Media Monitor

How the Tokyo Media Covered the Okinawa Protests

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Media Monitor

Tokyo -- Japan's national major newspapers ran unusually large articles on the Okinawa rally on April 25, where protestors opposed the relocation of an American base within the southernmost prefecture.

While most major newspapers in Tokyo remain sympathetic toward US interests, the two leading local papers of Okinawa -- the only prefecture in Japan where local papers have larger circulations than national papers -- vocally expressed their demand to remove the Futenma Marine Air Station off the islands of Okinawa.

This article analyzes national papers' editorial stances on this issue.

Sankei Shinbun -- "Governor Nakaima Hesitated to Attend the Rally"

Sankei Shinbun, known as Japan's most conservative, even rightwing paper, published a front page article on the Okinawa rally with a relatively large color-picture of the demonstrators.

Running two more articles on the Okinawa rally the same day, the paper devoted much of its coverage to Okinawa Governor Nakaima's attendance at the event, which was the paper described as "hesitant."

A Page 5 article said that, "anti-US ideologues importunately pushed Nakaima to attend the rally." They added, "Nakaima was worried," according to the paper's sources, that "the plan to build another base in Camp Schwab would be abandoned, despite the fact that the prefecture has received 170 billion yen from the central government in return for accepting the plan."

The paper also stated: "the number of the demonstrators was about 30,000, not 90,000."

Yomiuri Shinbun -- "The Koizumi-Bush Relationship was the Best, Unlike Now"

The mostly widely read paper in Japan, Yomiuri Shinbun, refrained from explicitly expressing its traditional position in support of the Japan-US relationship in their Okinawa rally coverage, publishing three articles along with a color picture of the protest on its front page.

Still, the paper's "Editor's Note," appearing on the first page, did not neglect its usual editorial position on this issue: "I remember the golden age of the Japan-US relationship of six to seven years ago... Former Prime Minister Koizumi won trust from the US by making the heavy decision to send Japan's SDF to the Indian Ocean and Iraq," the article said.

The editor claimed that current Prime Minister Hatoyama is "the opposite, unfortunately."

Nihon Keizai Shinbun -- "Important to Recognize the Significance of the Japan-US Relationship"

Nikkei Shinbun, Japan's major business paper, had a smaller front page article on the Okinawa rally, as compared to the other papers, yet ran joint articles on other pages that reported on the protesters' demands.

The paper's real views on the American base relocation issue was most explicitly expressed in an article run on Tuesday entitled, "Progress was Made Due to the Japan-US Alliance." This article reported on a symposium held on Monday and sponsored jointly by the Nikkei Shinbun, the American think tank Brookings Institution, and the Japan Institute for Social and Economic Affairs, in which experts on the Japan-US relationship from both countries discussed how the bilateral relationship has promoted Japan's economic growth and has been the basis of security in East Asia.

The article also reports that the American think tank's president said, referring to the American base relocation issue, "If Japan takes an action that diminishes the strategic value of the US Marines in Okinawa, it is possible that Japan-US relationship will collapse."

Mainichi Shinbun -- "Okinawans Say, Why Okinawa?"

Mainichi Shinbun, which has been sympathetic toward the Okinawan people's demands as compared to other papers, gave extensive coverage to the protest, questioning why American bases have to be concentrated on the island of Okinawa and if the US Marines are truly deterring anyone.

An article on Monday quoted a 71-year-old protester who said, "I haven't even seen my father's face because he died in the Battle of Okinawa. The military bases do not provide deterrence; rather, they just become targets for an enemy. Why do they (the central government) force Okinawa -- which went through tragic experiences -- to keep these bases? If American bases are truly indispensable for the Japan-US relationship, then they have to be dispersed."

The paper also covered Tokyo's simultaneous rally for Okinawa, which mobilized about 12,000 people expressing their solidarity with the Okinawan people's demand to remove American bases.

Asahi Shinbun -- "All Japanese Benefit from the Japan-US Relationship: Share the Burden"

Asahi Shinbun's position on the Futenma base relocation issue is this: Although we understand the Okinawan people's sufferings from the heavy burden of hosting American bases, they need to undergo this suffering for the time being, unless another prefecture agrees to accept the construction of a US base.

Asahi Shinbun gave full coverage to the Okinawa rally like other papers, but its editorial states that if other prefectures do not agree to accept an American base, then "Prime Minister Hatoyama needs to beg Okinawans to maintain the Futenma base for the time being, although this conflicts with the Okinawan people's united demand to remove the base immediately." The editorial explains that the confusion surrounding the American base relocation issue arises from Prime Minister Hatoyama's lack of leadership. They also write: "All Japanese benefit from the Japan-US alliance, the foundation of Japan's security policy."

Tokyo Shinbun -- "The Demonstrators' Demands"

Tokyo Shinbun, a liberal paper much like the Mainichi Shinbun, ran large articles on the Okinawa rally with two color pictures. Tokyo Shinbun's coverage introduced the Okinawan protesters' demands and experts' opinions on the issue. The paper interviewed a yellow-shirted protester, who could not attend the demonstration but strongly opposes the government's possible plan to build another base in Okinawa. The tone of the coverage was sympathetic toward the Okinawans.

The paper also reports on Tokyo's rally for Okinawa, which took place on the same day as the Okinawa demonstration.


The major newspapers' coverage of the Okinawa rally held on Sunday and other related events show, both explicitly and implicitly, their editorial stances on Japanese national security policy, which has considered the Japan-US relationship to be of paramount importance.

The national papers have not been too clear about their position on the Futenma base relocation issue. Rather, their focus tends to be limited to covering the prime minister's lack of leadership. They rarely question fundamental problems caused by the American bases.

Sankei Shinbun, Yomiuri Shinbun, Nikkei Shinbun, and Asahi Shinbun express the view that the Japan-US relationship has been and will be Japan's diplomatic priority; while Mainichi Shinbun and Tokyo Shinbun hesitantly question if the American bases are truly protecting Japanese citizens.

Whether or not the Futenma base should be relocated to another prefecture, or whether Japan should maintain American bases spending a great deal of taxpayer money, is not only a matter for the Hatoyama administration, but also the entire Japanese public. In order to raise such issues, either in the Diet or elsewhere, the mass media needs to provide sufficient information on the American base issues and a platform to introduce different views, including those that challenge the status quo. However, the national papers are, by and large, failing to play that role.

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