No doubt many people in Okinawa were hurt by the condescending remarks that two Osaka Prefectural Police officers recently hurled at protesters at a helipad construction site at the U.S. military's Northern Training Area. The riot squad members, aged in their 20s, branded protesters at the site in Okinawa "dojin," a derogatory term for aborigines, and "Shinajin," likewise a derogatory term for Chinese.
Several hundred riot squad officers from six prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka have been dispatched to the area around the construction site. Their help was sought by Okinawa Prefectural Police to respond to vigorous protests.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed outrage at the verbal barbs, branding them "unforgivable." Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga similarly acknowledged that the remarks ought not to be permitted. Masayoshi Sakaguchi, commissioner-general of the National Police Agency, promised that similar incidents would not occur again.
However, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui tweeted, "Even if the expressions they used were inappropriate, you can tell (from video footage) that they were earnestly carrying out their duties under orders." He additionally tweeted to the officers, "I appreciate your hard work during your duty trip."
Matsui's defense of the officers is rash, and his perceptions as a governor in charge of the prefectural police are extremely inappropriate.
It goes without saying that discriminatory remarks are impermissible. And we must squarely face the problems of the heavy presence of U.S. bases in Okinawa being taken for granted and insensitive mainlanders not understanding Okinawa's pain.
Eyeing the rise of China, the central government is pressing Okinawa to accept U.S. bases. But Okinawa residents have, through elections, time and again expressed their opposition to relocation the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko area of the prefecture. Residents have also resisted the Northern Training Area helipad relocation, complaining about noise.
Maybe because it seems to them that Okinawa's response is selfishly going against government policy, there are people who do nothing but build up antipathy toward Okinawa without accepting the island prefecture's objections.
In January 2013, when Onaga was mayor of Naha, all of Okinawa's mayors held a demonstration march in Tokyo's Ginza district to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the deployment of U.S. Osprey transport aircraft. On that occasion, some people on the side of the road verbally abused them, calling them "unpatriotic" and saying, "Get out of Japan." It was a moment that made people painfully aware of the deep divide between Okinawa and mainland Japan.
It is as if Okinawa's earnest claims are being viewed as "anti-government." Onaga and others called this lack of understanding toward Okinawa "structural discrimination." The riot squad members may have made their comments against such a backdrop.
One can sense in those comments the same sort of perceptions that led to hate speech based on bias against certain ethnic groups or races. We worry whether this sort of sentiment is spreading among young people.
Rather than taking this as a special cases relating to riot squad members, it should be viewed as a problem in Japanese society as a whole.