Issues | THE FOREIGN ELEMENT

International crowd add their voices to Okinawa protests over U.S. base relocation

by Jane Close

Special To The Japan Times

The once-isolated, sleepy fishing village of Henoko is no longer so alone. Mainland Japanese and expatriates alike are making the journey to northern Okinawa to support the locals’ fight against the building of a U.S. air base in the village’s pristine Oura Bay.

Just this weekend, protest sites in Henoko, the district of Nago city that has been chosen as the relocation site for the contentious Futenma base, played host to two Tokyo-based musicians from Uganda who had come to tell anti-base activists, “You are not alone.” Musa Jian and Baswali Kiramu, two rap and R&B artists who play regularly at live houses in the capital, came to Okinawa to perform their song “Hitori ni Shinaide” (“You Are Not Alone”) for the protesters.

“Nobody wants to be alone. Everybody needs an anchor,” said 33-year old Kiramu, who has a day job as an engineer.

“People must feel very alone down here trying to protest this base, and we wanted them to know that other countries care too and that we want to encourage them,” added Jian, 45, an employee of an auto parts company in Tokyo.

Performing at Teima fishing port and a sit-in tent in front of the nearby Camp Schwab U.S. Marine base, the pair, known collectively as The Miso Shiru Family, brought an upbeat mood to Henoko. They sang songs of support for Okinawa in Japanese and English.

“Okinawa is so beautiful, the people are so beautiful. Gotta save Henoko, gotta save Henoko,” they chanted in a freestyle rap for the activists.

Speaking with sit-in leaders, they expressed support for the activists’ flotilla protests in the bay, which started in August after the Japanese government began a landfill boring survey in preparation for the planned relocation of the Futenma base from its current home in the city of Ginowan in southern Okinawa.

In 2006 the Japanese and U.S. governments inked a deal to relocate Futenma’s functions to Camp Schwab. This would allow the military to consolidate its marine activities on the island and upgrade Schwab’s facilities to allow access by warships and the addition of two runways on reclaimed land in Oura Bay. However, local concerns about noise pollution, potential accidents and damage to marine habitats, among other issues, have delayed progress on relocating the base.

Having experienced conflict in Uganda, Jian told local reporters that he understood many Okinawans’ feelings toward U.S. bases and other reminders of war.

“If you see war as a child, it stays with you for life, until you die,” he said.

Longtime activists, who have been holding sit-ins and rallies in Henoko since the area was first considered as a site for the planned base in the 1990s, were moved by the Ugandans’ gesture of solidarity.

“I could tell that even though they are from a different country, they instantly understood our feelings about protecting the ocean and peace,” said Koshin Nakamoto, captain of one of the boats leading the protest flotilla. “More and more, we are seeing visitors from the Japanese mainland, as well as international visitors, come to Henoko. It is very encouraging.”

In September, Catherine Jane Fisher, an Australian who was raped by a U.S. serviceman in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 2002 and has led a high-profile campaign for justice for herself and other victims of crimes by the U.S. military ever since, joined the flotilla.

“Don’t rape us. Don’t rape our sea,” she called out to protesters and coast guards during a protest last month. “This ocean is life. You destroy the ocean, you destroy us,” Fisher said in a speech before jumping into the ocean, to the amazement of onlookers.

Earlier this year, Fisher organized a music festival in Tokyo in support of Okinawa, called “The Day of Innocence.” The event drew together a broad range of international artists based in the capital, including The Miso Shiru Family.

“Musa and Baswali’s visit to Okinawa is the first of many more musicians to come,” says Fisher, who plans to host a concert on the island next year.

This weekend she is organizing another music event in Tokyo, titled “I Love You Okinawa.” There, the Ugandans will speak about their impressions of the island and the Henoko protests.

Fisher, whose story has been documented extensively in The Japan Times, says she sees the fight to oppose the Henoko relocation as “the final chapter” in her long battle against what she calls neglect and mistreatment of ordinary people by the U.S. military and Japanese authorities.

“When I came to Okinawa to give a speech in 2008, it was the first time in my long battle that I no longer felt alone,” Fisher says. “People here understood my feeling. So when I heard ‘Hitori ni Shinaide,’ I thought, ‘That’s how I felt all these years, and how many Okinawans have felt.’ ”

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