The governor of Okinawa, Ota Masahide, 70, is perhaps the only Japanese politician in living memory who has both paid attention to what the people who elected him wanted him to do and who did not betray them when faced with bureaucratic resistance. Just this past week he stood his ground again. After a very high profile five-hour meeting on November 4 with Prime Minister Murayama, Governor Ota refused to sign documents that would force unwilling landowners to renew leases on key parcels of land now used for American military bases in Okinawa. This is an unusual Japanese politician, to say the least. Following Japanese rather than American so-called rational choice research methods, I spent the afternoon doing a little biographical research on the man.
Born in Okinawa June 12, 1925, Ota graduated in 1954 from Waseda University, where he majored in English and English literature. In 1956 he received an M.A. degree in journalism from Syracuse University in New York. He worked until 1990 as a professor of social science in the University of the Ryukyus, where he specialized in modern and contemporary Okinawan society. In 1968 he became a full professor and in 1983 he began service as dean of the law and literature departments. He has also taught or done research at the Journalism Research Center of the University of Tokyo (Shimbun Kenkyujo), the University of Arizona. Since 1971 he has served on the editorial board, together with Oe Kenzaburo and others, of the journal _Okinawa keiken_ (The Okinawan Experience).
Among Ota's many books on Okinawa, perhaps the most compelling is his recollection of the Battle of Okinawa of 1945 seen from the perspective of a high school student. See Ota's _Soshi Okinawasen: shashin kiroku_ (General History of the Battle of Okinawa: A Photographic Record) (Iwanami Shoten, 1982, 256 pp.). In 1945 Ota served as a member of the Tekketsu Kinno Tai (Blood and Iron for the Emperor Service Units), which he was extraordinarily lucky to have survived. For details on these units, see the excellent new history by Colonel Hiromichi Yahara, THE BATTLE FOR OKINAWA: A JAPANESE OFFICER'S EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE LAST CAMPAIGN OF WORLD WAR II (trans. Roger Pineau and Masatoshi Uehara with an introduction by Frank B. Gibney) (John Wiley, 1995), chap. 17 "Civilians at the Last Stand," pp. 105-6.
Ota has published more than forty books. Those that exist in the UCSD Library are, in addition to Soshi Okinawasen, _Kindai Okinawa no seiji kozo_ (The Political Structure of Modern Okinawa) (Keiso Shobo, 1972, 567 pp.); _Kyozetsu-suru Okinawa: Nihon fukki to Okinawa no kokoro_ (The Okinawa that Refuses: Reversion to Japan and the Spirit of Okinawa) (Saimaru Shuppankai, 1971, 250 pp.); _Mieru Showa to mienai Showa: Ota Masahide Okinawa ronshu_ (The Visible and Invisible Showa Era: A Collection of Essays by Ota Masahide on Okinawa) (Naha Shuppansha, 1994, 403 pp.); and _Minikui Nihonjin: Nihon no Okinawa ishiki_ (The Ugly Japanese: Japan's Consciousness of Okinawa) (Saimaru Shuppankai, 1959, 259 pp).
In March 1990 Ota became a professor emeritus and on November 18, 1990, was elected governor of Okinawa prefecture on a platform of reforming prefectural politics. He does not identify himself with any political party, but he was supported by the Socialist, Communist, Shaminren, and Komei parties. He is now serving his second term.
Ota is an exceptional figure to emerge from the normally undistinguished world of Japanese local government. Professor Ota has almost surely forgotten more about the United States than Professor Nye, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense, ever knew about Japan and Okinawa. But Nye has been very important to Ota. Nye's Report of last February in which he attempts to freeze the military status quo in the Pacific for the next two decades, combined with the lack of discipline and complacency of the commanders of the U.S. forces in Okinawa, has finally brought the festering discontent of the Okinawan people to a boil. It is possible that this discontent will boil over during the APEC summit next week.
Sources consulted for this sketch are Jiji Tsushin, Zenkoku chiji-shi-machi-mura chomeibo (1993-94 ed.); Gendai Nihon jinmei roku (1994); Asahi jinbutsu jiten (1990); and Jinji koshinroku (38th ed., 1995).
President, Japan Policy Research Institute
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