National / Politics

American activist against the Futenma relocation plan questioned at Kansai airport for two hours upon arrival

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

An American activist who has collected over 210,000 signatures for a petition calling for the suspension of land reclamation work to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture was questioned by authorities for almost two hours shortly after his arrival in Japan on Tuesday.

Robert Kajiwara said he was “detained” at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture and was interrogated by immigration officials regarding his activism in connection to Henoko.

“I think the Japanese government was trying to make me miss my connecting flight to Tokyo in order to make me late for our events. Also, they are probably trying to harass me to discourage me from coming back to Japan,” Kajiwara wrote on his Twitter feed. Kajiwara, who has visited Japan numerous times previously and can trace some of his family history to Okinawa, added that it was the first time he had been interrogated at an airport.

Asked about the reasons for the interrogation, Manabu Kora, an immigration office spokesman at the airport, said that the office’s decision to interrogate him was not based on any instruction from the central government.

“We usually question foreign persons who repeatedly come to Japan under short-term stay permits in order to determine whether or not they are illegally working,” Kora said. “We followed the same normal procedure for Kajiwara since he has visited Japan several times. I would say a two-hour interview is routine as it was necessary for translators to participate as well.”

At a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, Kajiwara took a swipe at the central government’s stated reluctance to consider the result of a prefectural referendum on Feb. 24 regarding the land reclamation work in Nago’s Henoko district, as well as its determination to proceed with the relocation of the base from the city of Ginowan to Henoko — an area with endangered coral reefs.

The activist started his campaign on the White House’s “We the People” petition website last December, urging U.S. President Donald Trump to halt the reclamation process “until a democratic referendum can be held.”

In the referendum, local voters will be asked if they support, oppose or are neutral toward the plan for the Futenma base. The central government is not legally obliged to abide by the result of the local referendum, although the poll is designed for people in Okinawa to express their opinions on the issue.

Garnering support from Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki and some celebrities including fashion model Rola and Queen guitarist Brian May, the number of signatures climbed to twice the 100,000 threshold that obliges the White House to make a response within 60 days.

Kajiwara staged a rally with other activists in front of the White House on Jan. 7, but the Trump administration has not responded so far and the Japanese government has continued with land reclamation work in Henoko.

Kajiwara will be a guest speaker Saturday at a talk entitled “Referendum Eve” in Okinawa along with other activists including Jinshiro Motoyama — the head of the Association for the “Henoko” Referendum on the Construction of a New U.S. Base in Henoko, whose efforts last year pushed the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly into holding the vote.

“(Voting) is important not just for Okinawa Prefecture, but the whole world,” Kajiwara said during an interview with TBS on Wednesday. “The world is watching and I especially would like to ask young Okinawans to get out and vote.”

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