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Thousands march on Henoko base site

by Jon Mitchell

Special To The Japan Times

More than 3,500 demonstrators marched to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday in the largest show of anger to date against the new American base being built off Henoko Bay to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in crowded Ginowan further southwest.

Lining the road four deep for 700 meters and crowding the hillsides, the protesters chanted “Stop construction” and “Save the Bay” after assembling in the morning. Some came from as far as Hokkaido, many with their children in tow.

Okinawan legislators and peace campaign leaders gave impassioned speeches against what they called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-militarization of Japan and railed at the perceived discrimination of Okinawans.

The largest welcome was given to anti-base Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who was re-elected in January on a strong anti-military platform. Wearing a cape decorated with multicolored dugong, the endangered mammal threatened by the project, he greeted the crowd in Okinawan.

Inamine likened the situation on Okinawa to World War II, when more than a quarter of the civilian population died, saying that this time, the island was not under attack by the U.S. military, but by the Japanese government.

“We all need to work together to save Henoko Bay,” he said. “You can all help. We’ll never give up.”

The scale of the demonstration suggests tough times ahead for Abe’s plans to push the construction plan through before Okinawa’s gubernatorial election in November.

Incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima — who did a U-turn on his pledge and approved construction last year — is widely expected to be voted out of office after almost eight years at the helm.

The government is worried his replacement will try to terminate the long-stalled base, which the U.S. and Japan approved back in 1996.

With the clock ticking down for the election, Tokyo is rushing to complete the preliminary stages as quickly possible. It has deployed more than 100 vessels to the area to deter protesters from taking to the seas, and on Aug. 14 strung buoys around the construction site and established a 2-km exclusion zone around it.

Last week, the government started drilling into the seabed at two of 16 planned spots to ascertain whether it will be able to withstand the 21 million cu. meters of landfill it plans to dump into the bay.

These moves appear only to have strengthened the protesters’ resolve.

Hiroshi Ashitomi, one of the leaders of the Henoko peace movement, said nonviolent resistance against construction will escalate in the weeks to come.

“Abe’s government will keep piling the pressure on us but we won’t give up,” Ashitomi told The Japan Times on Friday. “The world needs to know the sufferings of Okinawa — both during World War II and today. We want peace in Asia and no military bases on our island.”

Dozens of local residents have established a new sit-in tent outside the gates of Camp Schwab — and on Aug. 19, they claimed a major victory against the authorities when they successfully turned away deliveries of construction materials to the base.

Meanwhile, flotillas of kayakers are taking to the sea daily to protest construction. More than a dozen have so far been detained — only to be later released without any charges filed.

On Friday, 32-year-old canoeist Katsuhiko Iwata received spinal injuries while being restrained by Japan Coast Guard officers after he was pulled from his boat.

“When the media aren’t watching, the coast guards turn violent. This isn’t how civil servants should behave,” he said. “But we won’t give up and as soon as I recover, I’ll head back to sea.”

The mobilization of the coast guard against peaceful protesters has angered many Okinawans, including a contingent of elected officials who were examining the planned construction site from boats on Friday. While inspecting the bay’s coral beds and grazing trails left by dugong, they were unceremoniously ordered to leave.

The officials, including Seiryo Arakaki, chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly’s special committee on U.S. bases, and Okinawa Assembly member Sueko Yamauchi, hailed the guardsmen on loudspeakers and accused them of putting the interests of the U.S. military ahead of the Japanese civilians they’re supposed to be protecting.

The U.S. government recently labeled the preparatory steps as a major breakthrough that will reduce the base-hosting duties in Okinawa and ensure lasting stability in the region.

After the replacement base opens, the U.S. plans to move U.S. Marine Corps operations to Henoko and, ultimately, shutter the Futenma base.

On Aug. 20 House of Councilors member Keiko Itokazu of Okinawa took the Abe administration to task at a special meeting at the United Nations in Geneva that was addressing racial discrimination.

Calling for a halt to the construction of the base at Henoko and the Osprey helipads in the jungles of nearby Yanbaru, she told the committee that the national government discriminates against Okinawans and ignores their human rights.

  • donschneider

    Thanks for the informative article Jon. When will the USA DOD get the message, and leave Okinawa to its people. ?

  • johninokinawa

    Interesting that there appears to be a media shut down on this. It was a big event, a lot more would have attended, but there were only 10 coaches laid on. Many people couldn’t get transport. If there had been more coaches there would have been well over 4,000 demonstrators.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com RyukyuMike

    Yesterday, I was there, passing through. It seems like the numbers of protestors and boats, at sea, were exaggerated.

    • johninokinawa

      RyukyuMike, you were passing through. We were there all day. The reports were not exaggerated. There were few people on the sea, because the coastguard, police and hired security guards stopped them.

      There were ten coaches laid on to take demonstrators from Naha to Henoko. Literally hundreds of people couldn’t get seats because the coaches were full. Many pooled their money and got taxis. There are plenty of photos on the Internet if you want proof. Check Facebook.

      I didn’t count heads, but there were A LOT of people there. The reports say 3,500 or 3,600. I’d say from personal observation that this is accurate.

      • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com RyukyuMike

        Now, if only those 3,500 or so, would just place their names and hometowns, here or, on Facebook, we would have some accurate (verifiable) statistics.

  • guest

    Feel sorry for the Okinawans who have opposed the unfair heavy burden of the US bases for decades in a peaceful manner and endured patiently the secondary treatment by the mainland. All the more reason for them to be heard seriously. Shame on you USA and mainland Japan who boast about democracy around the world!

  • http://www.okinawa.usmc.mil Caleb Eames

    The U.S. military is in Okianwa at the request of the Goverment of Japan to fulfill obligations under the Japan/US defense treaty. If you’d like to renegotiate that treaty, you should get involved in Japan or US politics. The location of the replacement facility was decided and agreed to decades ago. There are more than 1 million Okinawa residents, there certainly must be a variety of opinions out there. Interestlying, Mr. Mitchell does not discuss the feelings of the residents of Ginowan or of anyone around Futenma. If you surveyed them, don’t you think youd find more than several thousand who support the relocation? There are many different perspectives, and for Mr. Mitchell to unfairly ignore other Okinawan voices seems to be questionalble journalistic integrity. Guest – this is democracy in action. In a democratic system, the way to make a change is to either vote, or run for office. There will always be those who do not agree. Franklin said it best – Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    • Toriotaku22

      See my other reply below. Polls clearly show that the vast majority of Okinawans are against the US bases. This is not a single journalist view.

      Ok, maybe the US military presence is a request from Japan. But the big problem that you “unfairly ignore”, is that 74% of the military bases are located in Okinawa while it covers only 0.6% of the landmass of Japan. Why do Okinawans have to support the burden of the army presence alone, especially considering the already charged history of these Island in relation to military actions? Are Okinawans kind of lower people compared to mainland Japanese? Do their voices count less?

      You speak about democracy, but when a goverment changes the law to block the opposition of the local governments, or sends its army against its own people, personally I think it is an insult to the word democracy. Democracy means the people rule, and both Japan and USA are more of a lobbycracy than a democracy this is maybe why you have troubles with this word. In a democracy, the president cannot change a constitution against the will of most people (in reference to the action by Mr Abe earlier this year, and in this case it was not only Okinawans opposed to it, but all Japan). In a democracy, this issue would have been voted on by the people, however, like for the base issue, Abe was to afraid of the result not being what he wants and decided to force it through…
      If you want an exemple of democracy, look at Switzerland. Still there are powerful lobbies, but people actually can decide of their rules and their future, even if it goes against the wishes of the government (like in the recent question of the ratios of foreigners, placing the government in a delicate situation with their European negociations).
      So before preaching about democracy, maybe first learn about it…

      • http://www.okinawa.usmc.mil Caleb Eames

        Torio, I can appreciate your comments completely (are you Okinawan yourself?), but having lived here in Okinawa for years, I have to say from my personal experience I disagree. My Okinawa friends and neighbors, young and old, tell me you are wrong. The Okinawan Osprey Fan Club is just one example of the sentiments of people here. And actually, although there is a majority, probably around 60%, there are not 74% of the military bases here, although that is a common misquote. It sounds to me like you have a serious issue with the way the GOJ is working the situation, and if so, why drag the U.S. into it? Get into Japanese politics and make a difference, get involved in military affairs so you can understand the situation. Are you living in Okinawa? I invite you to come visit the U.S. base and get a full understanding of why we are here and the great relationships we have! By the way, no need to insult anyone here, I fully understand democracy, having dedicated 20 years of my life to defending freedom at the risk of my life in many cases, even though it isn’t perfect. And in reference to your posting below, every time I visit the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in my Marine uniform, 80 and 90 year old men and women come up to me, hug me tightly, cry, and say “Thank you” over and over again. There are also Okinawan citizens who are cleaning up the trash, debris and graffiti left on the fence in Henoko. Email me at caleb.eames@usmc.mil if you would like to visit our installations in Okinawa.

  • Aluminum Fax

    Reports out here are always exaggerated. People like you don’t fully understand the scope of why we are here. I know this isn’t because you lack intelligence, it’s just that you prefer to ignore the facts, and feel like the ends justify the means. Fortunately the world is full of intelligent people who understand the significance of the state of existance out here. People like you chant “End War Now!”, and use powerful but hollow words like “occupation” and “oppression”. Thank good there are pragmatic people out there who actually have a sensible world view. Thank God there are more Okinawans who also share that sensible view as well. Those who belive that Okinawa would be a safer place without the military cannot and will not ever understand reality and must be living in a sheltered world with no worldly knowledge. It’s not being cynical, it’s about facing reality beyond the rainbows that these protester and people like you dream about.

    • Toriotaku22

      Wow! This is an impressing reply! Do you really believe what you are writing? A poll reccently published in some local/national newspaper (I would say Japan Times, but I don’t remember clearly) stated that nearly 80% of Okinawan people are opposed to the relocation.

      Okinawa has virtually no economic resources other than tourism, so destroying this exact resource for rapid money from Tokyo is certainly the way to go. Moreover, while you feel you are here as a hero to defend the democracy and the poor helpless Okinawans, maybe you should also not forget that many of the old people protesting now in front of Henoko had their families killed either by your army or by the Japanese army. And I heard more than one account from those old survivors stating that WHEN THEY WERE KIDS their siblings (also kids) were shot by the US army while trying to run away… Try for just one second to imagine if this happened to you how would you feel having the army that murdered your 5-10 year old brothers/sisters still occupying your island.

      Certainly there are supporters of the base in Okinawa, likely some of the Oura bay fishermen who received several ten of thousands dollars from the Tokyo governement (our taxpayer money) to just shut up, or the construction lobby that also gets heavy funding. And yesterday I just watched in the news that this fancy high tech research center will also receive insane amounts of money to compensate the base relocation… But then what will it bring really to Okinawans? Jobs as janitors or security staff in a research center, poorly paid truck driver job for a construction company? Clearly this is the best way to slow down a healthy development of Okinawa and keep it a “third world” prefecture with extremely low education levels… But like that it is only easier for Tokyo government to bribe influent local people and avoid the troubles of having these US base in mainland Japan…

      This was for Okinawa, now I just add my personal “dreamer” questions to you as you seem to be so convinced to be a peace hero:

      -How were people living in Irak before your president imagined the mass destruction weapons? How are they living now? Is the world safer? Is it more peaceful thanks to the war effort? If the money spent on this war had been spent in education and health programs don’t you think that might have helped people having nothing left not to turn to extremism and be easily convinced to die as a martyr? Or to support their sons to go on a “holy war”?

      I don’t say that the army is useless and we should get rid of it, but please try to look beyond the military propaganda…