Irei no hi 2015
Today, the 23rd June, is a public holiday in Okinawa and the day when the end of the Battle of Okinawa is commemorated as Irei no hi. It always seems to be a time of extreme heat and humidity and today was no exception. I attended the main Memorial Service which was held around lunchtime at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman. This year was a rather special ceremony as it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and even more people than usual gathered in the park.
As usual, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the ceremony and made a familiar speech full of platitudes while not really addressing the current situation in Okinawa at all. His speech, delivered in a monotone, was met with lukewarm applause and some heckling along the way. In contrast, Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga made an impassioned speech which included the following:
“To begin with, regarding Futenma Air Station whose land was forcibly expropriated from us against our will and which is said to be the most dangerous base in the world, the indefinite use of MCAS Futenma must not be endured. To the people of Okinawa, the notion that ‘Futenma will be relocated to Henoko to eliminate the danger posed by Futenma’, and that ‘if Okinawa does not like the Henoko plan, Okinawa should come up with an alternative plan’ is totally unacceptable.”
“We cannot establish a foundation of peace unless the central government impartially guarantees freedom, equality, human rights and democracy to the people.”
“I strongly urge the national government to break with its fixed ideas, decide to stop the work to relocate Futenma to Henoko, and review once again its policies to reduce the base hosting burden shouldered by Okinawa.”
Not surprisingly, Onaga’s speech was halted several times by spontaneous applause and finally received an ovation. His sentiments were endorsed by Masaharu Kina, Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, who said:
“During the Battle of Okinawa, both the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the people of Okinawa were too powerless as they were left in the dark without being notified of what was happening. Reflecting on the lessons we learnt, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, this year once again, hereby makes a pledge to pass down to our offspring the real facts of the tragic Battle of Okinawa, together with the many participants here, to prevent the war from occurring again. We also pledge to return to the roots of democracy by asserting that it is the people of Okinawa who should decide matters for Okinawa, and we swear to stay faithful to the people of Okinawa as we do our utmost to work together to create a bright and peaceful future for Okinawa.”