NAGO, Okinawa Pref.– In a unified expression of opposition to the U.S. military’s presence in Okinawa, some 27,000 citizens from Okinawa and the mainland formed a human chain around the U.S. Kadena Air Base on Thursday.
Under a blazing summer sun, individual local residents and members of an estimated 100 citizens’ groups and labor unions joined hands for five minutes on three occasions between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., completely surrounding the 17-km perimeter of the air base.
Although the human chain was not completed on the first and second attempts, the number of demonstrators topped the targeted 25,000 by 2,100 on the third attempt and succeeded in forming an unbroken chain, organizers said.
The base, which occupies 20.5 sq. km of land in the cities of Kadena, Okinawa and Chatan, is the largest U.S. air base in Asia. Eighty-four percent of land in Kadena is part of the base.
Organizing committee representative Tokushin Yamauchi said he wants to make world leaders and citizens understand the “excessive” and “unfair” burden that Okinawa bears.
“More than 50 years after the war, the United States is still making us keep so many bases on such a small island like Okinawa,” he said.
Yamauchi, a former mayor of Yomitan in central Okinawa, said the day’s demonstration was different from the previous two human chains that formed up around the Kadena base, in 1987 and 1990, because of the varied backgrounds of the participants and the widespread media attention.
“There are many people from the mainland here today,” Yamaichi said. “The last two chains were basically local citizens’ movement, but this time it is getting a great deal of attention from the foreign press.”
While Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine was not present at the event, former Gov. Masahide Ota joined the human chain.
Ota said that while many Okinawans welcome the G8 summit, others see it as simply an attempt to smooth the scheduled transfer of the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, central Okinawa, to Nago.
Last year, the Henoko district on Nago’s east shore was chosen as the site of a new airport to take over Futenma’s functions.
“I don’t want the summit to be remembered in the future as the turning point for accepting a new military facility in Okinawa,” Ota said.
Demonstrator Akira Kadekaru, 35, who is originally from Okinawa but currently lives in Nara Prefecture, said a large proportion of the U.S. military facilities should be moved to Japan’s mainland.
“People (on the mainland) think the bases are Okinawa’s problem. But it’s about U.S.-Japan security,” Kadekaru said. “If the bases were moved to the mainland, they would know about the burden of having bases and would take the issue more seriously.”
Banners, flyers and chanted slogans were the main forms of expressing opposition. Many people wore red clothes as part of the “red card movement,” which uses that color to denote citizens’ desire to see the end of the U.S. military presence in Japan.
Naha native Hiroe Shimabukuro, 25, who organized the red card movement, said she began her campaign over the Internet in June.
“In just one month, so many people have responded and passed around my message,” she said. “There are many people who want to take part in the anti-base movements but do not know how. I wanted to provide an easy but recognizable method for people to join the movement.”
At the end of the demonstration, organizers issued a statement from a hill where the base facilities can be overlooked, urging the leaders of the Group of Eight nations to discuss ways to establish security without a military presence.
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