NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – About 1,200 people marched in opposition to the presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa on Friday as the prefecture marked the 43rd anniversary of its reversion to Japanese sovereignty.
Many residents resent the fact that their small island prefecture hosts around 75 percent of the territory used by U.S. forces in Japan, calling it a disproportionate burden. They oppose a plan by Tokyo to move one contentious base only a short distance within the prefecture rather than pulling it from Okinawa altogether.
“Even after our reversion, the problems of the bases remain unchanged,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told a news conference, adding that the true democracy sought by residents has not been realized with the base’s relocation being forced upon them against their wishes.
The reversion of sovereignty failed to bring what residents longed for, Onaga said.
He criticized the central government for going ahead with relocation despite local opposition.
Commenting on his planned May 27 visit to the U.S., where he will meet with senior U.S. government officials, Onaga said he hoped they will come to understand the situation in Okinawa.
The prefecture spent 27 years under U.S. military rule following the Battle of Okinawa late in World War II. Activists at the march spoke of having undergone decades of simmering injustice.
“We’ve long suffered from the bases, and I’m angered by the outrageousness of both the U.S. and Japanese governments in insisting a new base be built in Henoko,” said Fujiko Matsuda, who heads a local citizens’ group. Henoko is the planned new site for the Futenma air station, the U.S. Marine Corps base that will be moved.
“It is wrong to proceed with the Henoko relocation without listening to the voices of the Okinawans,” said Atsuko Ikeda, 75, who had traveled from Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, where another U.S. military base is located. “If we don’t prevent it, there is no future for Japan as a democratic nation.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed the need to relocate the Futenma base at their summit last month in Washington.
Meanwhile, marchers were also critical of the Cabinet’s approval Thursday of bills that will ease limitations on the Self-Defense Forces’ operations, allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or going to the aid of allies under attack.
“What Okinawa sought was a reversion to the mainland where there is the pacifist Constitution, but that Constitution is now in shambles,” said Yoshikazu Tamaki, a member of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly.
Protesters said they planned to rally outside Futenma and other bases and hold sit-ins until Saturday.