Monk protests bases with prayers for world peace

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NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — On any given weekday morning, visitors strolling behind the Nago Municipal Government building might hear the prayers for world peace, but few stop to listen.

Hiro Naganuma, a 60-year-old Buddhist monk, sits alone, gently rapping his “uchiwa daiko” (fan drum) and chanting in religious vigil against the proposed construction of a new facility for the U.S. Marine Corps near the village of Henoko on Oura Bay.

He arrives quietly at the back of the city offices at around 10 a.m., starts hanging his hand-painted banners, then prepares his dais: a piece of cardboard, a silver stadium cushion and a thin cloth-covered cushion.

Before sitting, he repeats a routine of putting his hands together in prayer and bowing low, head to the ground. Folding his bare feet beneath him and adjusting his yellow robe, he puts on a straw conical hat and picks up his drum and stick.

After about 10 minutes, Naganuma takes a two-minute break, then resumes, only to pause again to reach into his bag for a postcard, which he carries to the corner mailbox. A minute later, he’s back to his routine. In the past 15 minutes, only three people on bicycles and two pedestrians have passed by him on the sidewalk. Of those, only one even nodded.

The postcard, it turns out, was simply a greeting for his mother in Tokyo, where Naganuma is originally from.

The Nihonzan Myohoji temple member moved from Shibuya Ward to Okinawa 21/2 years ago when talk got more specific on relocating Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to another location in the prefecture. Naganuma smiles proudly as he says he “changed (his) citizenship” so his voice could be heard.

He now lives in tiny Henoko, a dozen or so kilometers away, on a quiet back street of two-story, concrete-faced buildings painted in flat pastel colors. According to a police officer at the local koban, Naganuma has moved several times because of disagreements with neighbors over the noise made by his praying.

A lot of praying is needed, he says, because war has caused too many deaths on Okinawa already.

“I want every person to have an equal chance to know world peace,” he says, searching for the words in English.

About one-third of Okinawa’s population died in the fighting of World War II. In the Battle of Okinawa, some 237,000 people were killed, including 148,000 Okinawans, nearly 75,000 other Japanese and 14,000 Americans.

“Having American bases here ruins that dream for everyone,” says Naganuma.