobs in the community that rely on American spending.
A friend of mine recently asked me why we still have troops on Okinawa, and I didn't have the answer to that question. (There undoubtedly is an answer, but that bit of knowledge is well above my pay grade.) Of this, however, I am certain: if all of the troops and their families were to suddenly leave, Okinawa would suffer an economic depression so severe that it would impact Japan and much of Asia. If Americans serve no other purpose in this part of the world, they are a key component of the economy of Okinawa.
Americans also have a large cultural footprint on this island. Young people like to get out and have fun, a fact that has resulted in a sprawling bar scene around the major bases. And again, the bars employ many people and become major identity factors in the neighborhoods. Today the bar culture seems far less pronounced that it was forty years ago - but it still exists.
Young Okinawans listen to American music and are knowledgeable of American cultural icons. They wear tee-shirts featuring American celebrities, eat American fast food, and zip across intersections on skateboards. Sometimes our influence is positive, sometimes it isn't. When a young marine drinks too much and gets into some trouble, a few voices are raised among the local nationals proclaiming that it is time for the Americans to leave - but only a few voices. Most recognize the impact that the Americans have on the local economy, and some even appreciate having an counterweight to the Japanese influences.
Cultural Footnote: Today, as I was leaving the base, I passed a large group of little American kids practicing soccer. One of the young mothers on the edge of the group was wearing a tee-shirt that said,"Beer. It's not just for breakfast anymore!" Okinawa is changing, and so is the world!