National / Politics

Okinawans want jobs but fret over arrival of U.S. base without Inamine

Kyodo

Residents of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Monday voiced hope for more jobs but raised concern about the impending transfer of a U.S. military base to their community a day after their anti-base mayor was defeated by a candidate calling for economic stimulus.

In Sunday’s election, Taketoyo Toguchi, backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beat Susumu Inamine, an opponent of the contentious Japan-U.S. plan to move unpopular U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to their city from crowded Ginowan.

Some citizens were hopeful that Toguchi, a former assembly member who campaigned on improving Nago’s economy, will generate more jobs. Okinawa’s jobless rate stood at an average of 3.8 percent in 2017, the highest among all prefectures, according to government data.

“I want him to create more employment opportunities for my children,” said Susumu Matsugawa, 55, who has five children.

Outside the Nago Municipal Government’s office, a 38-year-old mother of two said she is worried about how the city will respond to another U.S. military accident when the new mayor is in place.

“We won’t have a say even if a U.S. military aircraft crashes. I wonder whether our safety will be maintained,” she said.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, and crimes and accidents linked to American hardware and personnel have repeatedly angered residents.

The mayoral election was held after an incident in which a U.S. helicopter window fell onto an elementary school in December and forced landings made by three other American choppers in January.

Anti-base campaigners were disappointed by Inamine’s loss, but several dozen held a rally early Monday to protest the relocation plan to sparsely populated Henoko, a coastal area of Nago.

“I am frustrated, but we should not end our opposition movement,” said Shigeru Sakihama, 69, who was at the forefront of the protest rally at the gates of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab, where the replacement base is being built.

A 65-year-old taxi driver in the city said he voted for Toguchi this time.

“The base will be constructed no matter what. Nothing changed in the eight years (under Inamine),” he said. “I’ve heard many people say they are tired of talk about the base.”

While the Okinawa Prefectural Government wants the Futenma base removed from the prefecture altogether, the state has maintained that moving its airstrip elsewhere on the island is “the only solution” to removing the danger to residents without undermining the security provided by American troops under the Japan-U.S. alliance.