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 to 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!
One of the two major Okinawan newspapers, the 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