Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chie Mikami's The Targeted Village exposes Okinawan struggle for human rights, cultural & ecological preservation, democracy, & peace

In this 2013 interview (highlighted again this week at Magazine 9's website and Facebook page), film director Chie Mikami discusses The Targeted Village, a documentary she released last year. It follows the struggle of the residents of Takae, an eco-village in northern Okinawa, over the use of their prefecture for hazardous V-22 Osprey training.

Because of a media blackout—although the protests in Takae have continued since 2007 and related protests against Osprey aircraft in Ginowan City in 2012 were unprecedented—the major media did not cover them.  Mikami said one of the few reports was a 2-minute report on Asahi's evening news.

One reason for this is the Japanese government's pattern of discriminatory treatment towards Okinawa. The prefecture was not afforded the relative peace and democracy that the Japanese mainland enjoyed in the postwar period. From end of the Second World War to 1972, Okinawa was under US military rule, which routinely used force to violate human rights, property rights, and democratic process in Okinawa. Even after "reversion" to Japanese rule, when Okinawans expected their closure, the bases remained, and the pattern of violations of rights and democratic process continued.

Between 1954 and 1955, US military forced owners from homes and rice farms
 in the former village of Isahama, to make way for US military training base construction.
(Photo: Okinawan Prefectural Government)

Okinawan women protest US military seizure of their homes and land in Isahama (Ginowan) in July 1955.
(Photo: Okinawa Prefectural Government)

Futenma in Ginowan City was built on land the US military forcibly seized from farming villagers during the Battle of Okinawa, and Camp Schwab in Henoko was built on farms and coastal property forcibly acquired during the 1950's period of military base expansion known in Okinawa as "Bayonets and Bulldozers." These communities are among many throughout Okinawa which experienced the same pattern of violent land acquisition. The ongoing struggles in Takae, Ginowan City, and Henoko are not new "anti-base" protests, but instead part of the latest chapter in a seventy-year struggle for property rights, human rights, ecological and cultural preservation, democracy, and peace in the islands of Okinawa.

In Myth, Protest, and Struggle in Okinawa,  Miyume Tanji writes:
In July 1955, one of the US military's most brutal land seizures happened in Isahama [a rice farming village in the Ginowan district], in central Okinawa...Anticipating the forced acquisition of their hamlet, farmers had formed a landowners' committee, & prepared for resistance...thousand of supporters from all over the Island came to protect the farmers in Isahama from the US forces. Kobuka Kotara...who was supporting the Isahama farmers' struggle, recalls....

"At around 3 am, when most supporters of the resistance had gone home, there were only 200-300 hamlet residents left. Slowly, one after another, bulldozers with their headlights off and military trucks filled with armed soldiers entered the hamlet. Off the coast, I could hear the sound of pipelines being connected to a military vessel to drain in the sand and water taken from the ocean It was just like war. At dawn, all the supporters helplessly watched the paddy fields being destroyed by soldiers across barbed wires. Farmers were still inside the last 32 houses, but were finally dragged out at gunpoint. [All were injured during their removals.] The bulldozers went over and flattened the houses, timbers, and roof tiles of the houses were collected to be discarded in the ocean. Women were screaming at this sight, and I could not help my tears." [quoting Kotaro Kokubo in Moriteru Arasaki, 1995, 63-65]...

Victimization of Okinawan farmers & forceful acquisition of their land was combined with the physical violence inflicted on the locals personally...Violence directed towards the local populace by US military staff, especially rape, revealed the crudest & most brutal aspect of the power relations between the occupiers & the occupied...

US land acquisition in Isahama & Ie-jima & the rape [& murder of 6-year-old Yumiko Nagayama, followed a week later by the rape of another young child by US soldiers] resulted the humiliation of all Okinawans, leading to what Arasaki calls the first wave of the "Okinawa Struggle." ...These rallies became models for mass demonstrations in the community of protest of the future.
Until recently, this history was mostly hidden from non-Okinawans. However widespread popular opposition against US military expansion in Okinawa has increasingly garnered attention beyond the islands of Okinawa, among environmentalists, democracy, peace, faith-based advocates, and military veterans and their family members. In the process, disturbing revelations about past abuses by both the Japanese and US governments have become part of the public discourse on Okinawa. A young Okinawan-American, whose father was an American serviceman, explains her support for the Okinawa movement: "Enough is enough."

Protest Tent in Takae

Takae village is located in one of the most well-preserved tracts in Yanbaru, one of the last surviving subtropical rainforests in Asia.  Environmentalist NGOS worldwide have called for its preservation. The Center for Biological Diversity has highlighted the ongoing threat to the survival of the Okinawa Woodpecker.  The survival of the vlllage of Takae is also at risk. The US military use of Yanbaru for "jungle warfare" training has long been a public nuisance.  During the Vietnam War, villagers in Takae were made to don "Vietcong" dress for war games. Now, deforestation, new helipad construction, and low-level Osprey flight training has brought more concerns about stresses on the sensitive eco-region and the villagers' quiet lifestyle.

Mikami follows the Japanese government use of a SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuit to attempt to intimidate and silence residents from protesting against this destruction of more of Yanbaru and interference with their lives. Last week, the Supreme Court of Japan, often criticized for its politically motivated decisions, ruled against their appeal.

Long-time peace and democracy activist  Mrs. Etsumi Taira,
was forcibly removed from the September 2012 sit-in site at Futenma. 
Mrs. Taira is the wife of Reverend Osamu Taira, an early leader in the peace movement..
(Photo: Tomoyuki Toyozato)

Mikami also discusses the related 2012 struggle over Osprey aircraft training at Futenma air base Ginowan. The notorious base was built in the 1950's in the middle of a community of rice villages, in the middle of the night on forcibly seized private and community property - farms, houses, stores, and schools.  Traces of the demolished villages attest to this past: half-buried tombs stick out from under barbed wire fencelines.

Locals saw the forced deployment of the aircraft as a replay of "Bulldozers and Bayonets" forced military construction.  Many of those pushed out of their homes in the 1950's—then children, now grandparents—led the 2012 protests before they were forcibly removed from the sit-in site. They knew the dozen or so troop carrier aircraft were not sent to Okinawa for the "defense" for the Okinawan or Japanese people, but to justify expensive military contracts. And now they must defend themselves, ironically, from the accident-prone aircraft and training pilots themselves.

Chie Mikami (Photo: Magazine 9) 

The Target Village will be screened in August at Theater Pole-Pole in Higashi Nakano, Tokyo (

Magazine 9, founded in 2005 to support Article 9, closely covers the Okinawan Movement and other issues related to the Japanese Peace Constitution.


June 29 will mark the 7th anniversary of the Takae struggle. 

More Background:

"The Targeted Village - An Interview with Mikami Chie (Director): The Pretense of Justice: Okinawa’s Unneutral Struggle," Yamagata Int. Documentary Film Festival, 2013

WWF "No Helipads in Yanbaru Forest:

Voice of Takae:

Takae Blog:

"Film details anger of Okinawans against U.S. military bases," Kazuyo Nakamura, The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2013. 

"Film depicts Okinawans’ fight against Ospreys," Mika Kurokawa, The Japan Times, Sept. 13, 2013. 

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