TOKYO - "To regard its economy is frightening indeed," writes Ganji Nishimoto in Kami no Bakudan (Dec), in his report on the "Hidden Poverty" on Okinawa, where the unemployment rate is nearly double that of mainland Japan -- over 5% for Okinawa as opposed to around 3% for the mainland.
Poverty affects children in 37.5% of Okinawa's households -- a rate 2.7 times that of the 46 prefectures on the mainland. The prefecture also ranks top in Japan in terms of the percentage of people employed in non-regular jobs, at just under 45%, and its average annual income is about 70% that of the mainland.
Because poverty is becoming ingrained, fewer families can afford to pay for their children's tuition at a university or occupational specialty school, which effectively rules out the chances for a professional or white-collar career.
A key reason for the island's poverty is sheer distance: Because of its long distance from the mainland, costs for transportation are high. Take Toyota, which operates an assembly plant in Iwate Prefecture. If cars each composed of 30,000 components were to be assembled in Okinawa, production costs would go up considerably. By the same token, exports from the island simply cannot compete in the international marketplace.
Nishimoto is convinced that as long as Okinawa keeps its status as full-fledged Japanese territory, it will be unable to achieve economic independence. Governor Denny Tamaki has proposed some radical ideas to improve its lot: How about emulating the Chinese slogan of "one country, two systems," for example, allowing it to eliminate all duties on foreign imports and the 8% (soon to be 10%) consumption tax? Or, even to allow it to issue its own currency, the "Okinawan yen," whose value could be set at 30% to 50% below that of Japan's currency. This would halve the cost for package tour visitors and serve as a magnet for visitors from both Japan and neighboring foreign countries.
Summing up, says Nishimoto, Okinawa's people do not desire a complete independence from Japan, but rather an economic policy that gives them a greater degree of autonomy. And rather than a unilateral policy by which the Japanese government dictates policy re the U.S. bases therein, it would no doubt prefer to approach the issue from the perspective of a three-way negotiations involving Japan, the U.S. and "the autonomous state of Okinawa."
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