After several weeks of an idyllic existence, cocooned from the rest of the world in the peaceful Amami islands, I found myself in Okinawa and rudely confronted by current and past geopolitics, history in the making, human rights and environmental issues to name but a few. I traveled up north today to Nago City to meet with Hideki Yoshikawa, an environmental activist/anthropologist who took me to Henoko and the protesters camp outside the US military base.
Despite the typhoon still going heavy today, there were several of the regular protesters on their narrow strip of a camp. A man, representing one of the Unions, told me he has been coming every week for 3 years. When I asked him what he hopes to achieve with his peaceful protesting he replied, "I want them gone from my island, but I know I can't make it happen quickly, so all I hope is to cause delays in the construction of the new base, perhaps our delaying tactics (blocking the entrance to the construction site) can buy us time, who knows what happens in 2-3 years time". The construction is already 3 years behind schedule. He told me of cases where pensioner teachers have been removed from blocking the gates by their own former students, now policemen; or grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the camp over the summer holidays and other stories highlighting how much the US bases are part of their daily lives.
Why do Okinawans oppose the relocation of the US base to Henoko? The Okinawan Prefectural Office response provides a good context to this and the wider issue of US military presence in Okinawa:
① The concentration of U.S. bases imposes an excessive burden on Okinawa. As many as 71% of the U.S. military facilities exclusively used by the U.S. Forces in Japan are located in Okinawa, which accounts for only 0.6% of the total land mass of Japan, and remain in use for 71 years after WWII. We cannot accept the construction of a new base at Henoko because that will make the excessive base-hosting burden on Okinawa as well as the disparity of the burden within the nation permanent.
② The precious natural environment around Henoko and Oura Bay should be preserved. Over 5,800 species of creatures, including 262 endangered species, are confirmed to exist in the waters of Henoko and Oura Bay. The number of species there exceeds the number in the World Natural Heritage sites in Japan. It is our responsibility to preserve our proud, rich natural heritage for our children and grandchildren.
③ Many unidentified species are endangered at Henoko and Oura Bay. Among about 5,800 species of marine creatures, as many as about 1,300 species are unidentified, many of which are highly likely to be new species. It runs against the international trend of biodiversity conservation that the Japanese government moves ahead with the construction of a new base without doing academic surveys or without taking any protective measures.
④The majority of Okinawan people are against the construction of a new base at Henoko. The public will of Okinawan people opposing relocation to Henoko was demonstrated in a series of elections in 2014, namely, for Nago mayor, Okinawa governor, and diet members of the Lower House, and also in 2016, for Okinawa Prefectural Assembly members, and diet members of the Upper House. The Japan-U.S. security arrangements will leave a major problem unresolved if the Henoko relocation, which cannot garner the understanding of Okinawan people, is forcibly implemented.
I am grateful to Hideki for taking time to explain to me the situation and for taking me to see the protesters camp. I have experienced much generosity on these islands. Hideki's presentation here on this link can take you through some of these issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekm1K8d-XxU