Residents of Nago proud to display town’s charms

by Junko Takahashi and Setsuko Kamiya

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — Many locals were excited on the eve of the Group of Eight summit here today, expressing hope that the event will attract international attention to what they boast is the most beautiful coastline in Okinawa.

In Nagojujiro, this city’s main shopping district, Fusako Tamashiro, 70, who runs a kimono shop, said the number of customers has increased recently with myriad summit-related events held in Nago.

Tamashiro, who has lived here all her life, said she was amazed when she heard the summit was going to be held in such a small city.

“When I heard the news, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I didn’t think our city could host such a major international event. I am really happy about this and I hope the summit will be a success.”

Tamashiro has been trying to keep the neighborhood clean by placing flower pots in front of her shop and collecting garbage.

Her effort is part of a campaign led by the local shop-owners’ association — calling on each proprietor to cooperate to clean up the area.

Fliers posted by the association read, “Let’s clean up the city and welcome people from around the world.” It asked for voluntarily efforts to pick up garbage and place flowers in front of each shop.

It also urged its members to extend their closing time to 10 p.m. between July 15 to 23, two hours later than usual. Kayoko Kishimoto, who has been running a souvenir shop for more than 30 years, also said it is good that the summit is prompting the people of Nago try to keep the city clean.

“Young people used to gather in front of our shops and leave empty cans and other garbage on the street. But they are now picking them up voluntarily,” she said, adding that the summit seems to have changed attitudes for the better.

Kishimoto said her shop has been busy with many police officers deployed to the area from other parts of Japan.

“Many who come here as customers tell me that they want to come to Okinawa again with their families next time. It’s a good opportunity to promote our city and Okinawa,” she said.

Meanwhile, the 48-year-old owner of a bag shop said the summit will be a good chance for world leaders to see how the U.S. military presence is a burden for Okinawans.

“We’re the only (prefecture) in Japan that’s suffering this much,” he said. “I’m worried that Nago’s security will worsen with another base coming to town,” he said, referring to the planned construction of a joint civilian-U.S. military airport off Nago’s eastern coast.

“I’ve never heard a story that said having a U.S. base makes a town more peaceful,” he added.

At the Summit Exhibition Room next to the International Media Center near Nago City Hall, Michiyo Futenma of the prefectural capital of Naha said she also expected the base issue to receive global attention.

“Since the summit is going to be held here, I think it’s important that the issue become known to many people,” said Futenma, who brought her 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son to the exhibit Thursday to learn about the meeting. “In that sense, I appreciate (the late Prime Minister) Keizo Obuchi for his effort to bring the meeting here. And I hope it’s a success.”

At a shopping center in the suburbs of Nago, Hidetaka Sawada, 20, said he wanted the world to know about the unique culture, natural environment and people of Okinawa, adding that it was also important to promote the U.S. base issue.

Sawada, a first-year student of economics at Meio University, said he believes Okinawans are also divided in their opinion on the U.S. military presence.

“I have a friend working at the base, and I think it’s true that many Okinawans rely on its presence. The base issue is very complicated, and I want people to know that fact as part of their Okinawa experience,” he said.

A second-year student of Nago Junior High School said she was very excited that the leaders of the industrialized world were coming.

The girl, whose summer vacation began Thursday, said she learned the history of the annual summits and about the G8 countries and the European Union, which will also be present at the talks, during one of her classes.

“I think it’s great that Nago will be famous. I want everyone to know how beautiful Nago’s coastline is, because it is better than any other part of Okinawa,” she said.