Japan and the United States yesterday agreed on a plan that will see some land occupied by the US military returned to the islands in a bid to break the deadlock in a long-stalled deal.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Ambassador John Roos issued a joint statement on the agreement, under which five US military facilities and other areas on Okinawa's main island will return to Japan over the years.
Tokyo and Washington also agreed they will return land occupied by the controversial Futenma airbase "in fiscal 2022 or later", the joint statement said.
"I am glad to see the long-stalled issue move forward," Abe said in a meeting with the ambassador. "It is extremely significant for our efforts to reduce burdens on Okinawa."
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel later called the move a "new and important milestone" that would reduce the military footprint on the island.
He added that some US Marine Corps forces would relocate to Guam and Hawaii.
The deal comes after years in which a plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area have been stuck because of opposition from locals, who want the base moved off Okinawa, arguing the island bears an unequal burden in hosting most of the 47,000 US personnel.