(Photo: Livedoor News)
On August 22, the day before the 8.23 All-Okinawa rally in Henoko, an Okinawa dugong was sighted by a helicopter television crew. Locals say dugongs, considered messengers from the sea in Okinawan traditional culture, have often appeared at times of crisis during the eighteen-year struggle to save the Sea of Henoko. These visits are interpreted as a warning to the foreigners who would destroy its habitat and support to locals working to save its habitat, thus the survival of the dugong.
In Okinawa's past, huge herds of dugong swam off the Henoko coast. However environmental destruction from coastal development has destroyed much of the marine mammal's habitat, especially since 1972, when Okinawa reverted to Japanese control, and came under the Japanese government's "construction state"political economy. (Land reclamation (landfill) is a huge business in Japan: 90% of the archipelago's ecological delicate tidal wetlands have been landfilled. Former Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota calls these construction companies the "gravel industry" citing their clout in Okinawa.)
The Okinawa dugong is now critically endangered, with less than 50 remaining. Its largest and best feeding grounds is at the Sea of Henoko, where the Japanese government is forcing landfill in pristine waters that are also Okinawa prefecture's best and most biodiverse coral reef. At the end of July, the US environmental law firm, Earthjustice, filed a new lawsuit in the same US federal court in San Francisco that ruled in favor of the dugong in 2008, requiring the US government to abide by laws protecting the dugong, a sacred Okinawan icon and "natural monument."
The 8.23 rally was organized by the All-Okinawa Conference which formed at Naha, the prefecture's capital, in July. Representatives included numerous elected political officials, including mayors from all of Okinawa's municipalities and representatives from environmental, women's, peace, and human rights NGOs. Their conference statement described their collective vision for Okinawa:
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. We call upon all the people of Okinawa to unite again on an “all Okinawa” basis to demand implementation of the 2013 Okinawan Kempakusho and cessation of the works being imposed by force upon Henoko.
Jon Mitchell's August 23 article at The Japan Times, "Thousands march on Henoko base site," describes the rally, which was attended by 3,600 Okinawans from throughout the prefecture, who arrived by busload after busload:
More than 3,500 demonstrators marched to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday in the largest show of anger to date against the new American base being built off Henoko Bay to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in crowded Ginowan further southwest.
Lining the road four deep for 700 meters and crowding the hillsides, the protesters chanted “Stop construction” and “Save the Bay” after assembling in the morning. Some came from as far as Hokkaido, many with their children in tow.
Okinawan legislators and peace campaign leaders gave impassioned speeches against what they called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-militarization of Japan and railed at the perceived discrimination of Okinawans.
The largest welcome was given to anti-base Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who was re-elected in January on a strong anti-military platform. Wearing a cape decorated with multicolored dugong, the endangered mammal threatened by the project, he greeted the crowd in Okinawan.
Inamine likened the situation on Okinawa to World War II, when more than a quarter of the civilian population died, saying that this time, the island was not under attack by the U.S. military, but by the Japanese government.
(Photo: Upper House Member of the Japanese Diet Keiko Itokazu)
Faith-based supporters. (Photo: Pietro Scozzari)
More faith-based supporters. (Photo: Pietro Scozzari)
8.23 Henoko. (Photo: Okinawa Times 2014 HENOKO PHOTO REPORT ～ ８・２３)