Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has had a special relationship with Okinawa from his earliest political days, but in a cruel twist of fate illness has struck him down just months before the Group of Eight summit in the prefecture.
He had often voiced his enthusiasm for the upcoming summit and vowed to put “all his passion” into making it a success.
Okinawa was Obuchi’s “second hometown.” During his student days he met leaders of the Okinawa reversion movement who were demanding the islands’ return to Japanese sovereignty. When he first took up a Cabinet post, it was as head of the Okinawa Development Agency.
As a Waseda University student, he visited Okinawa and exchanged opinions with activists seeking the return of Okinawa, including the late Chobyo Yara, the first Okinawa governor after it was returned to Japan from the United States in 1972.
It was the father of current Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine who helped to arrange meetings and took care of Obuchi and the other students in Okinawa at that time.
The prime minister later said he felt deeply related to Okinawa and the Inamine family when Inamine was elected Okinawa governor in November 1998.
After deciding on Okinawa as the venue of the G8 summit, Obuchi began an active campaign to boost its image.
He even asked popular musician Tetsuya Komuro to compose a theme song and invited the public to submit ideas for the summit’s logo.
For the new 2,000 yen bill that the government will issue to celebrate the year 2000, Obuchi adopted the design of the Shureimon Gate at Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa.
He also went to see a movie on Okinawa and an Okinawan dance performance. When he met the group members, he even sang an Okinawa folk song.
“Okinawa was a victim of the war, and even now, it is having difficulty as the site of many U.S. bases. I am hoping that the upcoming G8 summit will be an opportunity to help revitalize Okinawa,” Obuchi told reporters when he announced that Okinawa would be the summit venue nearly a year ago.
However, the most difficult immediate problem — the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station — remains unsolved.
Local residents are still pressing that the U.S. forces use of a proposed new joint military-civilian airport to be built in Nago be limited to 15 years, while the United States is opposing the idea.
Daughter flies home
As more than 100 reporters continued their vigil Tuesday outside Juntendo Hospital for any reports of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s latest condition, Obuchi’s youngest daughter made a tearful return home from Britain, where she has been studying.
After arriving at Narita airport aboard Air France Flight 276, 26-year-old Yuko Obuchi rushed into a black limousine, ignoring questions from reporters.
At around 9:40 a.m., the limousine arrived at the hospital, but went straight to its basement parking lot.
Obuchi’s wife had spent the night at his bedside and his family was gathering around him. Obuchi’s condition was reported to have deteriorated Tuesday morning.
Obuchi is married with a son and two daughters.
At around 2:30 p.m., Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki arrived at the hospital. Later in the day, former prime ministers Toshiki Kaifu and Tsutomu Hata also visited the hospital.
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Jody Williams, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her campaign against land mines, said Monday she was “deeply saddened” to hear the news that Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has been in critical condition since suffering a stroke Sunday.
“I am sure that I speak for the whole land-mine campaign when I say that we hope for the best for him, for his family and for the country,” she said.
Obuchi is known for his active campaign against antipersonnel land mines.
In December 1997, Obuchi, then foreign minister, joined representatives of 125 nations in Ottawa in signing a global treaty banning antipersonnel land mines.
Williams, whose group won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, also attended the signing ceremony for the global treaty.
“Obuchi has been a bold leader on the issue of banning land mines,” she said.