Naha – Okinawa on Friday marked the 48th anniversary of its reversion to Japan from U.S. control as protests against American military facilities there were canceled over the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan's sovereignty was restored based on the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty after its defeat in World War II, but Okinawa's reversion on May 15, 1972, was tempered by the large chunks of land that remained occupied by U.S. base facilities.
"I will completely devote myself to resolving issues (in Okinawa) including the heavy burden (of hosting U.S. bases)," Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said at a news conference.
Despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of Japan's land, Okinawa accounts for around 70 percent of the total area used exclusively by U.S. military facilities.
Hosting U.S. bases is a major cause of resentment in the prefecture. The relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, for example, has been held up for decades by fierce opposition that has left the central and prefectural governments locked in a legal battle.
The plan is to shift the base northward from Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago, on the main island, and Tokyo is proceeding with landfill work in Henoko despite strong opposition from residents.
"It was a gut-wrenching decision (to cancel a protest march) when relations between the central government and Okinawa turn even more chaotic," said Hiroji Yamashiro, a prominent anti-base activist.
"We will not allow (the base situation) to deteriorate and must join hands with people on the mainland (to achieve this)," said Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center.
The Peace March and other events usually held on the reversion anniversary were canceled to stem the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus, which has caused about 140 official cases of COVID-19 in Okinawa.
In late April, central government sought approval from the Okinawa Prefectural Government for changes to the Henoko construction plan because an area of soft ground off the coast has been found that will require additional reinforcement work, stoking the ire of residents.