March 8, 2011
An insulting comment on Okinawans made by a U.S. State Department official late last year is stirring up public anger in Japan.
At a lecture at the U.S. State Department on December 3, Kevin Maher, director of the Office of Japan Affairs and former consul general in Okinawa, told students planning to study in Okinawa, “Okinawans are masters of ‘manipulation’ and ‘extortion’.”
According to notes taken by the students, Maher said, “Consensus building is important in Japanese culture. While the Japanese would call this ‘consensus,’ they really mean ‘extortion’ and use this culture of consensus as a means of ‘extortion.’ By pretending to seek consensus, people try to get as much money as possible.”
He added, “Although Okinawans indeed grow goya (bitter gourd), other prefectures grow more than Okinawa. Okinawans are too lazy to grow goya.”
As for the issue of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, Maher told the students, “The controversial bases in Okinawa were originally in the middle of rice fields, but are now in the middle of towns because Okinawans allowed urbanization and population growth to surround United States facilities.”
Here he expressed his thought that problems concerning the Futenma base are brought about by the Okinawans living around the base while refusing to accept the U.S. responsibility for grabbing private lands from Okinawan people against international law in the first place.
Regarding the danger of the Futenma base, Maher noted, “Although Okianwans claim MCAS Futenma is the most dangerous base in the world, they know it is not true. Fukuoka Airport and Osaka Itami Airport are just as dangerous.”
In this comment, he neglected the danger inseparable from military bases such as noise pollution and the continuous possibility of plane crashes.
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The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly on March 8 unanimously adopted a resolution calling for his apology and retraction of his remark.
Assembly Chair Takamine Zenshin said that the Maher’s comments are an incredible insult to Okinawan people and their political representatives.
Asato Takeshi, the mayor of Ginowan City, where the Futanma base is located, said that it is not Okinawans but Maher who is a manipulator. The mayor pointed out that Maher, as a former consul general in Okinawa, is aware that the U. S. authorities do not act in accordance with agreements with the Japanese government, even regarding noise prevention and approved flight routes. The U.S. official, however, distorted the facts to mislead U.S. citizens, the mayor said. He criticized Maher for labeling Okinawans as masters of manipulation and extortion and of being lazy.
Kayo Sogi, head of the Japanese Communist Party Okinawa Prefecrual Assembly members’ group, stated that Maher’s comments are actually what the U.S. government really thinks, on the grounds that the government appointed a person like him to be the head of Japanese affairs at the State Department.
The Japan Peace Committee (JPC) on March 7 sent a statement to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo protesting against Maher’s comments and calling for its retraction and his apology.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio on March 8 at the Lower House Budget Committee meeting said, “If it is true, (the remark) is unacceptable because this will hurt not only Okinawans’ but also (mainland) Japanese people’s feelings.”
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on March 7 issued a statement saying that the comment does not represent the U.S. government view.