On March 25, the “prefectural people’s rally calling for immediate cancellation of unlawful land reclamation work and abandonment of the plan to build a new base in Henoko”, organized by the All Okinawa Coalition to Prevent Construction of a New Base in Henoko, was held in front of the gate to the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab. According to organizer estimates, more than 3,500 participants joined the rally.
Governor Takeshi Onaga attended the rally and announced, “with strength, I will absolutely revoke” the approval to reclaim land off the shore of Henoko, which is needed build the new base. It was the first time Governor Onaga clearly stated his intention to revoke the land reclamation approval. It was also the first time the governor attended a citizens’ rally in Henoko since taking office.
On Thursday some 22,000 people living near Kadena Air Base were collectively awarded $265.9 million in an aircraft-noise settlement. This is the largest reward levied in a noise case against the US military in Japanese history, with each plaintiff to receive roughly $12,000.
The Japanese court dismissed the residents’ demand to scale back the US military presence, however, stating that it is essential to regional security, but the judge did criticize the government for not addressing the noise issue.
Yoshinori Yamada, a 76-year-old plaintiff said after the verdict, “The court found that the noise was harmful but it cannot stop it…I am outraged.”
The residents will appeal the military presence aspect of the case, an end result that they desired, according to reports, over monetary compensation. The Japanese government could appeal to a higher court to lower the award, as was done in a December 2016 noise complaint case at Atsugi Naval Air Facility. Similar suits were filed in 1982 and 2000.
This most recent case was filed in 2011, with some of the complaintants dying in the midst of litigation, and others blocked due to their Filipino national origin.
Chief Judge Tetsuya Fujikura said in the ruling, “While the benefits are enjoyed equally by the entire nation, the operations of the military cause various damages, inflicting a heavy toll on local residents…It is a grave unfairness that cannot be overlooked,” according to Stars and Stripes.
Jiji Press quoted the judge saying that the issue has “caused mental pain, disturbance to sleep and an increase in the risk of negative health effects from developing high blood pressure.”
Multimillion-dollar settlements have been paid out for noise complaints by the Japanese government just in the last year, although noise has been an issue in Okinawa since the US moved in after World War II. A case in November 2016 involving Marine Corps Air Station Futenma saw $22.6 million paid to some 3,400 residents. Altogether the government has paid over $90 million in noise settlements since the 1990s.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
As a pristine subtropical jungle with endemic species of flora and fauna, Yanbaru in Okinawa Prefecture would seem to have everything going for it to gain World Natural Heritage status.
Except for the proximity of the U.S. military’s anti-guerrilla warfare training.
That sums up the dilemma facing the government as it strives to win listing for the forest in 2018.
As part of those efforts, the government designated the vast area of dark green chinquapin and other evergreen, broad-leaved trees on the northern tip of Okinawa’s main island as a national park in September.
But how to reconcile the jungle warfare exercises at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Northern Training Area with visitors tramping through the forest?
The U.S. military’s imprint is unmistakable. In places, areas are gauged out of the thick forest floor to serve as helipads for use by tilt-rotor Ospreys and other U.S. military helicopters. Each helipad has a diameter of 75 meters.
At ground level, these brown “holes” are only noticeable from up close. But from the air, they are an eyesore.
Six landing pads are at the foot of 503-meter-high Mount Yonahadake and Mount Iyudake, a 446-meter peak to the southwest, near the central part of the planned World Natural Heritage site. Two of them were completed in 2014.
Four others were finished in December after work began in summer in preparation for more intensive U.S. military drills at those sites.
Of particular concern is the Okinawa woodpecker. Many of the birds are believed to roost in the Northern Training Area.
Kuniharu Miyagi, professor emeritus of animal ecology at Okinawa International University, is concerned about the repercussions of helipad construction on local plants and animals.
“The Northern Training Area is situated in a section that is very rich in nature that truly symbolizes the Yanbaru forest,” Miyagi, who also chairs the Okinawa prefectural board of environmental assessment, said before the completion of the helipads. “The construction work itself could have a severe impact on the Okinawa woodpecker and other local creatures.”
He also frets about non-native species gaining a foothold in the forest if they hitch a ride with U.S. military personnel flying in for drills.
A survey by the board of the two helipads in 2015 confirmed the existence of varieties named on the Environment Ministry’s list of invasive alien species, including the creeping daisy, which is native to Central America.
When the government applies, it must exclude the Northern Training Area from the nominated property because it has no jurisdiction over U.S. military installations.
A 5,217-hectare portion of the Yanbaru forest is covered in the government’s nomination. The training area occupies about 3,500 hectares next to it. Until December, when the U.S. military returned some of the land to Japan, the training area was twice as big.
Exclusion of the U.S. training area is likely to prove to be a huge obstacle in Japan’s endeavor.
“Compared with Japan’s past bids, it will be extremely difficult,” said Masahito Yoshida, a professor of World Heritage studies at University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Yoshida helped evaluate candidate sites in other countries as a former member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an advisory body that makes recommendations to the World Heritage Committee based on its on-site surveys.
One of the crucial points in evaluating whether a candidate site is worthy of World Natural Heritage recognition is the “integrity” of the nominated area.
“The IUCN may point out that the Northern Training Area should be included from a viewpoint of integrity,” he said. “In addition, the IUCN may ask the government how it intends to protect species living in the training area.”
In the course of past World Natural Heritage registrations, the government had to enlarge the scope of a national park or set up a buffer zone outside the nominated area following the IUCN evaluations.
Akimichi Matsunaga, assistant director for the World Natural Heritage of the Environment Ministry’s Environment Bureau of Natural Conservation, stressed that the government has an enviable track record of trying to conserve indigenous species in Yanbaru.
This was a reference to the government’s joint effort with U.S. forces to eradicate the mongoose, which is on the list of invasive alien species, for more than 10 years.
Mongooses were first brought to Okinawa in 1910 to prey on “habu” poisonous snakes and rats.
“The training area is not completely separated from the nominated zone,” Matsunaga said. “The government’s efforts may not be sufficient, but we would like to explain to the IUCN that we have managed the forest in an integrated manner with the training area as an adjacent zone.”
Still, conservationist Masayuki Gonda is skeptical about the government’s commitment, saying it has yet to do all that it can to preserve the forest and its inhabitants. He heads the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to preserve the natural environment of the Nansei island chain off Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures.
“Not even a buffer zone exists between the area that should come under strict conservation and the training area used by the U.S. military,” he said. “The wholeness of the local ecosystem is in tatters, making it impossible to conserve and manage it.”
The Japanese share in costs spent on US military presence in the Asian country exceeded 80 percent in 2015, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said.
According to the Japanese Kyodo news agency, Inada made the figures public, speaking in the lower house of the country’s parliament.
Tokyo and Washington have close ties in the sphere of military and technical cooperation. The United States have a military contingent of some 54,000 servicemen deployed at the Asian country, within the framework of the US-Japan security treaty signed in 1951. Most of US troops in Japan are deployed in the western Japanese prefecture of Okinawa.
According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2016 the Japanese budget included about $4 billion on expenses related to the presence of the US military bases in the country.
Media reports say that the number of sexual assaults by US military personnel in Japan is spiraling.
Based on the reports, American military personnel were involved in more than one-thousand sex crimes between 2005 and 2013. The number is strikingly high on the island of Okinawa. Around half of the 50000 US forces in Japan are based on the island. Sex crimes against Okinawans have provoked protests against the US military presence there. Reports also say that the judgment process of these crime cases is very inconsistent. The cases are usually reduced to lesser charges and in nearly two thirds of the cases the convicts have not been incarcerated. Instead, they’ve been demoted or received a letter of reprimand.
My name is Kentaro Takaoka. I was born in Japan in 1988 and when I was 8 my family moved to London. We moved because my parents couldn’t handle it anymore…Handle the slavish status of Japanese people after WWII. I know that my nation did bad thing during that time, but we are already third generation after those people and we don’t deserve it…We don’t deserve that our children are raped and killed. Yes, you know it…You all know it but remain silent. After WWII Japan has been occupied by US military forces. These forces do everything they want on our territory and no law can stop them. And our government remains silent too. But I won’t…So this is what my site about.
The terrible and horrifyingly shocking things US militaries have done to Japanese people…
Since 1972 US military personnel have committed over 5,800 crimes on Japan’s Okinawa Islands. Here are the most famous of them:
1995: the gang rape of 12-year old, sixth-grade Japanese school girl by a sailor and two Marines stationed at Camp Hansen.
2006: the robbing and beating to death of 56-year old woman by a Yokosuka Naval Base sailor.
2008: tha stabbing death of a taxi driver by a Yokosuka NB sailor.
2008: the death of 17-year old Kadena Air Base Kubasaki H.S. student resulting from DUI 20-year old USFJ dependent.
2009: the hit-and-run death of 66-year old in Okinawa.
2011: the vehicular manslaughter of a 19-year old Okinawan male by 24-year US Army employee.
2012: the rape and robbery of 20-year old Okinawan girl by a US sailor.
2016: US Marine Kenneth Franklin Shinzato was arrested in Okinawa for stabbing and strangling a 20-year-old Japanese woman near US Kadena Air Base. Rina Shimabukuro disappeared on April 28 and was later found dead in a forest. Franklin has reportedly admitted to raping her and committing the murder.