How the US Military Stole Japan’s Sovereignty

A U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed off the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on November 29, 2023. The following series of events shows the status of the U.S. military as an occupation force.

Crash’s Investigation

After the deadly crash that killed eight service members on board, the U.S. forces suspended operations using Ospreys around the world. On March 8, the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command cleared the V-22 Osprey to return to flight. And on March 14, the U.S. Osprey resumed its flight in Japan.

On March 13, the Japanese Defense Ministry reported the resumption to the local governments concerned.

After that, the governor of Okinawa, Denny Tamaki, stated, “There was no concrete explanation of the cause of the crash. I can’t consent or allow.” The mayor of Ginowan, in Okinawa Prefecture, Masanori Matsugawa, said there was a big fear. Also, The governor of Kagoshima, Koichi Shiota, commented, “The offering of information was insufficient for the prefecture’s citizens to understand.”

On March 9, Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said, “Based on the U.S. law, the U.S. side can’t announce the crash details until the report is made public.” The Japanese Defense Ministry insists that the U.S. identified the cause of the crash, and if safety measures are taken, Osprey’s flight is safe.

However, all the Japanese side has been able to do is wait.

Although the crash occurred in the territorial waters and air of Japan, the Agreed Minutes of Article 17, paragraph 10 of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement prescribes that “The Japanese authorities will normally not exercise the right of search, seizure, or inspection […] with respect to property of the United States armed forces wherever situated,” the wreckage of the aircraft collected by Japan Coast Guard and local fishermen, were regarded as the U.S. armed forces “property” and transferred to the U.S.

Thus, Japan can’t conduct a comprehensive investigation of a crash that occurred within its sovereign territory. Japan’s Coast Guard announced its request to the U.S. forces for cooperation in the investigation, but it is not clear whether the U.S. forces consented.

Despite the lack of cooperation from the U.S. forces, Tokyo signals it does not plan to alter its relationship with the U.S. On November 30, 2023, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno denied the Japanese government’s intention to review the Japan-U.S. States of Forces Agreement.

MV-22 Osprey’s Crash in 2016

The deadly 2023 crash was not the first for the problem-plagued Osprey aircraft. On December 13, 2016, the U.S. MV22 Osprey crashed in the shallow water off the coast of Nago in northern Okinawa, and two of the five crew members on board were injured. No one was dead.

The Okinawa Prefectural Police requested the seizure of the aircraft’s body based on Japanese law. However, the U.S. forces rejected it based on the abovementioned agreement.

Japan Coast Guard also repeatedly requested to question the crew members. The U.S. rejected the requests, severely limiting any Japanese investigation.

Judging from a report offered by the U.S. forces on the crash, which describes the cause as a human error, the Japan Coast Guard sent papers to the prosecutor’s office.

However, it couldn’t identify the pilot because the U.S. forces didn’t give the pilot’s name.

The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, Article 17, paragraph 3 reads, “The military authorities of the United States shall have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over members of the United States armed forces or the civilian component in relation to […] offenses arising out of any act or omission done in the performance of official duty.”, thus, concerning crime in the line of duty, the U.S. forces have all jurisdiction.

The Naha District Public Prosecutor’s office (located in Okinawa) was unable to prosecute, and the case was closed.

When the Okinawa prefectural government protested the crash, Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, then-Okinawa Area Coordinator of the U.S. forces in Japan, stated that the pilot should be thanked and commended for not hurting the residents or damaging the houses.

Also, in the last few years, parts such as a panela cover, and a canteen have been dropped from Osprey in Okinawa, endangering the Okinawaians below.

Osprey’s Deployment

V-22 Osprey’s crashes have occurred frequently since under development, with over a dozen critical failures resulting in over 60 fatalities.

Although there was a significant safety concern, the U.S. forces in Japan began a plan to deploy the Ospreys. In September 2010, the Japanese government reluctantly admitted the plan to bring the Boeing-made aircraft to Japan.

In June 2012, the U.S. forces gave Host-Nation Notification, which is the U.S. voluntarily informing Japan of the U.S. forces in Japan’s equipment’s new deployment and change.

The following month, the National Governor’s Association adopted an urgent resolution about Osprey, stating that it couldn’t accept the deployment because the fear of the local governments and the residents had not been relieved yet.

On September 9, 2012, 100,000 people attended a rally in Okinawa to oppose the deployment of Osprey.

Ten days later, the U.S. forces and the Japanese government declared MV-22 Osprey safe and agreed to begin flight operations in Japan. On September 21, 2012, the test flights started at Marin Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Yamaguchi. On October 1, 2012, the U.S. forces deployed Osprey at Marin Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa.

The Japanese government and the U.S. forces agreed that the Osprey would fly at more than 500 feet (150 meters) above ground, avoid flying over nuclear power plants, schools, hospitals, and densely populated districts, fly on the sea as much as possible, and be restricted its flight of vertical takeoff and landing mode within the U.S. force’s facilities and areas except for needed.

However, according to a visual inspection the Okinawa government implemented in the first two months of Osprey deployment, 318 flights violated the Agreement. The Japanese government responded, “So far, we haven’t confirmed whether there was an MV-22 flight violating the agreement.”

Dangerous flights

The U.S. forces conduct the Osprey and other aircraft’s suspension training exercises. During the drills, from the aircraft, troops drop using parachutes and ropes, and objects are hanged.

Accidentally, hanging objects were dropped from the CH53E aircraft, such as a vehicle in 2006an iron target in 2020, and an iron container in 2021.

In July 2023, the U.S. and Japan revised the Agreement to allow the Osprey to fly as low as 200 feet (60 meters).

The U.S. considers these trainings are necessary.

The U.S. forces are permitted to do such dangerous flights because there is an “Act on Special Provisions of the Civil Aeronautics Act” in Japanese law. Article 3 reads that the U.S. forces aircraft and its crews are exempt from applying Japanese law.

Thus, the U.S. forces don’t need to obey Japanese law, which, for safety, prescribes the altitude and areas in which aircraft can fly.

U.S. forces still occupy Japan

In December 2023, reportedly, the Pentagon would end Osprey production. The production line won’t shut down until at least 2026, and the Osprey will operate until 2050. Eventually, only the U.S. and Japan will operate the Osprey.

Mayumi Uozumi, formerly of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, said, “Due to safety and maintenance trouble, the members on active service say they don’t need the Osprey. The U.S. probably made Japan buy it.”

The Japanese government will deploy Japan’s Osprey at Saga Airport in southwestern Japan and continue the construction. The local fishermen are filing a suit to stop the construction, but the government stated that it furthers the plan.

The next day after the November 2023 crash, the Japanese government requested the U.S. side to suspend Osprey’s flight. However, the U.S. forces continued the flights until December 7. For a few days after the crash, the Japanese Defense Minister and Press Secretary repeatedly  stated that providing information about the situation of the crash, safety measures, and so on from the U.S. was insufficient.

Japan can not stop the U.S. flight, investigate the cause of the crash, or obtain enough information. Besides, the government does not intend to review the Japan-U.S. States of Forces Agreement and has ignored the opposition of local governments and residents.

The U.S. still occupies Japan.

Reiho Takeuchi is a freelance journalist focusing on Japan and its surrounding, related regions. He writes on substack and hopes to provide the world with the chance to learn about modern colonialism through Japan’s situation.