As I was leaving base this week, I came across the above scene. One man, holding a sign across from a base gate, spreading goodwill towards Americans. The recent spate of criminal activity on Okinawa, allegedly by Americans, has intensified the already unique relationship between the people of Japan and Americans. Indeed, what once was a relationship of aggressor and defender, became one of occupied and occupier, and now is akin to one of host and guest.
I watched as he spoke in Japanese to the cars passing by. And then I watched as he repeatedly bowed in gratitude towards the SOFA-status vehicles waiting to leave base. Certainly, some Japanese citizens welcome our presence, whether for the yen spent at restaurants and bars or for the sense of protection afforded to the largely pacifist country. But this man’s decision to stand alone and let his voice be heard left me wanting to know more. What made him stand in the sweltering heat to thank U.S. servicemembers? What did his family think of his actions? His friends? The local media? Local politicians?
I suppose the answers to those questions don’t truly matter. It’s never easy to stand alone, especially when one’s position is unpopular. That’s why I’m thankful we don’t have to.