A shameless piece of self-promotion here, but my copy of Rain and Thunder arrived in the post today featuring an article I first wrote for The Radical Hub. It’s the first copy I’ve ever read and as I perused it I was delighted to come across an interview with the Japanese feminist activist Suzuyo Takazoto. Let’s talk about the subject of her activism, which is the women of Okinawa.
She doesn’t mention the beginnings in the interview, but I know that it begins with the cliffs of Marpi. When the US soldiers approached the island of Okinawa in their boats, they were confronted by the sight of hundreds of women and children throwing themselves off the cliffs of Marpi, like dodos. Japanese mothers held their chlidren in their arms and jumped, or threw their children off the cliffs first before jumping after them.
They did this, because they had been informed by their own men, the Japanese military, that it was better to die than be raped by the enemy, and possibly killed anyway. When Okinawan women learned that with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki their island would now be invaded, hundreds of women peasants made the pilgrimage to the cliffs of Marpi to take their fate into their own hands.
Western history books report that what happened was irrational, that the women’s minds were brainwashed by Japanese propaganda. But, as Suzuyo Takazoto is brave enough to teach, the women might not have been so stupid, and they might not have been blindly following orders in the way that the history books record.
In her interview Takazato mentions an incident in1993, whereby it became public knowledge all over Japan that US soldiers in Okinawa are immune to prosecution from rape, and that they frequently take advantage of this privilege. It was not actually until the rape of a 12 year old by a US soldier in 1995 that the Okinawans were finally out on the streets in order to put pressure on the Japanese government to intervene this time. As far as understand it not much has changed, because since I have been living in Japan I have seen more than a few incidents of American soldiers using their get out of jail free card.
We can also see how ineffective the Japanese government is when it does intervene on behalf of women. It has “intervened” once before, by creating hundreds of brothels in an attempt to stop “ordinary” women from being raped. Because we all know prostitutes can’t be raped.
Here is a small extract from the interview:
R & T: Would you talk about the historical presence of the US military in Okinawa and the culture of violence it consequently created there, particularly for women?
Our lives were completely affected. The first thing was that very rich land was taken by force–by gunpoint. They barricaded areas. After the war ended, those who survived the war were held in concentration camps in Okinawa where they had to stay for 6 months to one year. When people were allowed to return to their own houses, they couldn’t reach their houses because there was an iron fence constructed. Many peoples’ lands were taken for the military use and that’s remained the case. After the reversion back to Japan, the Japanese government now had to pay lease money. The Okinawan people’s land had been taken. WIthin this context, almost 80% of our infrastructure had been destroyed.
When the troops stayed what happened to women? The raping of women became another new war. So for women in Okinawa, the war ended, the sound of bullets was silent, but the new war against women and our bodies started. Women from the 9-month old to the 60-year-old were raped. Some were kidnapped and then raped by groups of soldiers by gun or knifepoint. This happened right after the war until the Korean War. When the Korean War started in June 1950, Okinawa had become the deploying military base. When the troops were deployed and came back to Okinawa, they would become so brutal. They would go to local areas and rape women. All the leaders of the community were so fearful from the beginning of the 1950s, they started to set up brothels to try to stop the violence from going from the bases to the community. People in Okinawa were aware of such violence from the beginning. They knew what the effect of the U.S military was. But to avoid this violence, the leaders discussed how to set up brothels. They wanted to have some kind of prostitution area to protect “ordinary” women from the violence. But they didn’t see that it was all violence against women.”
Reading her last line again, it strikes me now that it’s possible that the Japanese community leaders may have understood that prostitution was also violence against women. The word “fearful” stands out. Since when have male leaders ever been fearful of the fact that women were being raped? I almost get the feeling they were fearful for themselves not knowing whether or not the U.S military would take it upon themselves to expand their repertoire and start raping men, or at least beating up men too. This seems a much more likely explanation for all the “fear” behind the rush to set up brothels (including the fact that the brothel owners would have been men).
Suzuyo Takazoto continues her tireless campaigning on behalf of the women of Okinawa. You can see her speaking (in excellent English) here: