The U.S. military is expected to notify the Japanese government later this week that it will return by year’s end roughly half of its Northern Training Area in Okinawa, as it has confirmed construction of helipads will be completed in the portion it retains, a Tokyo government source said Tuesday.
The Japanese and U.S. governments are making preparations to hold a ceremony on Dec. 20 to commemorate the return of the land within the U.S. military training area in the villages of Kunigami and Higashi, the source said.
The return would reduce the acreage occupied by U.S. military facilities in Okinawa by 17 percent, and would be the most land returned since the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan from U.S. control. The prefecture hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
The United States agreed in 1996 to return about 4,000 of the approximately 7,800 hectares occupied by the training area, provided helipads are relocated from the portion of the base to be returned to areas to be retained.
The Defense Ministry began construction of six helipads in 2007.
Protests around the construction sites continue as local residents oppose further construction due to noise and the expected use of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at the helipads.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga last month when he visited Okinawa that the central government is seeking to realize the return of the land by year’s end.