KANOYA, Kagoshima Pref. – The U.S. military’s plan to move its aerial tanker training to the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya base in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture, is a sensitive issue for some residents because the city is where many kamikaze pilots took their final flights during World War II.
Kanoya was a naval city before the war and even now white MSDF uniforms are a common sidewalk sight.
The MSDF has been participating in local events to improve relations with the community and even Mayor Sakae Yamashita, who opposes the U.S. move because he feels it will lead to expanded American use of the base in the future, said, “We want to continue to have good relations with the base.”
The stationing of 5,000 MSDF sailors in the city, which has a population of about 100,000, has had a big impact on the local economy. Last year, subsidies for the base and a related project totaled about 700 million yen.
However, relocating the U.S. military there is a cause for concern.
“If U.S. service members cause problems after they’ve moved to the base, even the MSDF contingent may be regarded as villains,” said a chamber of commerce and industry official.
The chamber sent a delegation to the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture and the Atsugi Naval Air Facility, a U.S. Navy-MSDF base in Kanagawa Prefecture, in late April to get information about base improvement orders and work for local businesses in an effort to estimate the economic effect of the U.S. military realignment.
“Rural areas are having a tough time because there are fewer public-works projects,” said Ryuichi Nishimura, the chamber’s managing director. “If the U.S. military comes, we will have to consider steps to revitalize our area by capitalizing on the base, including state subsidies.”
But the livestock sector, a major industry on the Osumi Peninsula, is feeling a growing sense of crisis.
At a meeting in May, many participants expressed strong opposition to the U.S. move because they reckoned aircraft noise will lower the quality of the meat they produce.
Many citizens still remember when 908 kamikaze pilots flew out to meet their fate.
“Kamikaze pilots flew to the south after circling over the city to say goodbye,” said Shinichiro Nishida, 75, who lives near the base. “I cannot forget the faces of the young pilots. That history should be kept in mind.”
Near the beach where the U.S. military landed immediately after the end of the war, a monument commemorates their arrival.
“The day before the landing, all citizens were evacuated,” said Iwao Yamashita, 72, who promoted erecting the monument.
“I was scared to see U.S. forces going up to the Kanoya base. If the U.S. military comes again, security may worsen,” he figured.
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