TOKYO -- As the United States and Japan further strengthen their military alliance, they've turned to farmers markets to foster friendlier ties between American military bases and their Japanese neighbors.
On Sunday, about 20 Okinawan farmers and vendors came to Camp Hansen, a Marine Corps base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, bringing locally grown spinach, pineapples, big lemons and other fresh vegetables and fruits that the U.S. embassy said attracted hundreds of customers.
U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, who proposed the event, said the market brought healthy, local produce to consumers at Camp Hansen, while providing Japanese farmers and businesses with new customers. He bought Okinawan spinach, according to the U.S. Embassy.
“A win-win for all," Emanuel tweeted.
Fostering good relations with their host communities is important for the U.S. military based in Japan — especially in Okinawa where a heavy U.S. military presence has carried a fraught history.
Emanuel said in a statement he expects to see farmers markets foster a benefit between the Okinawan residents and American servicemembers who are contributing to the defense of Japan. He said he hopes to establish more farmers markets at other U.S. bases across Japan and hold them regularly.
Emanuel, a former congressman who served as former President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff, tweeted that he later joined Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki at a festival of Okinawans gathering from around the world, including Americans of Okinawan descent, held every five years.
Okinawa was reverted to Japan from U.S. occupation in 1972. Today, a majority of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact, as well as 70% of U.S. military facilities, are still in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6% of Japanese land.
Many Okinawans who complain about noise, pollution, accidents and crime related to American troops are now concerned about a possible emergency in Taiwan — just west of Okinawa and its outer islands — as an increasingly assertive China raises tensions amid its rivalry with Washington.
Tamaki, who was reelected for his second four-year term in September, supports the bilateral security alliance but has made the reduction of U.S. military bases a key component of his platform.
Sunday's launch of the farmers' market on Okinawa came a week after one at the Yokota Air Base in the western suburbs of Tokyo.