In 1881 Hawaii’s King Kalakaua traveled to Japan on what would be the start of his world tour, becoming the first reigning monarch in history to circle the globe. He proposed to the Meiji government the idea of putting together a federation of Asian – Pacific nations with the purpose of mutual aid in the face of Western imperialism, and he asked Japan to head it. Kalakaua hoped that this would protect Hawaii from the West, but to no avail. Japan gave it some thought, but ultimately politely declined Kalakaua’s idea under the belief that its best interests lay in forging stronger ties with and emulating the West, rather than siding with other Asia-Pacific nations.
King Kalakaua (bottom center) with two of his ministers (standing left and right respectively) posing with three representatives of the Meiji government during their meeting in Japan.
Japan’s decision to follow the West would have tragic, world-changing consequences. Similar to the West, it would continue acquiring colonies by force (Japan had already forcefully annexed Ryukyu beginning in 1872 and coming to completion by 1878), using propaganda to instill Japanese nationalization upon the people they conquered, building up its industry and military, and committing numerous human rights violations, including some of the most horrific acts in recorded history. All this, of course, would culminate in Japan’s participation in World War II, or as it is known in Japan, the Asia-Pacific War, causing the deaths of tens of millions, and forever tarnishing Japan’s international image, particularly with Asian countries.
But what if Japan had agreed to Kalakaua’s idea of an Asia-Pacific Federation back in the 1880s? Rather than emulating the West, what if Japan had instead embraced its own unique culture and society and had forged stronger ties with other Asia-Pacific nations in a show of peaceful resistance towards Western imperialism?
Though we’ll never really know the answer, we can still speculate.
In addition to Hawaii and Japan, the Asia-Pacific Federation probably would have included nations such as China, Korea, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Siam/Thailand, Laos, Tahiti, and many other Pacific Island nations. Some of these nations were already experiencing Western colonization by the 1880s, but the formation of this Federation might have helped them gain self-determination much sooner than they actually did.
This Asia-Pacific Federation still would have struggled to maintain itself against the West, but these nations collectively would have been much stronger than they were separately. I dare say most, if not all, of the member nations would have benefited under the Federation. Hawaii would likely still be independent today if the Federation had existed. Much of the bloodshed of the Asia-Pacific War would have been avoided, including the Battle of Okinawa and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan likely would have continued its rapid industrialization and militarization, but instead of colonizing others, it probably would have used its strength to defend its allies from Western intrusion. Notably, the contentious relationship between Japan and China might have played out much differently under this scenario. As the head of this Federation, Japan’s economy probably would have boomed, and rather than alienating much of Asia through warfare, it would have gained the respect and admiration of its fellow Federation members, and it’s international relations would likely be quite different today.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
By the time Kalakaua approached Japan with this idea, they were already well on their way to Westernization. Had Kalakaua talked to Japan earlier – say, in 1871 – things might have played out differently.
Kalakaua was a visionary, a man ahead of his time, who did his best to protect his people from Western colonization.
Rob Kajiwara is a Ryukyu / Nahua – Hawaiian composer, writer, visual artist, baseball player, and human rights activist. www.RobKajiwara.com
By H.E. Leon Siu and Rob Kajiwara
70,000 people protest the construction of the new military base at Henoko Bay, Okinawa. Photo taken August 11, 2018, courtesy of AP.
November 8, 2018.
The “Hanauma Bay of Okinawa” is under grave threat of destruction as the Japanese government and United States military continue construction of a new military base that, if completed, would pave over Henoko – Oura Bay in spite of the overwhelming peaceful resistance by the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.
The protests of the late Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga, elected on the basis of stopping the construction of the new military base, were largely ignored by both the governments of Japan and the United States, respectively. Governor Onaga had previously rescinded the permit for the landfill of Henoko – Oura Bay, removing any legal jurisdiction for Japan’s central government to continue with the construction. Then, on August 8th of this year, Governor Onaga suddenly passed away due to complications with pancreatic cancer. The intense stress of attempting to stop the base construction is said to have been a prominent factor in his sickness, as well as the illnesses and premature deaths of several of Okinawa’s previous governors. Onaga is being hailed as a hero of the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.
Henoko-Oura Bay is home to hundreds of rare and endangered species. Photo courtesy of Okinawaiken.org.
In a spot election to fill the vacant role of governor, the Ryukyu / Okinawan people overwhelmingly elected Governor Onaga’s handpicked successor, Denny Tamaki, in what has been termed the “biggest landslide victory in the history of Okinawa.” Tamaki, whose mother is Okinawan and father American, believes his American heritage will help him convince the U.S. government to stop the construction of the base, though Tamaki speaks little English and has never met his father. Tamaki’s election is being called a major step in the self-determination of the Ryukyu / Okinawan people.
The Japanese central government, however, has continued with the base construction despite Tamaki’s victory and Onaga’s revocation of the landfill permit. Japan’s Ministry of Defense filed a lawsuit using the Administrative Appeal Act demanding the Japanese government’s other Ministries review the revoked landfill permit, while also filing a petition to override Okinawa’s revocation. Rather than wait for the result of the petition, the Ministry of Defense has pushed through with the construction anyway.
“Without a doubt, this is the behavior of a conquerer,” wrote Ryukyu’s largest newspaper, the Ryukyu Shimpo. “It brings into doubt the foundation of Japan’s democracy.”
Henoko – Oura Bay is one of the few remaining habitats of the endangered Okinawan dugong. Photo courtesy of Science Magazine.
The landfill is the most hotly contended part of the construction, since it is the most environmentally destructive. If continued, it will destroy the natural coral reef of Henoko – Oura Bay, home to hundreds of rare and endangered species, including the Okinawan dugong. Clearly the Japanese government is hoping that by pushing through with the most controversial part of the construction before any legal measures can be completed, the Okinawan people will see resistance to the base as futile and give up their protests.
According to the Ryukyu Shimpo, the Administrative Appeal Act was passed with the intention of aiding private individuals against government organizations. For the Japanese central government to refer to itself as a private individual and file a lawsuit against Okinawa Prefecture is “a heavy-handed strategy many legal scholars consider illegal.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has avoided responsibility in the matter by stating that this is “an issue between the Japanese central government and Okinawa Prefecture.”
H.E. Leon Siu is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 2017 he became the first Hawaiian nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. www.hawaiiankingdom.net
Rob Kajiwara is a Hawaiian Kingdom Special Envoy to China and the Ryukyu Islands. www.RobKajiwara.com