Okinawans rally against base

On Sunday I went to a rally held in the village of Yomitan where an estimated 90,000 people got together to protest against the US military bases on Okinawa. The focus of the meeting was to call for the removal of the Futenma air base from Ginowan. This issue has dragged on for a very long time – plans to close down the huge Futenma air base which occupies the centre of the city have been talked about ever since the 1995 demonstration against the bases which followed the rape of a 12 year old girl by three American servicemen. Despite promises to close  the Futenma base the Japanese government also agreed to relocate it within Okinawa. After the change of government in Japan last year there were hopes that the heavy burden on Okinawa might be eased a little by moving the base outside the island, but Japan and the USA have still come to no agreement on its relocation. It is well known that Okinawa hosts around 75% of the American forces in Japan, and that 20% or more of the main island is occupied by the US military. Once again Okinawans are trapped in the middle and have to live daily with these problems.

The gathering yesterday was preceded by a music event compered by the singer and ukulele player Kenko. Among the performers were Duty Free Shopp and Kakumakushaka who sang their powerful “Tami no Domino”. They were joined on stage by the young minyo singer Akane Murayoshi from Kume Island.

Duty Free Shopp's Tatsumi Chibana with Akane Murayoshi

There was a carnival atmosphere all day and the weather remained fine with bright sunshine throughout the afternoon. Many protesters came with homemade banners and slogans while large numbers wore yellow – to symbolise the giving of a warning (football’s yellow card) to those in power. Members of all the major political parties were represented on stage, including the singer and musician Shoukichi Kina (who for once was not required to speak) and there were speeches from Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha, among many others.

As one of the handful of foreigners at the rally I was interviewed by a newspaper journalist and also by an NHK TV reporter. My view is that Okinawa has suffered the burden of the bases for far too long. Not only should the Futenma base be closed and relocated outside Okinawa, but eventually all US bases should be removed, since they serve only American power interests. Unfortunately, Japanese governments have continually ignored the Okinawan people and there are ominous signs that this one will be no different. It is unthinkable that the Japanese would agree to have such a massive military presence on their own mainland, and it has been all too convenient for them to push the problem out of sight down in the southern islands. It is almost incredible to think that US military bases still exist on this island 65 years after the end of the war.  I can only hope that this massive demonstration in Okinawa will have some bearing on the final decision.

Below are some photos from the event.

Explore posts in the same categories: Live in Okinawa, Okinawan Life

2 Comments on “Okinawans rally against base”

  1. Aki Says:

    Thank you for posting this, great photos, too. Always nice to see what’s going on in Yomitan, where my mother’s family is located. I agree with your views on base relocation. It’s been 8 years since I visited Okinawa (I was born there), but I was shocked at the presence of the military which was visible everywhere you went.

    I’m so happy to have discovered your blog and your book, which I ordered the other day! Best wishes from California – ganbatte kudasai!

  2. Izumi Nishi Says:

    The above passage is as powerful as Duty Free Shopp and Kakumakushaka’s sound.
    Among several performances before the rally started, I was personally impressed by the musical ‘modern Kumiodori’ (the classical drama in Okinawa that retains the older play-style/form than Japanese Kabuki does), performed by the high school students in the Katsuren area. Incidentally Katsuren is another candidate to that Futenma Air Base is to be relocated.

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