59. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State1

690. 1. Visit of PriMin Sato to Okinawa Aug 19–21 likely will have fundamental influence on U.S.-Japanese relations in connection with Okinawa. Decision to make visit in itself implied GOJ willingness face issue more directly than hitherto. Dramatic events of evening August 19,2 however, threw spotlight specifically on reversion question in manner which makes it impossible for GOJ either to sweep it back under rug or to leave it for opposition to exploit. This is first time top leadership of GOJ has had personal contact with actual conditions in Okinawa and preliminary indications are that Sato and Cabinet believe there is need for progress in Japanese positions and actions. As put by Yamano, Director Special Areas Liaison Bureau, who accompanied Sato, GOJ has come to believe that there is “gap” between desires and hopes of Okinawans for reversion and actions taken so far by GOJ for economic assistance. Basic problem facing GOJ, according to Yamano, is how to fill in this gap, bearing in mind GOJ realization of importance of Okinawa base to security of Far East and Japan, recognized difficulties which stand in way of separating base rights from administrative control of islands, and assumption that full reversion cannot be accomplished in near future. If this gap is not bridged, he believes, opposition in Okinawa and Japan will increasingly capitalize on reversion issue to detriment of position of Democratic Party (DP) in Okinawa and of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan.

2. Demonstration evening of August 19, although it was regarded in Japan as regrettable impoliteness to PriMin on his initial visit and although leftist instigation was generally recognized, was nevertheless looked on as genuine expression of serious Okinawan wish to have administrative control of their island returned to Japan as soon as possible. Prior to Sato visit, Japanese public had acknowledged desirability of reversion and had approved GOJ’s efforts toward this ultimate objective. They had not, however, appreciated extent and intensity of reversion sentiment in Okinawa until it was demonstrated by attitude of [Page 123] people in general as well as by outburst. Moreover, emphasis by Okinawa reversion council during Sato visit on fact that Okinawa has been under foreign military occupation for as long as 20 years seemed to intensify Japanese appreciation of reversion sentiment and of need for GOJ to do something about it.

3. Sato has decided establish cabinet council concerned with Okinawa. This will consist of Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Local Autonomy Minister, Agricultural-Forestry Minister, Welfare Minister, Education Minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary and Director General PriMin’s office. Council is to be formally approved at cabinet meeting August 27 and to have first meeting same day.

4. GOJ feels more than ever that November elections for Okinawa legislature will be crucial. Sato therefore desires complete action on Japanese aid for Okinawa for next year far enough before elections to permit full use in election campaign. Separate message will be sent on aid as soon as details are known.

5. Effect of visit to Okinawa on Sato’s personal prestige and LDP position is also important aspect. On favorable side, visit was considered by public as appropriate thing for PriMin to do and proper expression to people of Okinawa of homeland sympathy and interest in their affairs. PriMin’s speeches and general conduct of visit have met with favorable comment. Principal adverse factor has been Sato’s decision remain overnight at military guest quarters when demonstrators surrounded his hotel. Preponderant feeling has been that PriMin should have met demonstrators. In any event, his return to military base has been widely criticized as lacking in political astuteness. Members of his party, in radio and TV appearances, have gone to great lengths to explain away situation but unfavorable attitude on this point remains.

6. Present indications are that Sato and immediate advisors are approaching Okinawa question with caution and are well aware its potential seriousness. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hashimoto, according press, rebuked Local Autonomy Minister Nagayane at Aug 24 cabinet meeting (Sato absent) for reportedly having told press he endorsed proposal to take reversion question to United Nations in search for early solution. PriMin’s Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs Moriyuki Motono Aug 24 told Emb offs that GOJ must adopt policies on Okinawa issue which would enable it win support of “healthy” nationalism in Japan and prevent opposition’s monopolizing Nationalist sentiment on this issue. Like Yamano (para 1 above), Motono asserted that economic assistance no longer sufficient to meet GOJ domestic imperatives on Okinawa issue, and reversion question could “no longer be ignored,” even though early full reversion not expected. He seemed to imply that image of greater effort and some progress were needed, not necessarily spectacular concrete results.

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7. It is too early for GOJ to have reached any conclusions on actions it may propose to fill alleged “gap” between aid and reversion sentiment. We must nevertheless be prepared for GOJ wish to discuss this question in terms that will be meaningful to Japan.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 JAPAN. Confidential. Repeated to HICOMRY, Department of the Army, and CINCPAC for POLAD. Additional information pertaining to the Sato visit to Okinawa is also contained in this file.
  2. Reference is to pro-reversion demonstrations on the first day of Sato’s visit to Okinawa. These demonstrations resulted in often violent confrontations between participants and local police.