There is a pond near my home in Japan that is chock full of American crawdads. On the weekends my neighbors spend countless joyful hours fishing the little critters out. It's all basically catch-and-release or catch and keep in a tank as a pet (next to the pet beetle tank perhaps) and looks like great fun. As fellow Americans those little mudbugs have always been a source of great pride for me. That is until I went to the local natural history museum where an exhibit entitled, "Invasive Species," rocked my entire world view, or at least my view of the pond. It would seem that my beloved crustaceans have wreaked quite a bit of havoc on the local ecosystem. I had no idea. Everyone always seemed so happy with them. As a guest in this foreign land I often find the signals delivered by the natives of my host country to be somewhat mixed.
The signals were anything but mixed in Tokyo this past January 30, where thousands turned out to protest the presence of US military forces in Japan. While anti-base protests are nothing new here, they are usually confined to the country's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa where over twenty thousand people turned out to protest just ahead of President Obama's visit this past November. Although US military installations seem to offer the benefits of jobs and other sources of revenue that come along with hosting upwards of 47,000 US servicemen and women, there is a murkier side of untold havoc that usually gets covered over by politicians in both Washington and Tokyo. The enormous pressure of the massive US military apparatus on the tiny island prefecture of Okinawa, where the bulk of US troops are stationed, has recently sparked a wave of anti-base sentiment throughout Japan. The festering rage is centered mostly on the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station, where some 4000 marines are assigned. Under a deal inked with Japan's former ruling party, the air station, which now occupies a quarter of the densely populated city of Ginowan, Okinawa was to be relocated to a new base to be built a little further north in the less crowded city of Nago. Public outcry calling for the land on which Futenma is built to be returned and the marines stationed there to be sent back home has prompted Japan's recently elected administration to give that deal a second look, much to the dismay of US officials. The US maintains the base is vital to security in the region and the deal a cornerstone to maintaining the status quo between the US and Japan. This wrinkle in foreign relations has really put the Japanese administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, between a rock and a hard place. Reneging on the deal will earn them the wrath of Washington, while sticking to it will anger the citizenry who voted them into office on a platform that promised a scaled-down US military presence in Japan. Voters sent the current administration a reminder of its campaign promise this past January when they ousted an incumbent mayor who favored the new base and voted in one who opposes it.
I don't know much about foreign policy but I do know a little something about invasive species. While at first glance they may seem to offer a lot, they wind up taking much more than they give. A guest on the other hand is an entirely different species altogether. Rule number one of being a guest is: Don't overstay your welcome and always come and go between the time stated on the party invitation. Admittedly, when US forces landed on the beaches of Okinawa, Japan in 1945, it was no party and if there was an invitation, it came at the barrel of a gun. That was sixty five years ago. There has been a sea change in relations between our two countries in that time. Overstaying our welcome will only cause waves that could shift the tides of time back. Our hosts have sent a loud and clear message and it sounds like the party is winding down. Now when it comes to relations with our friends across the pond, we Americans may have our heads buried in the sand but we're no crawdads. It's time to start trickling back home before the tide turns against us.