Thursday, August 21, 2014

MP Keiko Itokazu testifies about human rights violations in Okinawa at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Japan review in Geneva

(Photo via Keiko Itokazu on FB)

Via Upper House Member of Parliament Keiko Itokazu with Naha City Councilman Caesar Uehara at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Japan review yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland. The two Okinawan political leaders reported on Japanese government discrimination against the Ryukyuan people on August 19. They cited the Japanese government's use of riot police, security contractors, and military (Coast Guard) to force construction of US military bases at Henoko and Takae, against the democratically expressed will of the people.

The lawmakers asked for the UN body to support the immediate withdrawal of the Henoko new base plan; the withdrawal of planning and immediate cessation of Takae helipad construction; and he immediate closure and removal of the Futenma base.

UNESCO has recognized a number of Ryukyu languages (2009) and the unique ethnicity, history, culture and traditions of Okinawa, which was an independent country for 500 years before the Meiji Japanese military seizure in 1879. Human rights violations suffered by the people of Okinawa during US military rule (1945-1972) and the Japanese government (1972-present) are well-known. CERD has expressed strong concerns about structural discimination of Okinawans on the basis of ethnicity. However, the Japanese government has disregarded the indigeneity of the Ryukyuan people, despite overwhelming evidence, resulting in a continuing violation of their human rights.

Because of concerns, in the past, CERD has urged the Japanese government to engage in wide consultations with Okinawan representatives with a view to monitoring discrimination suffered by Okinawans, to promote their rights and establish appropriate protection measures and policies. However, the Okinawan people require more protection from the Japanese government's ongoing escalation of human rights violations in Okinawa.

Ms. Keiko Itokazu reported strong resentment and questions about the Japanese government's refusal to recognize Okinawans as a separate people; use of military violence to enforce human rights violations in Henoko and Takae, and promised follow-up actions.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Japan's 47 News: Okinawa dugong spotted today 2 miles from Henoko Beach; on the same day that destruction of dugong habitat started...

Dugong seen swimming off Henoko coast today. (Image: 47 News via Kyodo)

Today a Japanese media outlet, 47 News, reported that a Kyodo helicopter team filmed a Okinawa dugong swimming 2 miles from Henoko Beach on June 17,  as the Japanese government started the destruction of its habitat. The dugong was seen floating for about 10 minutes before it submerged into the sea. The sea mammal is at an extremely high risk of extinction.

Mariko Abe, chief of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan protection department, who is familiar with the ecosystem of Henoko said, "This is undoubtedly a dugong," after viewing the image.


Background: The Nature Conservation Society of Japan reported in July that it had found more than 110 locations around the site of the proposed construction where dugongs had fed on seagrass this year. The Sea of Henoko has the largest and best feeding grounds for the critically endangered sea mammal. There are seagrass beds at the sea adjacent to Henoko, to the north, at the Sea of Kayo, but the beds are small and would not be able to sustain even the tiny population of remaining dugong.

Since 1955, the dugong has been protected as a cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture, due largely to its status as a revered and sacred animal among native Okinawans. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In 2004, the US environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit, the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protection for the dugong. The case is still open; after a 2008 ruling that the defendants must negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion.

Therefore on July 31, 2014, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court, asking the US government to halt construction plans.

Dugongs have been seen more frequently in the Sea of Henoko and appear at critical times in the struggle over the new base, which is opposed by almost all residents of Henoko, and 75% of Okinawans.

An Okinawan-Hawaiian American explains the significance to Okinawans and Overseas Okinawans, "The Okinawan manatee seem to always appear during times of being threatened as if they are trying to to show that they want their home to be protected and to lay claim. For Okinawans, it is like our ancestors are also saying to protect the land and ocean."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Okinawa Times: Video of coral, anemone, clown fish, sea urchins at the Sea of Henoko - the most biodiverse & best coral reef in Okinawa...

Okinawa Times video of coral, anemone, clown fish, sea urchins, & more marine life at the Sea of Henoko - the most biodiverse and best coral reef in Okinawa and one of the few coral reefs still alive at Okinawa Island. Most of Okinawa Island's coral reefs are dead from landfill, pollution, and/or disease.

The Sea of Henoko is also the principal and best feeding grounds for the critically endangered Okinawa dugong, a cultural icon.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Struggle for the Soul of Okinawa: "I saw so many military boats in the sea around 7 a.m. It reminds me of 1945."

Henoko on August 14, 2014. (Photo: Chie Mikami on FB)

Film director Chie Mikami on August 14, 2014, on location at Henoko : "I saw so many military boats in the sea around 7a.m. It reminds me of the history of Okinawa, year: 1945."

Today the Japanese government sent a military flotilla to Henoko, Okinawa, to put up buoys and patrol an "exclusion zone" in their plan to force drilling, dredging, landfill, and construction of a US military base at the the Sea of Henoko.  Observers said there were so many vessels, they were uncountable.

Japanese military flotilla surrounds the Sea of Henoko - August 2014. (Image: Ryukyu Shimpo)

US amphibious assault on Okinawa in 1945. 

Local residents have been protested and staved off repeated attempts military base construction at the dugong habitat and coral reef—the most biodiverse and best in Okinawa—since 1962. The current struggle has been ongoing for 18 years.

They are led by the Henoko elders, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, the Pacific War's worst battle, and the only battle fought on Japanese territory.  In 1997, they created the “Inochi o Mamoru Kai” (Society for the Protection of Life) to oppose the destruction of the Henoko Sea, which fed them during the Battle of Okinawa, when there were no other food sources. The dugong and the sea both reflect and symbolize the Okinawan core value of Nuchi du Takara: the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace.

85-year-old Fumiko Shimabukuro speaks at a June 28 rally at the Henoko Tent City sit-in. 
During the Battle of Okinawa, she suffered burns from American flamethrowers 
while hiding in a small cave with members of her family and three other families. 
Mrs. Shibakukuro joined the Tent City sit-in on the beach in 1996, when the plan was first announced.
 Mrs. Shimabukuro told the media in Dec. 2013, “This (approval) is not the end. As long as I am alive, 
I will continue to fight the government’s plans." (Photo: New Wave to HOPE)]

The islands have only been a part of Japan only since the late 1800s, when the Meiji government seized the Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa Prefecture. At the end of the Pacific War, knowing defeat was inevitable, the Japanese militarist government used Okinawa as a sacrificial pawn in a battle of attrition against the U.S. The fighting destroyed all the material culture on Okinawa Island and killed around 140,000 Okinawans, one third of the Okinawan population. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty were signed in 1951, Okinawa Prefecture was under U.S. military rule until 1972.  While Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan's land area, more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan were built there. Even after reversion to Japanese rule, the military bases remained.

Okinawans are comparing the forced expansion at Henoko not only to 1945, but also to the traumatic "Bayonets and Bulldozers" period of the 1950's, when the US military used coercion and violence to seize entire villages, the best farmland, the best coastland, utaki (sacred sites), and ancestral tombs throughout Okinawa prefecture to make way for  base expansion. Both Futenma in the middle of Ginowan City and Camp Schwab next to Henoko were built on forcibly acquired Okinawan private property.

This was also the period that the all-Okinawan nonviolent movement began. 250,000 rallied on June 30,1956 in Naha and Koza (Okinawa City). The Japanese and international media covered the struggle, generating global attention. The then president of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the US Army asking it to halt land seizures and related human rights violations. Most of this history has been buried outside of Okinawa. However the Battle of Okinawa and "Bayonets and Bulldozers" remain a living part of the present for Okinawans who see the ongoing struggles as not new "anti-base" protests, but, instead, part of the latest chapter in a seventy-year struggle for property rights, human rights, environmental protection, democracy and peace in the islands of Okinawa.

Okinawan women protest US military seizure of their homes and land in Isahama (Ginowan) in July 1955.
Between 1954 and 1955, the US military forced owners from their property Isahama, 
to make way for the expansion of Futenma, a training base and launchpad for the US war in Vietnam. 
(Photo: Okinawa Prefectural Government)).

In 1957, the US Army constructed Camp Schwab on land acquired by coercion that the US "rented" from local owners. The 5,000-acre base is used for live-fire and amphibious assault training, and the 300-acre Henoko ordnance depot, stores ammunition for most of the U.S. Pacific command. In 1962, the US government began bombing the coral reef to build a military port. This blasts killed large numbers of fish and marine life.  Local resistance halted the destruction then (and again in 2004, the last time the Japanese government attempted a forced construction). During the US military build-up in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, outsider organized crime gangs came to Henoko to open bars and brothels. Members of the military trafficked drugs from Southeast Asia and sold military property in the black market. There were two discrete worlds in Henoko: the traditional fishing and farming village and a foreign wartime military subculture, serviced by a seedy, parasitic organized criminal subculture. Locals don't want to see the latter resurrected again, which would happen if the base construction continues.

Okinawan author Tatsuhiro Oshiro has written about Okinawa as a "sacrifice zone" where state power imposes sacrifice upon the weak.  In 2011, Oshiro published Futenma yo (To Futenma), a book of short stories. In the first story, Oshiro addresses the history of Futenma through a family whose home and land was taken to expand the training base. The story ends when the musical accompaniment to a traditional Ryukyu dance is drowned out by the noise from U.S. aircraft training, but the heroine continues to perform. Her determination symbolizes the local culture that refuses to be defeated by the heavy burdens of military bases. Oshiro explains. "My intention was to write about the identity of the Okinawan people who want to weave our history together and regain the land that's steeped with memories."

Oshiro's story reflects the roots of the fierce struggle over Henoko, which may be viewed as an ongoing chapter of a continuation of the post-1945 struggle of Okinawans, a traditionally pacifist people, for recovery of local determination of their land and society.  Postwar U.S. military rule followed the Imperial Japanese pattern of using force to impose a militarist culture upon the islands.

Okinawans are fighting for their soul at Henoko, a place steeped in what little of traditional Okinawan culture survived: the living sea and the living Okinawa dugong, a cherished, sacred icon. After the Pacific War's destruction of almost all material culture, all that was left was the natural environment and intangible culture. The dugong and the sea, symbols Nuchi du Takara, the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace are cultural forms of the Okinawan message to the world for 70 years, their dedicated witness for Nuchi du Takara was borne out of the wartime devastation they suffered because of a Japanese war with the United States.

Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okinawa has become a focus for the study of peace because of the Battle of Okinawa, and  because Okinawans continue to appeal for relief from U.S. military bases and US military expansion in their prefecture. Former Governor (1990-1998) Masahide Ota, a child survivor of the battle, created  Okinawa International Peace Research Institute to study war and peace,  to introduce traditional Okinawa peace culture to the world, to lead Okinawa's transformation to an "island of peace," and build a global peace network, and to promote positive peace, peace education, and a peace economy.

Upper House Member of Parliament, Ms. Keiko Itokazu, 
protesting the Japanese government's installation of buoys to create an exclusion zone 
for drilling into and landfilling over live coral and dugong habitat at the Sea of Henoko.

Henoko residents had been supported by an all-Okinawa political coalition until late last year, when under claimed duress by the Japanese government, the current governor broke his 2010 campaign promise to protect Henoko, and signed an approval for landfill that was predicated on environmental protection information certified by engineers, not marine biologists or ecologists.

However, this summer the movement regrouped at the "All-Okinawa Conference" held in Ginowan City on July 27, to an overflowing crowd, under the banner:  “Stop the Enforced Henoko Works - Okinawa United in Resolve."  Takazato Suzuyo, who has long been involved in the movement for human rights and against base and military-related violence against women, issued a call, “At this gathering of people from all over Okinawa let us affirm our determination to really stop Henoko!”The conference resolution concluded:
We reject any future for Okinawa that would continue to be dominated by the bases. It is our duty to pass on to our children an Okinawan future full of hope and we have every right to build freely and with our own hands a truly Okinawan caring society.
July 27 "All-Okinawa" conference in Ginowan City. (Photo: Ken Shindo on FB)

Henoko residents have also been long supported by global peace, democracy, faith-based, and especially environmental advocates who repeatedly praise the wetlands, mangrove forests, rivers that make up the unique and delicate biodiversity of the Sea of Henoko's ecoregion. Its coral reef, the best in Okinawa, is renowned among marine biologists for its vitality and unique species. Most of the coral reefs at Okinawa Island are dead from landfill, pollution, and disease. The Sea of Henoko also has the largest and best seagrass beds, thus habitat, for the Okinawan dugong. The adjacent Sea of Kayo also has seagrass beds, but they're small, and planned landfill and base construction would degrade and eventually destroy them.

The dugong, a sacred icon, is of great cultural and historical significance in Okinawa.
(Image: Ryukyu Postal’s stamp to commemorate the Okinawa dugong's designation 
as a natural monument in 1966 (Via Save the Dugong Campaign Center)

In 1955, the Okinawa dugong, a revered and sacred animal for native Okinawans, was designated as a protected cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Because of the historical and cultural importance of the critically endangered dugong, In 2004, the American environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups, and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit , the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protections for the dugong, under the National Historic Preservation Act. The case  is still open; a 2008 ruling required the defendants to negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion. Therefore on July 31, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court,  asking the US government to halt construction plans.


"Okinawa’s “Darkest Year: The Battle of Okinawa, 2014," Gavan McCormack, The Asia-Pacific Journal, August 18, 2014.

“All-Okinawa Conference” Formed at Meeting of Over 2,000 People," Urashima Etsuko, The Asia-Pacific Journal, August 18, 2014.

”Assault on the Sea: A 50-Year U.S. Plan to Build a Military Port on Oura Bay, Okinawa,” Satoko Norimatsu, The Asia-Pacific Journal, July 5, 2010.

"Dugong Swimming in Uncharted Waters: US Judicial Intervention to Protect Okinawa's"Natural  Monument” and Halt Base Construction,"Hideki Yoshikawa, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Feb. 7, 2009.

” A message from Save Life Society, society for protection of all lives and livelihoods, Henoko, Okinawa, Japan,” June 26, 2008.

“Okinawan Dilemmas: Coral Islands or Concrete Islands,” Gavan McCormack, JPRI Working Paper No. 45: April 1998.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Laura Kina's Blue Hawai'i & Wesley Uenten's "Okinawan Diasporan Blues"

"Graves By the Sea" by Laura Kina

In this excerpt from "Okinawan Disaporan Blues," included in Laura Kina's Blue Hawaii exhibition catalogue, Wesley Uenten describes the Japanese colonial rule's erasure of traditional Okinawan culture and ongoing resistance by a group of grandmothers and grandfathers, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, to the US plan to turn the habitat of the Okinawan dugong, a sacred cultural icon, into another military base:
...At least on the level of cultural genocide, what happened to Okinawans was similar to what happened to Native Americans. It seems so familiar when I read about the...philosophy of the “Indian Schools” that prohibited Native American school children from speaking their own language or practicing their culture.... By the time that my grandmother was born in 1893, most Okinawan children were in schools, where they would be punished for speaking the Okinawan language and expected to worship the Japanese emperor. A large wooden tag with the words 方言札 (hōgen fuda), or “dialect tag,” was place around the neck of school children who spoke in the Okinawan “dialect.” The tag symbolically relegated the Okinawan language to the inferior status as a backward “dialect” of Japanese, while corporeally ingraining a sense of shame and fear in generations of Okinawans for speaking their own language and being their own selves...

Physical genocide did take place on Okinawa. Japan’s leaders knowingly caused about a fourth to a third of Okinawa’s population to perish in less than 3 months during the Battle of Okinawa when they used Okinawa as a buffer to hold off American troops heading toward Naichi (mainland Japan) 1945...

I stare at "Graves by the Sea." ...Departed souls encased in concrete tombs pushed up against each other. They are testament of the reverence for ancestors and tradition in Okinawa that contradicts the reality of the lack of space on Okinawa...There is a strong and powerful message that the ancestors and land is telling us through Laura’s work.

I end this essay at a time when I have just returned from a trip to Washington D.C. with an Okinawan delegation that was making a direct appeal against plans by the U.S. and Japanese governments to push ahead with construction of a new U.S. Marine Air Station on the clear blue waters of Henoko...At this time, both the Jp and U.S. governments are stepping up their attempts to push past unyielding local Okinawan opposition... Henoko is the site of a large thriving coral reef, turtle spawning grounds, seaweed beds, and an already endangered species of dugong. The blue ocean of Henoko will be no more if this plan goes through.

Most of the officials, politicians, and researchers we met in Washington D.C. [during the Jan. 2014 Okinawan Delegation] had made up their mind about new base construction at Henoko saying that it is the best plan... However, what the delegation was trying to get across to deaf ears was that Okinawans have stopped the construction for 18 years by placing their bodies in front of ships and equipment coming to start construction. Old people, as old and tiny as my Baban in my memories of her, have come to sit on the beach everyday in quiet but unrelenting resistance to American Manifest Destiny and Japanese fatalistic dependency on that destiny...
Wesley Ueunten is an associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. A third generation Okinawan, he was born and raised in Hawaiʻi and received his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering Hanji Kawase: Anti-war Bon dance festival marks 50th anniversary in Hokkaido

Anti-war Bon dance festival marks 50th anniversary in Hokkaido. 
(Photo: Masashi Rokubuichi via Asahi)

Evocative photos and article by Masashi Rokubuichi at The Asahi on the 50th anniversary of an OBon peace festival in Betsukai, Hokkaido. The festival has been held on the farm of Hanji Kawase who died five years ago. His land was in the middle of of a vast tract of land formerly a farming village taken over in 1963 by the Japanese government for the Yausubetsu live-fire training field that is used by both the US military and the JGDF.
“The large turnout can be attributed to) not only the milestone anniversary but also the outpouring of public anger against the Abe administration regarding the right to collective self-defense and other issues,” said Kato, a 72-year-old former junior high school teacher from Hamanaka, Hokkaido...

People from across Japan listened to music and danced at the Kawase farm in the middle of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Yausubetsu drill site, which straddles Betsukai and two other towns.

One big topic of conversation at the festival was the decision of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government on July 1 to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.

The farm used to be run by anti-war landlord Hanji Kawase who died five years ago.

The mid-August Bon holiday season in Japan is a time when people travel to their hometowns to honor their deceased ancestors. The spirits of the dead are believed to return home during the period. Bon Odori dances are held at local festivals throughout the country.

Sachiko Watanabe, who took over the farm from Kawase about 10 years ago and has lived there ever since, said she is well aware of the symbolic nature of the anti-war Bon dance festival, given Kawase’s continuous defiance of the government.

She indicated that the festival has taken on increased significance because the current administration shifted security policy away from postwar Japan’s pacifist ideals.
Hanji Kawase painting Article 9 on his barn.
(Photo: Asako Kageyama)

More Background: "Defending the Peace Constitution in the Midst of the SDF Training Area," Tanaka Nobumasa, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Dec. 10, 2004. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of Yōsuke Yamahata

Front Cover of Nagasaki Journey. (Photograph: Yōsuke Yamahata)
It was perhaps unforgiveable, but in fact at the time, I was completely calm and composed. In other words, perhaps it was just too much, too enormous to absorb...

Human memory has a tendency to slip, and critical judgment to fade, with the years and with changes in life-style and circumstance. But the camera, just as it seized the grim realities of that time, brings the stark facts of seven years ago before our eyes without the need for the slightest embellishment. Today, with the remarkable recovery made by both Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it may be difficult to recall the past, but these photographs will continue to provide us with an unwavering testimony to the realities of that time.

- Yosuke Yamahata
On August 10, 1945, a day after the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, accompanied by writer Jun Higashi and painter Eiji Yamadea, military photographer Yosuke Yamahata began to photograph the dead victims and survivors. Taking hundreds of photographs within hours – the most extensive photographic document of the immediate aftermath.

Within two weeks his photos appeared in the August 21, 1945 issue of the Mainichi Shimbun. However, the US Occupation government imposed censorship that prevented further distribution of Yamahata’s photographs. It was only after the restrictions were lifted in 1952 that they would appear in Life Magazine.

In 1965 Yamahata was diagnosed with cancer, probably caused by the residual effects of radiation received in Nagasaki in 1945. He died the next year. His son had the negatives of these photographs restored in 1994. An exhibition of prints, Nagasaki Journey, traveled to San Francisco, New York, and Nagasaki in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing.  The photographs may be viewed online at

Friday, August 8, 2014

1st day of Unkhe (Ryukyuan Obon): Henoko residents pray for peace & ask their ancestors for help in stopping landfill & military base construction at the Sea of Henoko

(Photo: Okinawa Times)

Via our friends at Okinawa Outreach, translated summary of an Okinawa Times story:
Today is the first day of Obon, called Unkhe, Okinawa celebrated the return of their ancestral spirits.

At the gate of Camp Schwab, [a US marine training and weapons testing base in central Okinawa, built on land forcibly acquired from local residents during the 1950's "Bayonets and Bulldozers" period of military expansion throughout the prefecture], local residents prayed for peace and ask their ancestors for help to stop construction of a new US military port and air training base at Henoko/Oura Bay [habitat of the Okinawa Dugong, a sacred cultural icon, and Okinawa's best and most biodiverse coral reef], offering incense sticks.

Thursday, August 7, 2014