Demilitarization or Militourism: “Act on Reconstruction of Cities that Formerly Served as Naval Ports” in Japan

By Chu-Wen Hsieh

Currently, I am conducting fieldwork research for my dissertation at Yokosuka, Japan, approximately 70 kilometers south of Tokyo and facing Tokyo Bay on the east. This place has been developed as a naval port and base since U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry first landed in Japan and demanded to open the nation to trade 170 years ago. Nowadays, it has the only homeport for American aircraft carriers outside the U.S.

My research focuses on the “extra-ordinary ordinary life” of people who live next to one of the U.S. military bases in Japan, the Yokosuka Naval Base. By “extra-ordinary ordinary life,” I am referring to a precarious coexistence in which residents are subject to actions by non-citizens, where security and danger, peace and war live side by side. However, this blog post will not introduce the details of this U.S. base but about the land they use.

People in Yokosuka have less strong feelings against the U.S. military bases on their land. One of the explanations is that the land the U.S. military base is located now was an Imperial Japanese Naval Base. “It’s just changed from one military to the other military,” was one of the common answers I heard from my interlocutors (collaborators).

After the defeat of the Second World War, Japan was disarmed. The former Imperial Japanese Naval assets (facilities, lands, and properties) are succeeded by U.S. Forces in Japan and Japanese Self-Defense Forces. The rest of the assets were transferred to local governments (municipalities) or private enterprises, either free of charge or at nominal cost, based on “the Act on Reconstruction of Cities that Formerly Served as Naval Ports [1].”

“The Act on Reconstruction of Cities that Formerly Served as Naval Ports” is designed to revive the four former naval port cities (Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo, and Maizuru) where their employment rate and population declined sharply after the Imperial Japanese Navy being dissolved by taking advantage on what they have: the former military assets. The law was approved by the Diet (the Japanese National Assembly) and by local referendum in each city and came into effect in 1950.

Based on the law, former Imperial Japanese Naval assets have been converted and utilized for factories, schools, parks, roads, water supplies, public housing, and others. Taking Yokosuka City as an example, the Nissan Motor Corporation Oppama Plant, Yokosuka Sogo High School, Nagai Seaside Park Soleil Hill, etc., are constructed on lands that Imperial Japanese Navy used.

A ruin of a gun battery in Sarushima (Monkey Island). This island was a fortress of the Imperial Japanese Navy and is converted into a park.

Why is this law related to the U.S. military in Japan? If we compare the four formal port cities, the rates of land conversion of these four former naval port cities from high to low are Kure (92.7%), Maizuru(85.9%), Yokosuka(74.4%), and Sasebo(59.5%) [2]. Yokosuka and Sasebo are cities that host the U.S. military bases, which is one of the reasons the two cities have lower land conversion rates than the other two [3].

Moreover, the U.S. military in Japan has been handing over the U.S.-occupied land to Japan bit by bit. Yokosuka City has received the returned land for city development from the central government by paying lower than the market price or even without payment [4]. Other cities, which host U.S. military bases but were not former naval port cities, must pay for the returned land based on the market price, or it will be sold to the private sector. This difference, of course, makes those base host cities, such as Sagamihara City, feel unfair. [5]

One more interesting issue related to this law is its purpose of promoting the peaceful use of former military facilities in those port cities. As the first article of the law states, “the purpose of this act is to transform the four cities that had developed as naval ports to peace-time industrial coast cities, aiming to achieve the ideal of peaceful Japan.”[6] Based on the tone of this article, it is a law for demilitarization of the former naval port cities.

However, opposite to the aim of the law, Yokosuka is now a city hosting one of the most strategically important U.S. military bases. Yokosuka city government also utilizes the U.S. military base and Imperial Japanese naval port heritage to promote tourism and develop Yokosuka. Militourism could be a concept to describe this complexity of tourism and militarism. [7]

To be more specific, the city’s tourism capitalizes on the military image and history as a resource to attract domestic and international tourists. Albeit a successful developmental strategy, one might also be wary that this promotional tactic could also be used as a way to normalize the spread of militarized values into civilian life and embellish the presence of U.S. military forces in Japan. For instance, a cruise of Yokosuka Naval Port for seeing the U.S. battleships and submarines, a U.S.-Japan friendship base historical tour, and certainly no tourists would like to miss the two most famous cuisines, (U.S.) Navy Burger and Kaigun (Imperial Japanese Navy) Curry, when they visit Yokosuka. I am also preparing my lunch from a boil-in-the-bag Kaigun Curry while considering the future of this former naval port city and now a peace-time industrial coast city hosting the military forces from another country.

Navy Burger
Kaigun Curry


[1] 旧軍港市転換法 (軍転法)

[2] 旧軍港市転換法施行70周年記念 子ども向けパンフレット

[3] 本市所在旧軍用財産転用概況

[4] 旧軍港市転換法70年のあゆみ

[5] 平成29年 国の施策・制度に関する提案・要望書 相模原市, p.10

[6] 旧軍港市転換法 (軍転法)

[7] “Teaiwa, Teresia. 1999.”Reading Paul Gauguin’s Nau Nau with Epili Hua’ofa’s Kisses in the Nederends: Militourism, Feminism, and the Polynesian’s Body.” In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson,249-263. NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Chu-Wen Hsieh is a PhD candidate at UNC’s Department of Anthropology. She is interested in military bases, social movements, nationalism, empire, and Okinawa and Japan. Her current research focuses on the everyday life of local communities around U.S. military bases in Japan. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Anthropology and Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Political Science from National Taiwan University.

Edited by Jo Kwon

Featured Image: Azumashima is an island the Imperial Japanese Navy used as an ammunition storage area and now is the Us Navy Azuma Storage Area.

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