GINOWAN, OKINAWA PREF. – Residents and supporters held a rally Sunday to call for a peaceful Okinawa free of military bases 41 years after the prefecture reverted to Japanese rule.
Despite heavy rain, about 3,500 people turned out for the rally in a park in Ginowan, organizers said. It adopted a declaration clarifying opposition to any strengthening and expansion of U.S. military bases in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan.
Shiko Sakiyama, leader of an Okinawa peace movement center, one of the organizers, said, “The 41 years since Okinawa’s return to Japan has been a history of struggle to regain humanity.
“Even today, (Okinawa) people’s lives are being damaged by the roar (of warplanes) and incidents and accidents involving U.S. servicemen. Let’s promote our peaceful movement,” Sakiyama said.
After Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, Okinawa remained under U.S. control until 1972. The prefecture marked the 41st anniversary of its reversion to Japan on Wednesday, but still hosts the bulk of American bases in Japan.
Kim Bok Dong, 87, a South Korean who was a former “comfort woman” for Imperial Japanese Army troops, addressed the rally as a guest speaker.
Looking back on the terrible experience of being taken by force to work as a wartime sex slave, Kim said: “If Japan made a mistake in the past, the current government needs to resolve the issue. Let’s try to eliminate war.”
Kim is scheduled to hold a meeting Friday with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, coleader of Nippon Ishin No Kai (Japan Restoration Party), who has come under a barrage of criticism for saying the comfort woman system was necessary at that time.
Speaking of the local situation in which U.S. bases are located around neighborhoods, Megumi Miyamoto, a 33-year-old part-timer from Tokyo who took part in the rally, said, “It’s like war or a nuclear power plant is very close to us. “Local residents are being at risk. We all should work to change the unfortunate society,” she said.
In the run-up to Sunday’s rally, peace marches were held this month in Okinawa’s main island and the islands of Miyakojima and Ishigakijima, involving about 5,000 participants. They staged demonstrations around such facilities as the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena base.