Travel Grant Series: Urban Development Research in Okinawa

EWC Alumni Summer Travel Grant Report
Naomi Leipold
EWC Student Fellow

Research Objectives:

This summer, I traveled to Okinawa to research their urban development with regards to its relationship with the existing U.S. Military facilities on the island. My goal was to concentrate on collecting economic models of factors of production, such as land, labor, and capital markets.

Naomi Leipold In front of Okinawa State Hall

(EWC Student Fellow Naomi Leipold in front of Okinawa State Hall.)

Research Results:

In conducting this research, I visited several locations within Okinawa, such as Ryukyu University, Okinawa State Hall, and local real estate agencies. However, as soon as I started my research, I bumped into a huge wall. I right away noticed the lack of economic models for urban planning in Okinawa. Before I could even start researching to meet my research goals, I noticed how little research has been done on the subject of urban development in Okinawa; not much data collection itself has been done on this topic. Therefore, my research objectives—to analyze the economic models—was therefore difficult to conduct.

At first, to be honest, this realization was somewhat disappointing. However, it also taught me two important lessons on how to conduct future research on urban development in Okinawa. First of all, before starting the research and setting goals for the project, it is vital to know how much data exists on the topic before heading out to the field. As I have been living in Hawaii for the past few years and have come across a rich amount of urban development data in Hawaii, I automatically assumed the same would be the case with Okinawa. Secondly, I realized as a researcher, I myself need to attain the skills of data collection. This is even more the case when not much data collection has been done on urban development in Okinawa. Therefore, I am planning on taking a research methodology course from Department of Urban and Planning.

Housing Markets in Okinawa:

However, although my research goals were difficult to achieve due to the lack of data, my research was not entirely unfruitful. After having visited a few real estate agencies on the island, I discovered that there were two different housing markets within the island—housing that were directly and exclusively targeted towards military personnel and their family, and housing that were meant for those other than U.S. military affiliates. Since U.S. military personnel mainly live on the island for only a few years, and because of the legal status they hold, they were only granted access to rent housing and were prohibited from contracting any mortgages. However, some local land and house owners directed their property exclusively to military personnel. The reason for such exclusively marketing, according to my interview with some real estate agencies, was because housing directed towards military housing was more profitable for property owners. This is the case, since property owners set a higher rent charge for military housing, a price that is not severely influenced by the demand and supply curve unlike the housing market for the local Okinawans. Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the Japanese government provides money for the U.S. forces stationed in Japan. This includes the rent, water, and energy bills of U.S. military families. Therefore, rent from military housing was thought to be more profitable and reliable.

This exclusive house renting has influence on the housing market in Okinawa as a whole, since some assets within the whole picture of the real estate market is subject to controlled pricing and limited access to people. However, again, the shortage of this discovery is that I lack the exact numbers, and pricing ranges of such military housing. Therefore, the influence I refer to here cannot be quantified.

Naomi Leipold In front of Okinawa State Hall 2

(Naomi Leipold during one of her visits at the Okinawa State Hall.)

Last Note:

I want to express my gratitude to the East-West Center Alumni on granting me the Summer Research Funding in order to conduct my summer research project. It truly was an experience in not only learning about my research topic itself, but also about steps that I need to take as a researcher and also methodologies that are crucial in order to conduct research.


One thought on “Travel Grant Series: Urban Development Research in Okinawa

  1. I found your research most interesting. I have been to Okinawa several times, first as a U.S. Army reservist and later as a civilian. I have to say that my attitude toward the military was slightly toward the negative side. But I am glad to see that locals can get higher rents from military than from other locals.

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