Is there any resentment of Japan towards the United States due to World War II?
Before traveling to Japan, I would have answered no.
Now, I answer that Japan is big, that not all Japanese think the same, and that the effects of the Second War are felt today in things that one does not imagine from afar…
We visited Japan with my family in 1999. We spent most of our time in Tokyo, but to try something different, we spent a few days in Okinawa, based in Naha. Unlike in Tokyo where we slept in ryokans (= traditional Japanese hotels, with microscopic rooms), in Naha we stayed in a modern western-style hotel. Since Okinawa is full of American naval bases, we took it for granted that people would speak English: to our surprise, the receptionists barely spoke a little (first clue that something was wrong…), and it was clear that we were the only gaijin ( =foreigners) at the hotel.
Driving in Tokyo is torture, so we used to ride subways and trains there. But Okinawa is big, there are many places of interest to visit, and in the hotel there was a brochure (in Japanese, but the photos were clear enough) from a car rental company, showing a little car that I fell in love with: based on a Nissan, convertible, but with a retro imitation Jaguar design (!) So there we went with my wife to rent the little car. Second surprise: the employees spoke even less English than in the hotel. After a few minutes of trying to communicate by signs, we concluded that filling out a contract without having the remotest idea of what it said (we couldn’t even be sure that they understood how many days we wanted it!) was a bad idea, so I went back to the hotel to see if any receptionist offered to help us.
Coming out of Naha there is one naval base after another, so the palm tree lined roads on the central causeway are identical to California, except you drive the other way. There are McDonalds, KFCs and Burger Kings in bulk. My kids had never seen a KFC (in Argentina there wasn’t, now I think there was) and they wanted to see how bad fried chicken is (answer: it’s abominable), so we stopped at one. There yes, the customers were all gringos, and the cashiers spoke impeccable English.
We continued our journey to a beach that was our destination, with a very promising tourist resort. Indeed, the resort was very nice and the beach was heavenly… for those who could get along with the reception. Again to sign, until someone decided to call a young man with a dazzling smile who spoke English more than correct. Big relief! We made arrangements with him, and while my wife and the boys were getting ready to go to the beach, he couldn’t help but ask our guide why it was so rare to find locals who speak English, with the bases so close. The boy’s smile dimmed a bit when he replied “oh yeah, the American bases”.
He was not going to let the opportunity pass, so he insisted until, with a lot of effort (for the Japanese a personal confession is almost pornographic, although in Okinawa they are ethnically different, almost more Chinese than Japanese) the boy told us that the locals she was fed up with the bad manners of the soldiers, the drunks, and -in the worst case- the rapes of the local girls. But at least they help something to the economy of the island? I insisted. There came a resounding “no”. It turns out that if the grassroots pay anything, they pay it to the central government, and they probably pay nothing, so the Okinawans don’t get anything from the grassroots. And what the soldiers consume remains for the North American chains (it was very clear that no gringo set foot in the hotels, shops and resorts managed by Japanese).
During the rest of the trip we tried to pull the tongue of other locals, although between the language barrier and their nature reserve, we didn’t find out much more. But we are convinced that, at least in Okinawa, Americans live in a world apart, and are guests by force, not at all welcome.
I know it has nothing to do with the question, but I can’t resist posting a picture of the car.