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2 old ‘passports’ show history of travel between mainland Japan, Okinawa under US rule


A “Japan Travel Document,” left, and an “identification certificate,” which were required for travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan, are seen in this photo taken in Osaka’s Kita Ward on April 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

TOKYO — An 80-year-old man from Okinawa Prefecture who settled in Tokyo still has two “passports” that he obtained while Okinawa was under US control: a “Japan Travel Document” issued when he enrolled in the University of Tokyo from Okinawa , and an “identification certificate” created after he moved to Tokyo in order to visit his hometown.

Until Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, travel between Okinawa and the mainland was restricted and controlled by the United States. The Japan Travel Document for travel from Okinawa to Japan was issued by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands, the US governing body that ruled Okinawa.

The travel document was used in the same way as a passport. Although Kazuo Tamaki’s document stated his registered domicile as “Okinawa Prefecture,” he was described as a “Ryukyuan resident” rather than a Japanese national, and the purpose of his trip was “to study abroad,” not to enter a university.


Kazuo Tamaki is seen in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on Nov. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Koichi Kirino)

On the other hand, the identification certificate issued by the Japanese government stated that he was a “Japanese national” and certified that he was traveling to Okinawa. Stamps for entry to and exit from the mainland were marked “certifying return to Japan” and “certifying departure from Japan,” respectively, indicating that travel to and from Okinawa was subject to the same procedures as those for foreign countries.

At the time, permission from the US Civil Administration was required for mainland residents to travel to Okinawa, even if they were originally from Okinawa, and permission was sometimes denied to those who criticized the US rule of Okinawa or were involved in the movement to return Okinawa to Japan.

According to data from that time, between 1963 and the summer of 1967, 144 cases of travel from mainland Japan to Okinawa and about 40 cases of travel from Okinawa to the mainland were denied. Masao Miyagi, the late president of the Hyogo prefectural headquarters of the association of people from Okinawa Prefecture, was among those who were turned down. Miyagi reportedly applied many times to travel from Hyogo to Okinawa to search for the remains of his mother, who was killed in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa during World War II, but was not granted permission during the period of US control. He died in May 2021 at the age of 94.


The insides of a “Japan Travel Document,” left, and an “identification certificate,” which were required for travel between Okinawa and mainland Japan, are seen in this partially modified photo taken in Osaka’s Kita Ward on April 28, 2022. (Mainichi /Takehiko Onishi)

Tamaki, now a resident of Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined the then Prime Minister’s Office (now the Cabinet Office). He served as the director general of the general affairs bureau of the now-defunct Okinawa Development Agency. He has kept a close eye on Okinawa in both his public and private life.

Looking at his old travel documents, Tamaki reflected, “Even though people know the sorrow of the division of the Korean Peninsula and countries like Germany, I wonder how many Japanese feel the sadness of the similar division that occurred in Japan.

“There is a gap in awareness and feelings between the people of Okinawa and those on the mainland. It is similar to the issue of the relocation of the US military bases,” he said.

(Japanese original by Koichi Kirino, Sustainability Committee Secretariat)

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