Thousands gather over weekend in Tokyo to support a military base-free Okinawa

Attendees at Saturday's Hibiya Park rally wearing handmade hats symbolizing the kuina, a bird native to Okinawa's Yanbaru forest that is presently threatened by U.S. military construction

Over 6,000 people attended a rally and march in Tokyo's Hibiya Park on Saturday to reject plans for construction of U.S. military facilities in the ecologically sensitive areas of Henoko near Oura Bay, and Takae village in the Yanbaru forest. Consisting primarily of labor groups, students, peace organizations, and a collection of other activists and citizens, the crowd also called for various additional anti-military initiatives including the closing down of nuclear power plants, revision of Japan's policy toward North Korea, and the dismantling of the Japan-US Security Treaty.

Left: "STOP genpatsu (nuclear power)"

National Public Radio in the United States ran a story about the event here.

At the pre-march gathering, an older woman shyly approached me and offered me a small folded origami box containing a collection of origami Totoro figures from the popular environmentally-themed manga "My Neighbor Totoro", which she explained that she folded to express her hopes for the preservation of nature to triumph over the use of land for military purposes.Although I cannot be sure, I suspect that this gift---as well as the several smiles and thumbs-up that I received from other parade-goers---were given to me because I was one of only a handful of other obvious-looking foreigners who seemed to be in attendance at the rally.

Conscious of this need to show support among foreigners in Japan for Okinawa's self-determination regarding the military base issue, the recently established US for Okinawa Peace Action Network held its own peace action the next day across town in Yoyogi Park. ("US is pronounced "us", as in "you, me and everyone.")
Photo by Meri Joyce

Attended by people from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere, the network's first-ever event included a photo exhibition and a FAQ sheet including information on social and environmental damage resulting from U.S. military bases in Okinawa, as well as countries such as Vietnam and Iraq where Okinawa-based soldiers have been sent; a live painting station accompanied by didgeridoo music; and a reading aloud of the following message for the assembled crowd:

All of us at the peace action network, US for OKINAWA, have assembled here in the park today to express our concern about the enormous burden that U.S. military bases are placing on Okinawa.

Already, U.S. military facilities occupy nearly 20% of Okinawa Island, and even the U.S. and Japanese governments agree that Futenma Air Base poses a great safety risk to nearby residents and agree it should be closed.

However, we are appalled that closing Futenma is contingent upon constructing new military facilities in Henoko, another part of Okinawa Island.

A majority of local residents in Henoko are strongly opposed to this new construction, and we can understand why. It would simply shift the problems of contamination, noise pollution, and safety hazards from one part of Okinawa to another, and would also destroy much of the fragile ecoystem of Oura Bay. This will likely lead to the extinction of the dugong from Japan, as well as yet again deny Okinawans access to part of their traditional land and water.

We want you all to take a moment to imagine Yoyogi Park being appropriated from the general public in order to construct a new military base here. Imagine this park being surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers who will threaten you if you enter it without permission of the U.S. government. Imagine all the beautiful trees being cut down to create runways, shooting ranges, and weapon stockpiles. This is just an imaginary scenario for us, but this is basically what the people of Okinawa have experienced and are being threatened with yet again.

It's time for the U.S. to engage with the rest of the world through more diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties rather than primarily military. It's time for the U.S. to stop adding to its collection of 1,000 military bases around the world. These bases simply provoke more militarization around the world and destroy our natural world. And it's time for the Japanese government to say loud and clear: “Shut down Futenma” and “No more new military construction in Okinawa.”

A petition was also circulated calling for the following:

For more than 60 years, military bases in Okinawa have threatened the safety of local residents, contaminated and destroyed the natural environment, and denied Okinawans access to much of their land, oceans and airways. Futenma, the most dangerous of these bases, should be closed and reverted back to use for civilian purposes. Closure of Futenma should not be contingent on the construction of yet another new U.S. military base in the Henoko District of Okinawa—nor anywhere else in Okinawa. We call upon the U.S. and Japanese governments to listen to the people of Okinawa who have long been protesting the burden of these bases on their island. No more Futenma, no more new bases in Okinawa, no more appropriation of land and water from island peoples for military use!

Okinawa newspaper Ryuku Shimpo ran an article about Sunday's action here.

Upcoming network actions include sending a letter to President Obama making clear the network's position on the issue of U.S. military bases in Okinawa, and the organization of a study tour to Okinawa in the spring for Americans and other foreigners who wish to learn more about the issue of U.S. military bases and their impact upon local communities.

For further information and updates, visit the network's blog.- Post and photos by Kimberly Hughes


Tom O said…
"I was one of only a handful of other obvious-looking foreigners who seemed to be in attendance at the rally."

Maybe a dumb question/point but why were there 2 separate demos?? If I was a foreigner in Japan supporting a Japanese issue I'd, um, kinda wanna support the local angle. Thus thumbs up. And that message, was it in english?? For the benefit of the other foreigners?? Wouldn't a larger foreign presence in Hibiya have made SOME kind of difference?

Can't see the US military putting the consideration of dugongs to the fore. Its not what Military Industrial Complexes do, ne.

Btw, the construction of that landfill airport and the construction generally - would Japanese companies be interested? ;o)
Thanks for your input, Tom. To be honest with you, I share your opinion that the demo may have been better situated at Hibiya than at another park on another day. However, I think the idea on the part of organizers was to try and spread the movement to foreigners, who tend to congregate (for whatever reason!) on Sundays in Yoyogi Park.

As for your comment about the "message" being only in English, I am not sure which message you are referring to, but the materials and outreach for US for Okinawa were all bilingual in Japanese and English.

The US for Okinawa is just getting off the ground, and outreach with Japanese peace groups is definitely on our agenda. Please join us! And thanks again for your helpful input.

Tom O said…
TTT, I do think I was being a little harsh on what was still very positive action by both parties. And obviously sunday is a day when ALL foreigners will have a day off too. Not uncommon for teachers say to work saturdays.

Its all good work, keep the faith!
Hi Tom,

Just to make clear -- there is not one "TTT" :)

We have 3 bloggers -- Kim, Jen, and Jean -- and all use the same Blogger name.

Kim lives in Tokyo; Jen lives in Kyoto; and Jean lives in North America.

Part of the reason for English messages is that the group, US for Okinawa (UFO), wants to get their message out to non-Japan public via the media.

Most Americans do not know there are over 1,000 US military bases worldwide and that there are a large number of US military bases (covering 20% of the land) already in Okinawa.

Strangely, most Americans don't know there are also many military bases in Japan.

Environmental groups have sued on behalf of the dugong which is federally protected -- so that's an unresolved issue.

According to an article published at Japan Focus (by Japanese political writer Tanaka Sakai, "Why Build a New Base on Okinawa When the Marines are Relocating to Guam? Okinawa Mayor Challenges Japan and the US" -- the US did not originally plan to build the base at Henoko but was pressured by Japanese construction companies that wanted contracts for this badly conceived plan for a floating base over a coral reef, home of the critically endangered dugong.

In my view, these are the kinds of construction contractors that built the roads to nowhere in Japan--all they want are their pork contracts and they don't care about the waste to taxpayers, or environmental damage. They're so dysfunctional.

Many people in Guam don't want the Marines and bases either. 1/3 of that island is already covered with US military bases.

Tom O said…
"In my view, these are the kinds of construction contractors that built the roads to nowhere in Japan--all they want are their pork contracts and they don't care about the waste to taxpayers, or environmental damage. They're so dysfunctional."

Indeed, but who gives them the contracts? Rhetorical point I know but there wouldn't be those concrete swathes to nowhere without the suits involved. Surely the companies involved don't PAY the politicians/bureacrats as well??? ;o)

US military bases. An American friend of mine once suggested I renew my (UK passport) visa at the small office at Yokota airbase, avoiding Otemachi nado. Was a bit of a walk but we had the sight of C147 transport planes or equivalent (they were MASSIVE!) coming in to land. Obviously then realised just how big the base was, and why the guys in the black vans had their back up about it/them. The guy in the tiny 'immigration' office wasn't impressed with my visit, why hadn't I gone to Otemachi!? 'Benri desu'. And he reluctantly agreed, job done. Those transport planes, knew-know aircraft carriers used Yokokusa - a presence indeed. And then there's Okinawa, ne..
Hi Tom,

They'll all players in the same pork barrel party--that operates transnationally :)

Thanks for your description of Yokota. There's a train straight from Tokyo station to Yokota. It's being integrated JSDF - the headquarters of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is moving there.

I read the Tokyo government advocated opening Yokota to civilian flights.

:) Jean

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