Tuesday, April 09, 2013

News from Okinawa

I've just been invited to go back to Okinawa later this month to speak at a conference at Okinawa International University. April 28 is a very big anniversary across Japan, because it is the day that in 1952 Japan recovered their sovereignty after being occupied by the US during World War II. While it is an important day to commemorate for most of Japan in Okinawa it is a bittersweet occasion and one that helps highlight their colonial history in relation. Despite all the rhetoric of Okinawa being part of Japan, on April 28, 1952 it was given over to the United States, who governed it as their military colony until 1972. For most Japanese the 28th would be a day to unify and to reflect on the way they moved forward and left behind their history of imperialism and loss, but for Okinawans it is a day reminding them of the lies that have always claimed their inclusion and the right to determine and control them, but which have led to them always being treated differently.


Okinawans blast vague plan to return land used by U.S. military

April 06, 2013
NAHA—Protest banners, raised fists and angry shouts greeted Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera after he landed in Okinawa Prefecture on April 6.

Residents made sure Japan’s defense chief knew how they felt about a Japan-U.S. agreement announced the previous day on the return of land now used by six U.S. military facilities to the south of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.

They said the agreement does not specify any time frame for the return of the land and appears intended to keep the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.

"Listen to the voice of the Okinawa people," the protesters shouted ahead of Onodera’s meeting with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima in Naha.

The 120 protesters included Diet members, citizens and prefectural assembly members angry and frustrated over the lack of progress in removing U.S. military bases from the prefecture.

The demonstrators called for the unconditional return of land used by the Futenma air station and argued against the planned relocation of the base to the Henoko area of Nago, also in Okinawa.
Under the latest Japan-U.S. plan, the Futenma land would be returned to Japan in "fiscal 2022 or later" as long as certain conditions were met.

"Okinawa will never accept any plan that is forced upon it by the central government,” said a 65-year-old man who took part in the demonstration. “Relocating bases to somewhere else in Okinawa will only divide the prefecture."

In his meeting with Onodera, Nakaima pointed to the vague timeline included in the plan, referring to the phrase "or later" that was included after targeted dates.

"The only way we read that plan is that no one knows when the land will be returned," the governor said.

After the meeting, Nakaima told reporters that the plan would leave Futenma in its present location in the densely populated area of Ginowan until at least fiscal 2022.

"Nine to 10 years is just too long to have it in one place," he said.

During the meeting, Onodera emphasized that the plan had a timeline of returning the land used by the six military bases between fiscal 2013 and 2028.

"Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly called for a specific schedule for the return of the land in order to promote effective usage of the land," Onodera said.

The defense chief also pointed to the fact that unexpected developments could delay the relocation of various facilities.

The governor appeared unconvinced.

"The history of the return of land used by U.S. military bases has been one of not returning it according to plan. I ask that you make every effort to realize this plan," Nakaima said.

The vague wording “or later” in the agreement raised criticism across the prefecture.

"The phrase was likely included because the central government was not confident about meeting the deadlines," said Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago where Henoko is located.

The latest plan upset even local politicians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Masatoshi Onaga, a prefectural assembly member who serves as chairman of the LDP prefectural chapter, and other high-ranking officials met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on April 3.
They told Suga that only the inclusion of a "surprise" in the plan would change local public opposition regarding the Futenma relocation to Henoko.

However, Suga only said that Japanese officials were involved in difficult negotiations with the United States.

After the agreement was announced, Onaga said: "It does not contain anything that will lead the Okinawa people to say 'the central government did a good job in negotiating with the United States.' There will be no effect on public opinion in Okinawa opposed to the move to Henoko."

Residents in the areas where some of the U.S. military facilities are located also expressed disappointment.

Saneaki Aniya, 73, had his farmland expropriated for use by the Futenma base. According to the plan, his land will be returned by fiscal 2022 or later.

"I have almost no idea when that will be," Aniya said.

Although the land had been in his family for generations, Aniya has not set foot on it since 1958, when a fence was constructed around the base.

"The land may not be returned while I am still alive," he said. "It might have already been returned if they had sought to relocate the base outside of Okinawa or Japan from the very beginning."

The Japan-U.S. plan calls for returning the land after various buildings and facilities have been relocated to other locations.

Residents living in candidate sites to receive those facilities are already raising their voices against any move.

A warehouse in the Makiminato Service Area is scheduled to be moved to the Kadena ammunition depot area.

Ryoson Kuba, 76, makes fertilizer for his vegetables on land fenced off with barbed wire. Although the land is part of a U.S. military facility, local residents have been allowed to use it under an informal agreement.

"This is originally our land that the U.S. military took from us," Kuba said. "What is the central government saying now? If it tells us to leave, I want to tell government officials to return the situation here to the state it was before the start of World War II."


Okinawa rally to protest ceremony on ‘day of humiliation’

April 02, 2013

NAHA--Okinawa prefectural assembly opposition forces will organize a rally on April 28 to protest a government ceremony to mark the day Japan regained sovereignty after World War II.

The government plans to celebrate the anniversary of April 28, 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect, ending the Allied occupation of Japan.

But April 28 is known as “the day of humiliation” in Okinawa because it was placed under the U.S. administration when the treaty took effect.

The United States did not return Okinawa to Japanese administration until 1972.

Satoru Nakasone, who leads the Okinawa Goken-network, the largest opposition bloc in the Okinawa prefectural assembly, said Tokyo is rubbing salt into Okinawa’s old wound.

“The government is discarding Okinawa once again by holding a ceremony to celebrate the day of humiliation,” he said. “We want residents to gather and express their anger toward the government.”
The opposition parties will call on mayors, municipal assembly members, labor organizations and the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the ruling parties in the assembly, to take part.

The rally is expected to be held at the Ginowan seaside park at the same time as the government ceremony. A similar rally was held last autumn at the park in Ginowan, home to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, to protest the deployment of U.S. MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft there.
The Okinawa Goken-network and four other opposition blocs together hold 24 seats in the 48-member prefectural assembly. One seat is currently unoccupied.

On March 29, the assembly passed a resolution to oppose the government ceremony.

Assemblies in at least 12 municipalities, including Naha and Nago, have adopted resolutions and called on the government to cancel or reconsider the ceremony.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has also expressed displeasure with the ceremony, saying that government thinking differs from the citizens of Okinawa.

The LDP headquarters included holding the ceremony in a party document during the campaign for the Lower House election in December.

LDP members of the prefectural assembly will likely skip the rally.

“It could fuel conflict between the government and Okinawa,” said a senior official of the party’s prefectural chapter.

The LDP has argued at the prefectural assembly that the government must first reduce the excessive burden of U.S. bases in Okinawa, and that the ceremony lacks consideration of the feelings of Okinawans.

But LDP members were absent from the assembly when it voted on the resolution to oppose the ceremony in March.

New Komeito supported the resolution.

The party will carefully consider whether to participate in the rally. An official said it will be meaningless unless the event brings together all Okinawans.


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