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Supporters stage New York rally demanding Japan release Okinawa anti-base activist

Supporters of a prominent opponent of U.S. military bases in Okinawa held a rally Thursday outside the Japanese Consulate in New York calling for his release from more than four months’ detention.

The move came after Japan’s Supreme Court last month denied bail to Hiroji Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center. Human rights and civil groups are calling for him to be released from what they say is political oppression.

“I suspect the detention is to crush nonviolent (peace) movements in Okinawa. It is a flagrant violation of human rights,” said Noriko Oyama, who led the rally in front of the Japanese Consulate General.

Yamashiro, 64, has led protest groups against the long-opposed bilateral plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Nago in Okinawa.

He was arrested in October on suspicion of cutting barbed wire near a U.S. construction site in Higashi, where a helipad was being built. He has also been charged with injuring a Defense Ministry official and obstructing relocation work at another U.S. Marine base in Nago. The nature and seriousness of the injury was not clear.

Amnesty International Japan has called for Yamashiro’s immediate release, saying he does not meet the criteria for being detained because the chances of him destroying evidence concerning his alleged crimes are very low.

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Japan ignores protests, begins offshore construction work on moving US base in Okinawa

Despite strong local opposition, the Japanese authorities began offshore construction work aimed at relocating a US Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa.

The US Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma is being moved from densely populated Ginowan to a less populated location in eastern Okinawa – the Henoko coastal area of Nago. Last week, US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks in Tokyo and agreed to go ahead with the plan.

The offshore construction work, which started on the 6th of February, will see over 200 concrete blocks dumped in the sea to create a screen, preventing debris and sediment generated from coastal revetment work from damaging the environment.

Tokyo will also make sure that an undersea survey in the area is carried out, using the same vessels which earlier delivered the blocks to the site, Kyodo news agency reported.

“Based on relevant law, the government will pay as much consideration as possible to the natural environment and the livelihoods of local people as we move forward with work to relocate (the base to) Henoko,” Yoshide Suga, Japanese chief cabinet secretary, said.

Around 100 people gathered outside Camp Schwab, another US base near the construction site, to protest the relocation again on Monday.

The demonstrators held banners reading “No to new Henoko base” and “Independence from colonialism,” AP reported.

Many residents, including Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, object to the heavy US military presence on the island, saying that the Futenma base should be removed, not just relocated.

They cite jet crashes related to the US bases and sexual assaults linked to US military personnel as major reasons for concern.

Large-scale protests against the US bases, which gather thousands of people, are staged regularly on the island.

Onaga is now expected to refuse the renewal of a permit for moving coral reefs in the construction area, which expires in March, in order to stall the Futenma base relocation, Kyodo said.

The Okinawa governor visited Washington last week, reiterating his strong stance against the US bases on the island.

“US military bases occupy 6 percent of the whole of Japan and 70 percent of those US military bases are in places where the population density is about the same as Tokyo. I don’t like it anymore…,” Onaga said.

The Futenma base relocation began in October 2015, but was suspended due to resistance from the Okinawa authorities and population.

The work was resumed by the government on December 27 after the Supreme Court rejected an injunction order earlier issued by the Okinawa governor.

“This is a country ruled by law, and we feel that both the state and Okinawa Prefecture will cooperate and act sincerely in continuing with the reclamation work, in line with the Supreme Court ruling,” Cabinet Secretary Suga said.

Tokyo believes that the relocation of the base is “the only solution” to move it away from the densely populated area, while not undermining the Japan-US security alliance.

U.S. murder suspect didn’t fear rape charge in Japan

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Kenneth Franklin Shinzato is transferred to the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office from a police station in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture in May.

An American charged with raping and murdering an Okinawa woman blamed the victim and thought he would get away with the attack because of Japan’s culture of shame, according to a report.

The suspect, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, “didn’t fear being caught because of Japan’s low rate of reporting sexual assaults … due to cultural and social stigma,” according to a Stars and Stripes article published on Feb. 14.

The U.S. military newspaper quoted lawyers for Shinzato, 33, a former U.S. Marine who was a civilian worker at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.

Okinawa prefectural police initially arrested Shinzato in May last year on suspicion of abandoning the body of the 20-year-old woman who resided in Uruma in the prefecture. He was later arrested and indicted on charges of rape and murder.

“I intended to hit her with the stick and make her lose consciousness, then put her in the suitcase, take her to a hotel and then rape her,” the defense team quoted Shinzato as saying in the article.

Police suspect he ambushed the woman while she was walking for exercise in Uruma on the night of April 28. They believe Shinzato and the woman had never met before.

One of the lawyers told Stars and Stripes that the suspect believes “it was her fault for having been there at the time.”

The lawyer told The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 15, “My client is not expressing any remorse over the incident.”

The defense team plans to have the suspect undergo a psychiatric assessment before his trial starts around June.

According to the lawyer, a transcript of the defense team’s interview with Shinzato was released to Stars and Stripes because he wanted to tell his story only to fellow Americans.

Elderly Women on Okinawa Unite Against Plans to Move U.S. Military Base

On a Japanese island famous for long life expectancies, elderly women are at the forefront of the continuing protest movement against U.S military installations.

For an entire year, 60-year-old Kumiko Onaga slept in a tent across the street from a U.S. military base on Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island. In the middle of the night, when trucks carrying construction material approached at the entrance gate of the base, she jumped out of her sleeping bag and tried to block the vehicles. Then, each morning, she drove home, showered and went to work as one of her town’s few women city council members.

“People know me as ‘the sleeping bag councilwoman,’” Onaga says with a smile, adding that more people know her by her nickname than her real name.

Onaga and others on Okinawa have long opposed the relocation of the contentious Futenma Marine Corps base to the remote fishing village of Henoko on the northern part of the island. Part of the plan involves the construction of military runways in the coral-filled coastal waters next to the base.

“We were forced to accept these bases,” says Kyoko Matayoshi, 66, who lives just over a mile from the Futenma base. She and many local residents say their biggest concerns are noise, pollution and safety.

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Kyoko Matayoshi, 66, has long called for the closure of Futenma Marine Corps base, citing worries about noise, pollution, helicopter accidents and reports of rapes by US servicemen stationed on the island.

In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl on the island by U.S servicemen prompted huge protests and ultimately led to the decision to move the Futenma base from a densely populated area to northern Okinawa. Though these incidents are rare, a string of rapes by U.S. servicemen stationed on Okinawa has rattled nerves over the years. Last year, a former U.S. Marine was arrested for the gruesome murder of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman. This sparked a fresh wave of demonstrations against the American military presence on the island.

Matayoshi and others are part of a women’s group that protests the Futenma base. “When we started 20 years ago, we never had the intention to do this movement for such a long time,” she says. “It’s not even activism, we’re just doing this to survive.”

Matayoshi says instead of relocating the base within Okinawa, the Japanese government should move it to the mainland. Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed to this plan several years ago, but backtracked on his promise in 2010 and later resigned.

An unfair burden

“In Okinawa, we have been double-colonized and dominated,” says Matayoshi. Before Japan annexed the island in the late 1800s, Okinawa flourished as the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, trading with nearby nations. During World War II, the Japanese military government used the island as a bloody battlefield, and tens of thousands of Okinawan civilians died. After the war, the island came under U.S. control.

Okinawan women have a long history of resistance, and many of them organized grassroots rallies when their families’ land was turned into U.S. military property. “Those women who survived the war and post-war period became our role models and our teachers,” Matayoshi says.

Under a treaty that dates back to the end of World War II, U.S. forces defend Japan from rival nations, such as North Korea and China. Now, about 27,000 troops are stationed on the island, and it’s considered a strategic defense location in the Asia Pacific region.

While Okinawa is home to roughly 70 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan, it has less than one percent of the nation’s landmass, angering many Okinawans who say that’s an unfair burden.

Women at the Frontlines

Etsuko Urashima, 68, lives near the village of Henoko, where the Japanese government is preparing to construct military runways. The soft-spoken writer has become one of the most well-known organizers of the protest movement.

In 2011, Urashima co-founded a women’s group to support the city’s anti-base mayor. “The anti-base people with official leadership positions are mostly men, but the main force of this movement is women,” she says. “When women are at the frontlines, it’s said those movements are successful.”

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Writer Etsuko Urashima, 68, has become one of the faces of the protest movement. “If we had not been doing these protests, the base in Henoko would have been built a long time ago,” she says.

“If we had not been doing these protests, the base in Henoko would have been built a long time ago,” Urashima says. One major concern, she says, is that the proposed plan to build aircraft runways on the environmentally fragile coastal waters will damage the area forever.

Construction of the new runways started a few years ago, but stalled last year after significant local opposition and a lawsuit filed by Okinawa’s governor against the plan. It was a small victory for many of the protesters, until Japan’s Supreme Court overturned the lawsuit in December 2016, and work resumed in February.

Protecting Future Generations

“I’d never taken part in any civil movement before,” says Onaga, the “sleeping bag councilwoman.”

“I was even scared to just do a sit-in, because I wasn’t used to it.” At demonstrations outside military bases, Japanese riot police gather and physically carry protesters out of the area.

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City councilwoman Kumiko Onaga, 60, slept in a tent across from a US military base for entire year to protest the construction of a new base and aircraft runways on coastal waters.

“In one late-night protest, the riot police formed a human fence to block us as construction material was transported into the military base,” she says. “The police hit me in the back and broke my rib. It took a month and a half to heal, and it was very scary and painful.”

Onaga says women are a big part of the protest movement because they want to protect future generations. “We’re a tiny island, and the bonds are strong here,” she says. “I think Okinawan women feel that they all collectively share the responsibility of raising our children.”

Her views have also brought unwanted attention from right-wing groups in Okinawa. “I get a lot of abuse and threats online,” Onaga says. “The very first time they uploaded something about me, I did get scared, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from protesting.”

Resistance in the Forest

Protesters have also set up tents in Okinawa’s northern Yanbaru forest, where the U.S. military is constructing six helicopter landing pads. Twice a week, crowds gather to demonstrate, while riot police closely guard the area and film protesters with camcorders.

Eiko Ginoza, 69, often protests with an 86-year-old woman who survived the Battle of Okinawa.

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Ginoza vividly remembers when a U.S. military fighter jet crash-landed into an elementary school in her town in 1959, killing 11 students and six locals. Now a grandmother of seven, she says, “My grandchildren are scared whenever they see an aircraft because they fly really low.”

At a morning rally, Ginoza and other protesters chant slogans. As a truck pummels down the two-lane road carrying construction materials for the helipad, they surround the vehicle and try to block it. The truck continues on and enters the construction site.

“We are nonviolent, and we don’t want to harm people,” she says. “We just stand in front of the trucks, or we lay down under the trucks.”

She and the other elderly women protesters say they won’t give up their fight. “We only have one chance to live, so we’ll continuously say no to the base,” Ginoza says.

Okinawa protesters oppose US military base on land and at sea.

Activists opposing the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a location in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, paddled out into the coastal waters to disrupt preparations for its construction on the 1st of February.

U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa

Rice fungus released in at least two sites in early 1960s, documents show.

The U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa in the early 1960s, when the prefecture was still under U.S. rule, according to U.S. documents obtained by Kyodo News.

In the tests, conducted at least a dozen times between 1961 and 1962, rice blast fungus was released over paddies to see how it affected production, the documents made available by U.S. authorities showed.

Rice blast disease causes lesions to form on the plant, threatening the crop. The fungus, which is known to occur in 85 countries, is estimated to destroy enough rice to feed 60 million people a year.

The U.S. government has previously disclosed information on chemical and biological warfare tests it held at sea and on land in such places as Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Utah.

The United States is believed to have had China and Southeast Asia in mind in developing such crop-harming agents. The U.S. government decided to end all biological weapons programs in 1969.

An international convention against production and possession of biological weapons came into force in 1975.

The obtained documents mention test sites including Nago and Shuri, both in Okinawa, but it is not known whether the experiments were conducted on U.S. bases there.

In the field tests, the army “used a midget duster to release inoculum alongside fields in Okinawa and Taiwan,” measuring dosages at different distances and the effect on crop production, the documents said.

A separate document said: “Field tests for stem rust of wheat and rice blast disease were begun at several sites in the (U.S.) midwest and south and in Okinawa with partial success in the accumulation of useful data.”

After the war, Okinawa was administered by the United States until 1972.

Separate from the latest findings, it has been reported that the U.S. military stored defoliants on Okinawa during the Vietnam War.

According to past reports by Jon Mitchell published in The Japan Times, construction workers unearthed more than 20 rusty barrels from beneath a soccer field in the city of Okinawa in June.

The land was once part of Kadena Air Base — the Pentagon’s largest installation in the Pacific region — but was returned to civilian use in 1987.

Tests revealed that the barrels contained two ingredients of military defoliants used in the Vietnam War: the herbicide 2,4,5-T and 2,3,7,8,-TCDD dioxin. Levels of the highly toxic TCDD in nearby water measured 280 times the safe limit.

The Pentagon has repeatedly denied storing defoliants — including Agent Orange — on Okinawa. Following the discovery, it distanced itself from the barrels.

A representative said the Defense Department was investigating whether the barrels had been buried after the land’s return in 1987, and a U.S. government-sponsored scientist suggested they may merely have contained kitchen or medical waste.

However, the conclusions of the Japanese and international scientific community were unequivocal: Not only did the barrels disprove Pentagon denials of the presence of military defoliants in Japan, but the polluted land also posed a threat to the health of local residents and required immediate remediation.

Okinawa Governor to Discuss Relocation of US Military Base With Trump’s Team

Governor of the Japanese Okinawa prefecture Takeshi Onaga left for the United States to discuss the relocation of the US military base, local media reported Tuesday.

Onaga plans to deliver a speech at the George Washington University and to hold a press conference to explain the “burden” of the US military facilities for Okinawa residents, according to the Kyodo news agency.

On December 26, 2016, the agency reported that Onaga had retracted the decision preventing the United States from moving its air base within the island. The governor’s decision came shortly after the national government won a lawsuit against the state, forcing the latter to allow the move of the Futenma Air Station to the Henoko Bay in Nago.

The talks on the base’s relocation have been ongoing for over two decades and have been significantly hindered lately by the steadfast opposition of the local residents, many of whom would like to see the base gone rather than relocated.

Okinawa occupies less than 1 percent of Japanese territory but hosts some 74 percent of the country’s total US military presence.

Okinawa base worker to admit rape, but not intentional murder

A former U.S. base worker will admit to a charge of rape leading to the death of a Japanese woman last year, a new development in the case that rocked the tiny island prefecture and led to a surge in anti-American sentiment.

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine who worked as a civilian at a Kadena Air Base cable and internet company, said through his attorneys that he killed Rina Shimabukuro, 20, while attempting to rape her, according to Naha District Court documents filed Friday.

“We do not dispute the charge of rape resulting in death,” the documents said, adding that Gadson admits to striking Shimabukuro on the head from behind while attempting to rape her. “As a result, the victim died … The defendant had no murderous intent, therefore we dispute the charge of murder.”

Gadson’s first pretrial conference is scheduled for March 10. The trial is expected to begin sometime around June.

The admission’s timing surprised some legal scholars, since prosecutors haven’t yet presented evidence in court. It was most likely an attempt at a lesser sentence by showing remorse, which is considered very important in the Japanese justice system.

“Generally speaking, if you do not admit anything while there is obvious evidence, the attitude is seen as atrocious, with no remorse; thereby, the sentence tends to be longer,” said Tetsumi Takara, a law professor at the University of the Ryukyus.

Takara said the death penalty cannot be discounted in this case, though it is rarely handed down in cases involving a single death.

“There is a possibility that he chose this route for a lesser sentence by giving a good impression to [the civilian] judges (similar to an American jury),” Takara said. “Having said that, it is still strange to admit the charge before trial.”

Gadson was charged with murder and rape resulting in death by Japanese prosecutors two months after Shimabukuro disappeared on April 28. He was also charged with the illegal disposal of a body.

Following interrogation, he took police to the wooded area where her remains were found. He confessed to the crime, police said, but his lawyers argued he was questioned while under the influence of sleeping pills after a suicide attempt.

US Marines in Okinawa Perform Ridiculous Dance from Japanese Drama

The situation with US military bases in Okinawa continues to heat up. Recently new protests erupted following the refusal of the national government to relocate Futenma base and the handing back of 10,000 acres of US training grounds to Japan in exchange for the construction of six helipads nearby.

Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga seems to have lost patience with Tokyo officials after Japan’s Supreme Court dealt a significant a blow to the islanders’ efforts to rid themselves of US bases altogether by ruling in favor of the central government in its bid to relocate Futenma within the island.

Now Onaga plans to pay an official visit to the USA to explain to the Donald Trump administration the position of the prefecture’s residents, who have been protesting against the presence of the US bases for as long as they have been on the island.

However, bold and bouncy American soldiers always know what to do in difficult situations. They shot a video showing a number of Marines performing a brief version of the Koi Dance (koi being the Japanese word for “love”), the ending credit sequence for the phenomenally popular TV drama Nigehaji or We Married as a Job.

The footage was uploaded to the official Japanese-language Twitter account of the US Marine Corps on January 27 and got more than 14,000 reposts and over 18,000 likes by the time writing.

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