• Kyodo

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Eight Okinawa landowners filed an appeal Wednesday with the Supreme Court against a high court ruling denying them damages over the continued leasing of their land, against their will, to the U.S. military in line with a special law.

The plaintiffs, including Shoichi Chibana, an assembly member from the village of Yomitan who owns a parcel that is part of a U.S. Navy installation, are seeking 140 million yen from the state, arguing that the law violates the Constitution, which guarantees individual property rights.

The appeal follows a Nov. 7 ruling by the Fukuoka High Court. The latter overturned a lower court ruling ordering the government to pay Chibana some 470,000 yen for “illegally occupying” his land even after a property lease had expired in 1996.

Mirroring the lower court decision, the high court denied the claims of the other seven landowners on the grounds that the amended Special Land Use Law was enacted before their leases had expired.

The law facilitates the continued compulsory leasing of land for the U.S. military after the expiry of contracts. In Chibana’s case, the amended law was not enacted until after his lease with the state expired.

Both rulings verified the law’s constitutionality.

Chibana, 54, owns 236 sq. meters of land within the Sobe Communications Site, referred to by locals as the “Elephant’s Cage.”

Chibana’s lease with the state expired in March 1996 after then Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota had refused to sign renewal contracts by proxy the previous year.

Although Chibana also refused to renew the lease, the government allowed the U.S. military to remain on the land, and then about a year later, in April 1997, the Special Land Use Law was amended so the U.S. forces could continue using the property.

The state allowed the U.S. military to remain on the plots owned by the seven other plaintiffs under the amended law after their leases expired in May 1997.

The amended law stipulates that the state does not have to return any land after leases have expired, with the state having applied the clause to Chibana’s case on a retroactive basis.

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