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May 15th


The notice says “One day left until the Reversion” on May 14th 1972
This photo belongs to the Okinawa Prefectural Archives

On May 15th 1972, the government of Okinawa was reverted from United States control to Japan. From that year before, I had been living in the so-called “Open Land” of Nakasone, Koza. Before the war, this place was known as the Māui1 unit, where the Japanese army practiced horse riding, which then changed into a supply unit under U.S. military occupation. Later, the supply unit was removed and the city hall, fire station, etc. were newly located. It was a neighborhood where many hotels and apartments for foreigners stood. 

I was classified as a “Non-Ryukyuan,” hence I had to pay a foreigner tax at the Non-Ryukyuan Tax Office in Naha every three months. The director of the Immigration Service Agency issued a “Proof of Permit of Residence” with my fingerprints and the words: “This shows that the above-named individual is permitted to reside by the High Commissioner of the Ryukyu Islands.” I was required to carry it at all times.

On May 14th, the whole town was in a menacing atmosphere. As dawn breaks, it will be the Japanese era; people were running around buying goods to convert cash that could lose value at any moment.

My wife said in a frightened voice, “It’s like a war is beginning.” She was born on Ishigaki Island and came to the Okinawa main island for a teaching qualification, and that was how we met. On the 14th, she was in a bad temper since the morning, and said irritatingly that I “look happy;” “Is it because Okinawa will belong to Japan from tomorrow?” 

By saying such things, perhaps she was trying to keep her sense of balance. In her elementary school, a teacher taught her about the “reversion to the motherland,” and looking at a map of Japan, she used to wonder where Ishigaki Island would be placed. Just like in the tale of Kunihiki2 from the Izumo mythology, she thought the Island would be dragged towards Japan. Someone else once confessed, “I expected it to snow once we were returned to Japan.”

With the reversion to Japan proceeding on its own timetable, the intelligentsia who led the reversion campaign were wavering subtly. I heard later that May 14th felt like a New Year’s Eve, and they anxiously pondered how to greet the “New Year” the next day. 

As I saw the May 15th come around, I stocked up on a dozen bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label and got a good scolding from my wife. Nonetheless, although my life is filled with many regrets, to experience the world change from Americayu to Yamatoyu as one individual living in Okinawa is something that I think I pride myself on.

Editor’s Note:

  1. On horseback
  2. A legend of the Izumo region in Japan, in which a deity ripped a foreign land, dragged them closer and stitched them together to form a bigger land.