Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Okinawa's Sub Tropical Rain Forests - Worth Protecting!

In a 1999 article titled, Okinawa's Rain Forests and Endangered Species Under Threat, Kenny Ehman, a reporter for the Japan Update wrote:

The northern forests of Okinawa, known locally as "Yambaru," contain some of the rarest species of plants, animals, and insects in the world. Subtropical rain forests also exist within Yambaru and play an important role in the watershed ecosystem. The most pristine areas of these rain forests are found within the Northern Training Area, which the United States military uses for jungle warfare training.

Since the return of Okinawa Prefecture to Japan in 1972, the environment of northern Okinawan has been gradually suffering from the effects of development and logging at the hands of the Japanese government, while much of the Northern Training Area has managed to remain in its natural state because of low-impact use by the United States military. These last remaining sections of old forest growth, located inside the 19,638 acres of the Northern Training Area, are now being threatened because of conditions set down by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa agreement, which calls for the return of the northern half of the Northern Training Area to Okinawa Prefecture.

At the time of the article they were investigating moving seven helicopter landing pads within the Northern Training Area. The proposed sites for the landing zones would have been located in some of the oldest subtropical rain forests on Okinawa. A joint research team of scientists from Okinawa and Hawaii conducted a biological survey within the Northern Training Area. Their study recorded a total of 1313 species within the newly proposed landing zones. The survey also concludes that out of the 66 known endemic species to Yambaru, 22 of these existed within the site. There were also 126 endangered species recorded in the proposed landing zone area, making it an especially important habitat for endangered wildlife. Some of the more well known species included the Pryor's Woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii ), Yambaru Kuina (Rallus okinawae ), and the Yambaru long-armed Scarab Beetle (Cheirotonus jambar ).

Pryors Woodpecker

Yambaru Kuina (Okinawa Rail)
Yambaru long-armed Scarab Beetle

Dr. Osamu Iwahashi of the University of the Ryukyus was one of the main researchers involved in the biological survey. He expressed concern that the proposed construction of the seven new helicopter landing pads, each 75 meters in diameter, together with the construction of access roads, would severely damage the environment. "The access roads would cause fragmentation within the rain forest ecosystem. There would also be an increase in soil erosion; many species in the watershed can not survive even under the slightest change in water quality," he explained. Iwahashi stated that because Okinawa Prefecture contains the only islands in the world where subtropical rain forests exist, the importance of protecting the area should be a priority. He also mentioned that if for no other reason, the number of endangered species found within the area alone would be more than enough reason to force a relocation of the proposed site for the new helicopter landing zones.

Environmentalists are also concerned over plans for logging and dam construction within the section of land scheduled for return to Okinawa. The area will fall under the control of the National Forestry Ministry and the Northern Dams Office. There are many pro-environment activists who fear that the forests will be cut and developed for tourism. Dr. Ken Kaneshiro Ph.D., a biologist from the University of Hawaii's Center for Conservation Research and Training who has been working together with Iwahashi, is also concerned over the possible loss of many endangered species and environmental damage to the Yambaru watershed. "Yambaru contains an important watershed for the entire island of Okinawa. If the rain forest eco-system is destroyed, there will be long-term impacts on the entire island," he said in reference to Okinawa's water supply. "There is a very high concentration of endangered species that are endemic to the area and are very important to the water-shed eco-system. The species living within the watershed eco-system form a community, so any impact would affect not just one species but the entire community."

Kaneshiro said that he would like to see the area under the control of the Japanese Environmental Protection Division, and he believes the creation of a national park with eco-tourism could be one economic alternative to development. "It needs to be protected," he stated. "It's very important to provide public access to the area for educational purposes, and to enable people to understand the importance of protecting it."
Back in 2008, in response to a suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, a United States Federal Court found the Department of Defense in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act for failing to consider the impact on endangered species. The department is now required to consider all impacts of a new U.S. airbase on the endangered Okinawa dugong, a cultural icon of Japan's Okinawan people. The decision set an important precedent in international environmental law. I believe that in the case of the northern training area landing zones they should use the decision to help block such construction. Okinawans need to make their Japanese representatives aware of their concern for the preservation of the area and work towards an eco friendly solution to the use of the land. There should be no excuse for allowing the extinction of a species from the planet. Okinawa's natural resources need protection.

The National Historic Preservation Act requires U.S. government agencies to consider effects on cultural and historic resources when carrying out activities abroad. Thus the Department of Defense must adhere to the law and take into consideration any harm that might occur to another nation's cultural resources. The endangered dugong, listed on Japan's register of protected cultural properties, is therefore entitled to protection. And the Department's failure to produce, gather, and consider information about effects of the new airbase on the species are a clear violation of the statute.


  1. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    The DoD really needs to get its act together when it comes to mitigating or otherwise addressing the negative effects of military bases in Okinawa. I don't know for real, but I'd imagine that for bases within the States themselves, such as bases in Hawaii, they pay a lot more attention to environmental, economic, social impact of the bases.

    I hope you do not mind if I post a link to this post on my own blog. Yoroshiku.

  2. Please do not overlook the dying coral of Okinawa. Many people believe that it came under attack from Japanese industry following reversion. America is not the environmental violator that many make it out to be when compared to a large number of other industrialized nations. It is not always our fault.

  3. Thanks Dennis! I'm not down on America and you are right the Japanese do play a tremendous role in the distruction of the natural environment of the Ryukyu islands. Be it filling in the reefs or mismanagement of forest land. It seems that the money speaks more loudly than the people of Okinawa in many cases.

  4. Sadly, between US interests and Japanese interests, Okinawans always get the short end of the stick. Thank you for raising awareness of this issue.

  5. I think this is very important information that should be more widely publicized in Japan. If you have links to information in Japanese on this subject, I would really like to post it on my blog.