Unmaking urban empires: Urban military land conversion and Indigenous resurgence in Okinawa

Authors: Daniel Iwama*, University of California, Los Angeles
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Indigenous Peoples, Military Geography
Keywords: Militarism, demilitarization, social movement, Okinawa; indigenous, decolonization, urban planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Tower Court C, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper is about geographies of war and peace in Okinawa. With 23 bases spread across an island merely 11km wide and less than 100km long, Okinawa’s main island is the second most dense extraterritorial outpost of US Militarism in the world (U.S. DoD, 2018) . Annexed by Japan as the Prefecture of Okinawa in 1879, militarism in the formerly independent Ryukyu Kingdom demonstrates the US Military’s tendency to rely on indigenous and “unsovereign” territories for strategic posturing (Davis, 2015) . In response to demilitarization movements in Okinawa, which have escalated since 1996, the US-Japan Security Alliance has made political commitments to reduce the number of military bases, triggering local and prefectural governments to initiate base conversion projects. While no large-scale demilitarization has occurred in the aggregate as yet, there have been numerous instances of Okinawan land reclamation, with outcomes ranging from mega malls owned by large mainland corporations to direct restitution to landowners dispossessed during World War II. In this paper, I will bring some of these instances of contemporary Okinawan land reclamation to the fore. I will argue that while some military redevelopment projects have simply traded one occupier for another (US militarism for advanced capitalism), others have manifested decolonial landscapes pushing forward processes of indigenous resurgence (Corntassel, 2012) in a period of dramatic territorial contestation.

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