Okinawa 50 years since return / The clock strikes midnight, and a prefecture is born

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The clock strikes midnight, capturing the moment of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan and its officially becoming Okinawa Prefecture on May 15, 1972.

In this series, we mark the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan by looking at its past and present through photographs.

At the stroke of midnight, as the hands overlapped on the illuminated face of a public clock surrounded by darkness, sirens in the city and whistles of ships anchored in the harbor blasted in unison to mark the historic occasion. One second into the start of the day of May 15, 1972, Okinawa had reverted to Japanese sovereignty after 27 years of U.S. rule following World War II.

A new prefecture was born.

The black and white photo, capturing the exact moment, was carried on the front page of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s morning edition that day. It was taken at an intersection in Naha where Kokusai-dori street starts, near the north side of the Okinawa prefectural government office.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Bank of Okinawa’s head office is seen from the intersection on the north side of the prefectural government office in this photo taken on Dec. 9. The bank building now has five stories and vehicles drive on the left side of the street.

The clock tower was located on a median strip in front of The Bank of Okinawa’s head office. Also seen on the median is a signboard with a slogan for the prefecture’s reversion to Japan.

“It was a stylish clock tower, so I remember it well,” said 67-year-old Kayoko Nakasone, whose parents ran a sporting goods store across the street from the bank at the time. “But to make such a historic front page, that’s something.”

After the return to Japan, a commercial complex with a department store was built in front of the prefectural government office and the area became a hub of activity. In 2003, the city monorail began operation, and many passengers now get off at the nearby station.