Friday, December 31, 2010

Global Article 9: Ecuador's Peace Constitution paves the way to historic defense of nature's rights

Via Global Article 9 Campaign to Abolish War Newsletter #35 on December 30, 2010:
Ecuador's Peace Constitution paves the way to historic defense of nature's rights

Two years after Ecuador adopted its new peace Constitution - the first to ever grant and legislate rights to nature - a group of defenders of the environment are invoking it to file a groundbreaking lawsuit against British Petroleum (BP).

Article 71 of the Ecuadorean constitution reads: "Nature or Pachamama [mother earth], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies."

Using this unique clause, the plaintiffs accuse BP of having violated the rights of Nature by causing massive environmental damage, in particular in the context of the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit was filed by Defenders of Nature's Rights - a coalition of environmentalists and indigenous leaders from India, Nigeria, Ecuador and Mexico in Ecuador's Constitutional Court by citing its Article 71 and invoking universal jurisdiction.

Traditionally used to prosecute human rights violations committed by nationals or foreigners in any part of the world, universal jurisdiction will for the first time be invoked to protect nature's rights as granted by Ecuador's constitution.

"We see this as a test case of the rights of nature enshrined in the constitution of Ecuador, which is why it's about universal jurisdiction, beyond the boundaries of Ecuador, because nature has rights everywhere, " says Indian scientist and environmental activist Vandana Shiva.

"Ecuador, by putting the rights of nature [in their constitution], created history, and now there's legal ground to file these cases rather than letting those lines in the Ecuadorian constitution lie inert," she added.

According to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Diana Murcia, "one of [the Defenders of Nature's Rights'] goals is to introduce Nature in the international debate as a rights-bearing entity."

"It is important we understand there's only one [mother earth (...) and that is why we have to join forces, to make the great changes that we want and make a new civilization (... ) that reclaims life itself, that reclaims collective responsibility, and that reclaims a new way of life in harmony with nature," stated Alberto Acosta, ex-president of the Constitutional Assembly in Ecuador.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Greenpeace: Tokyo finally takes action on whaling; please support Junichi Sato & Toru Suzuki

The overseas media has long used whaling to paint a negative stereotype of Japan, despite the fact that most Japanese people do not support whaling or eat whale meat. The modern whaling industry is not indigenous to Japan, but, instead, was introduced by the U.S. Occupation under MacArthur. This sham industry exists for the economic benefit of a few corrupt men with ties to organized crime. It survives only by government subsidies. The industry will die when Tokyo stops financially enabling these men to kill whales.

Last week's good news from Greenpeace which asks for your support to to bring justice to two brave Japanese Greenpeace members now unfairly imprisoned for exposing some of the corruption involved:
Japan finally starts taking action against their corrupt whaling industry

Feature story - December 23, 2010

TOYKO: After two and a half years of hard work in Japan to expose corruption at the heart of the whaling industry - we have a significant victory!

The Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) has admitted that their officials have received free whale meat from the company contracted to perform the whaling. They conceded that this “kickback” was against their ethics code, apologised to the Japanese public and announced plans to take disciplinary action against five officials.

Such is the level of shame that one official even appeared on Japanese TV yesterday - bowing in front of the cameras before issuing a public apology.

The whale meat scandal

In 2008, Greenpeace activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki (known as the "Tokyo Two"), exposed a scandal involving embezzlement entrenched within the taxpayer-funded whaling programme - a ‘scientific’ programme responsible for slaughtering hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary every year. Following tip-offs from whistleblowers within the whaling programme and months of careful research, Junichi and Toru intercepted and handed to the authorities a box containing prime whale meat cuts. The contents of the box, which had been labelled “cardboard”, proved that whale meat was being embezzled by members of the whaling fleet. Greenpeace Japan also exposed evidence that FAJ officials were involved in this process.

A dying industry

There is little support for Antarctic whaling in Japan and what remains is being swiftly eroded by the broad, international media attention to Japan’s so called “scientific” whaling programme. Opinion polls show that the majority of Japanese people don´t support whaling in the Southern Ocean and nearly 87 percent are unaware that their taxes subsidise the hunt.

One of the keys to ending Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is revealing the ongoing scandal and international shame that it brings to a largely unaware Japanese public. The work of Junichi and Toru and the huge personal price they have paid in terms of loss of liberty, stress related to their trial and wrongful conviction all in the name of the public interest and the protection of whales - is doing just that.

This news represents a major step forward for our campaign to end whaling in the Southern Ocean. The FAJ has been under intense pressure thanks to over half a million supporters who stood side by side with Junichi and Toru throughout their trial - demanding an end to their prosecution and a thorough investigation into the embezzlement case. And, our whales campaigners all over the world have ensured that this issue has come under close public scrutiny on an international scale.

Truth and justice still needed

We welcome the FAJ's decision to take disciplinary action, but, they are only punishing 5 officials while the institutionalised corruption in the whaling programme is much bigger than that. We’re demanding a third-party investigation into the whale meat scandal to reveal the whole truth.

Greenpeace Japan has been successful in cutting the demand for whale meat in the Japanese market by working with supermarkets and retailers. This has affected the financial health of the whaling programme already, but now the recognition of the corruption in the whaling programme by the FAJ will further damage the credibility of the programme.

“Now is the time for Japanese taxpayers to demand their government stop the tax-funded whaling programme completely," said Junichi Sato, one of the defendants of Tokyo Two trial, and now Executive and Programme Director of Greenpeace Japan.

The Tokyo Two trial

In 2008, the Tokyo District Prosecutor began an investigation into Junichi and Toru’s findings which included the embezzlement of whale meat but closed this investigation the same day that Junichi and Toru were arrested. The two were held for 26 days, 23 of them without charge - often tied to chairs while they were interrogated without a lawyer present. They went through a lengthy trial where the censoring of public information and Japan's adherence to international law also came under the spotlight. Their trial also raised concerns over freedom of speech and the right of individual protest. In September this year they were wrongly convicted and given a one year jail sentence - suspended for three years.

The Tokyo Two have appealed against their conviction and are awaiting a High Court hearing date. It is hard to believe that the admission of wrongdoing made by the FAJ would not have an impact on their appeal.
Read links, see photos and take action here to write to Japan's Foreign Minister to support Junichi and Toru's conviction appeal.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Korean churches challenge S. Korea, the U.S. & Japan to end provocative war games; urge prayers for peace

(In recent months, the United States and South Korea have conducted several massive joint sea and air war games in the waters east of the Korean peninsula.

Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo have ushered in the Christmas Season in the Asia-Pacific with massive war games. On top of this, the South Korean government erected a Christmas tree on the border of North Korea as a provocation instead of a symbol of festivity.

In counterpoint, Korean churches have been calling for prayers for peace:
Korea churches urge prayers for peace
2 Dec 2010
Church leaders in Korea have put out a call to prayer in the wake of military violence which they have branded "all too reminiscent" of the pain inflicted by the Korean war more than 50 years ago.

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) said it deplored the North Korean military for targeting the civilian community of Yeonpyeong Island and challenged government chiefs in South Korea, Japan and the USA for "provoking" North Korea with joint naval exercises off the coast and "war games" on the Peninsula.

"Yet again, only months after the sinking of a South Korean warship, Cheonan, the fragile peace along the dividing line between the two Koreas has been broken," NCCK general secretary Rev Kim Young Ju said in a statement.

"The fighting and the mass exodus of residents from the island that is home to a fishing community and military bases is all too reminiscent of the Korean War that inflicted pain on the Korean people that none can forget. The National Council of Churches in Korea mourns with the surviving victims and the families of those whose lives were so senselessly taken.

"It deplores the North Korean military for using powerful weapons against the civilian community in the most serious incident since the signing of the Armistice in 1953. Yet again the Peninsula and its people are gripped by the fear of an escalation of ideologically-inspired violence."

The NCCK has been part of a global ecumenical fellowship working towards building bridges with North Korea and establishing regular, productive contact with the Korean Christians Federation (KCF) in the North. It has shared common prayers for peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula with the global fellowship of Christian churches through the World Council of Churches.

On 15 August this year, the NCCK, the KCF and churches in other parts of the world simultaneously prayed for peace and the reunification of Korea. Now it is calling for Christians worldwide to pray for a peaceful end to the military conflict that threatens to jeopardise church peace-building efforts.

Mr Kim said: "As we have so often repeated in the past, these exercises of political and military brinksmanship serve no purpose other than to escalate tensions in Korea and to threaten the peace in the whole Northeast Asian region. The presence of a great number of nuclear weapons on land and on the surrounding seas makes Korea a tinderbox that threatens the peace of the whole world.

"We therefore call on the ecumenical family to pray for peace in our land and to urge all governments to exercise caution, to refrain from further inflaming the political atmosphere and to exercise the maximum restraint so that reason and diplomacy can prevail over narrow self-serving military, strategic or political interests. The fundamental interests of the people must prevail: mutual respect and peace with justice for all.

"We also appeal to all nations to reject any attempt to cheapen life by treating Korea as a pawn in diplomatic gamesmanship, while ignoring the welfare of the people."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse Without Borders & Candle Night in Japan

From the Astronomers Without Borders website, links to live webcasts of the Dec. 21 lunar eclipse around the world. This special eclipse is the first to fall on the Winter Solstice in 456 years.

Via this great astronomy blog from the Philippines, the sky above.

People throughout North America will be able to view the entire eclipse, while people in Europe will be able to glimpse the beginning and people in Japan will be catching the ending.

The winter solstice occurs exactly at the time the Earth’s axial tilt is furthest from the sun. Though the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, the term is also a turning point. Depending on the calendar, the winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day, and longest night of the year.

Traditional cultures see the Winter Solstice as a time of endings, renewal and beginnings. A celebration of light and life.

In Japan,check out Candle Night, a slow-life, solstice celebration group.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cornel West: "The essential thing is that we make love absolutely real."

(Cornel West's memoir: Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud)

Engaged scholar Cornel West on Twitter:
The essential thing is that we make love absolutely real. Love on our young people. They are our future!
More from earlier posts
#CollegeTaughtMe: Paideia - "deep education" -- learning how to die to live more intensely, critically, and abundantly. 3:08 PM Dec 14th via HootSuite

#CollegeTaughtMe: The aim of education should be to get people to shift from the surface to something substantive. 3:06 PM Dec 14th via HootSuite

#CollegeTaughtMe: You can have all the schooling in the world but if you're still on the surface you're not really educated...

Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats dominate our political, economic and cultural systems. 1:52 PM Dec 10th via HootSuite

And we have powerful, and often greedy, Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats. 1:52 PM Dec 10th via HootSuite...

“Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all.” -- Toni Morrison...

#LOVE can change the world 1:35 PM Dec 8th via HootSuite
More powerful words from Cornel West at his website and in this interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about his memoir:
I just wanted to lay bare the truth of love in my life, the ways in which I’ve tried to bear witness to love, truth, justice...

And most importantly, for me, right now, I think we need stories of inspiration. These are very depressing times, very bleak times. Even the age of Obama looks like we’ve got profound disappointment. How do we try to galvanize our spirits and our minds and our hearts and souls?

...I am a bluesman in the life of the mind; I’m a jazzman in the world of ideas, which means I’ve got to forge my unique voice, tied to my vocation with a vision, and a unique style. And it’s a voice and style that doesn’t fit well within highly professionalized and specialized contexts.

A blues person is always one who keeps his funky and resists all forms of sterilization, sanitation and deodorizing of funky reality. And by sanitation, I don’t mean I’m against keeping things clean, but I don’t like those discourses that are so clean that they don’t allow the funk, like the squeegee men in New York, like the marginalized, like our gay brothers and lesbian sisters who are often dishonored and dehumanized even by some on the left, or forgetting of indigenous people.

I have a whole section here talking about I will never forget about my dear indigenous brothers and sisters, whose suffering is rendered invisible, and oftentimes, like the Zapatistas, they got to put on a mask in order to be seen at that level of invisibility, you see. That’s what a blues man’s about, telling the truth with a smile on his or her face. That’s Bessie. That’s Ma Rainey.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gavan McCormack: "The World Turned Upside Down in East Asia and the Pacific"

Via Peace Philosophy Centre, Gavan McCormack's latest on Okinawa. McCormack describes Okinawa's stable, resilient, participatory democratic society as a beacon of reason and hope in East Asia—now unhinged by unstable political leadership in Japan and the Korean peninsula. War games with the U.S., aimed to intimidate China and provoke North Korea, has transformed the regional stability of fifty years into geopolitical volatility. McCormack concludes that for the region to avoid war, Okinawan spirit must spread to its neighbors:
The World Turned Upside Down in East Asia and the Pacific

By Gavan McCormack

As 2010 moves towards its end, it is impossible to refrain from thinking: how the world can change in a short span! A wave of militarism and chauvinism seems to be washing over East Asia, and the year ends with massive military exercises (war games) around the Korean peninsula and in the Sea of Japan. Watching these events, it is hard to remember the hope that filled the air just a few short years ago.

It is just three years since North and South Korean leaders met and signed an agreement to cooperate and work out a path to peaceful unification of their divided peninsula, and specifically to turn the contested West Sea area into a zone of peace and cooperation; two years since Barack Obama came to office in the United States promising a better world, progress toward nuclear disarmament, an end to war, dialogue with all “enemies,” and just over one year since Hatoyama Yukio became Prime Minister of Japan, also promising change, offering the vision of an East Asian Community, equi-distant diplomacy with China and the United States, and meeting amicably with the leader of China to propose turning the South China Sea into a “Sea of Fraternité” (Yuai no umi).

A new government in Korea in 2008 quickly swept aside the South-North Agreements, and new governments in the US and Japan in 2009 also turned away from the peaceful change they had promised. Obama continued, and intensified the two wars he inherited (while engaging in pressures and threats that suggested the possibility of a third and even a fourth, in Iran and North Korea), and continued with illegal detentions and assassinations; and Japan declared the US alliance its core, moving simultaneously towards participation in collective war-rehearsing exercises that are plainly unconstitutional, pressing for construction of a new base for the Marines in Henoko, and reinforcing the SDF military presence on the outlying islands.

Three major events punctuated the year about to end. In March, the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, sank in waters of the West Sea, with loss of 46 sailors. A South Korea-led international investigation team blamed North Korea for a deliberate and unprovoked attack. The investigation report was later shown to be full of holes and contradictions, but the US and its allied governments and the international media endorsed it and dismissed North Korean protest. On 7 September, a Chinese fishing trawler collided with a Japanese Coastguard vessel in the contested waters off the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and again the US-led global coalition (and its media), without hesitation or qualification, blamed China for belligerence. Yet, by arresting the ship’s captain the Government of Japan was unilaterally abrogating the 1978 agreement with China’s Deng Xiaoping to shelve the dispute for a future generation, and by insisting there was no question of Japan’s incontestable sovereignty, it was insulting both China and Taiwan who also claimed sovereignty. Then, on 23 November, a North Korean artillery barrage killed four people on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island and again South Korea, together with the US and Japan, blamed North Korea for “unprovoked aggression.” Yet this was the third day of huge South Korean war games (70,000 soldiers, 500 warplanes, 90 helicopters, 50 warships) conducted just a few kilometres off North Korean shores, in which they had fired over 3,000 rounds of artillery into surrounding, contested waters and ignored North Korean protests before North Korea retaliated. Shortly after the exchange of fire, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington sailed into the Yellow Sea, to continue exercises that plainly were designed to step up the intimidation of North Korea, and provoke China as well by entering uninvited into the Yellow Sea.

A week later, the US and Japan chose to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ampo by the largest war games they had ever conducted (44,000 soldiers, 40 warplanes, 60 warships, with again the George Washington in pride of place), rehearsing anti-missile warfare and the ‘re-capture” of islands taken by an “enemy. The latter were plainly predicated on a Chinese attack on either Senkaku/Diaoyu or an outlying Okinawan island.

As North Korea bashing and China intimidation escalated, North Korea’s overtures for negotiations in which it would trade its nuclear programs for guarantees of security and a peace treaty to end the 57-year long frozen standoff, were contemptuously dismissed. The US, Japan, and South Korea met the North Korean and Chinese call for negotiations with stepped-up military pressure. Hostility, fear, and hyper-nationalism (or what I call in the Japanese case zokkoku nationalism) spread. Military alliances were reconfirmed and reinforced, as on the eve of all recent wars. It is common for Japanese leaders to refer to the US as the stabilizer, the supplier of the oxygen of security, the bulwark of democracy and human rights, and to blame (in this region) China and North Korea for aggressive and destabilizing behaviour. Recent events in particular make clear that that is false and tendentious.

In this darkening climate of rising militarism and unreason, Okinawa constituted a tiny beacon of hope and resistance. From the Nago City mayoral election of January to the prefectural Governor election of November, the Okinawan people intervened decisively to insist on the constitutional principles of the sovereignty of the people (shuken zai min) and the centrality of peace.

Okinawa showed the power of citizen-led democracy and commitment to constitutional principle, and in the gathering gloom of irrational chauvinism pointed towards a better future, predicated on overcoming its position as “Keystone of the Pacific” for US military planners. Either that Okinawan spirit spreads to Okinawa’s neighbours, or else Okinawa will find itself once again engulfed in militarism and the catastrophe of war.
The Japanese version of this article was published at the Okinawan newspaper, the Ryukyu Shimpo on December 14.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of "The Asia-Pacific Journal", and author of many previous texts on Okinawa-related matters. His Client State: Japan in the American Embrace was published in English (New York: Verso) in 2007 and in expanded and revised Japanese, Korean, and Chinese versions in 2008.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Where is Okinawa Going?" Forum at Okinawa University on Dec. 19, 2010

This forum will present and discuss Okinawan perspectives on the current situations surrounding the southernmost islands of Japan, amid the ongoing controversy over "Futenma relocation" issue, from three aspects:

1) environment and biodiversity, after the Convention of Biological Diversity (COP10) in Nagoya;

2) regional geopolitics in the wake of the Japan-China conflict over the ship collision near Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands ;

3) Okinawa-Japan-US relationship and the military base issue after the gubernatorial election.

Time and Date: 10 AM - 5 PM, Sunday, December 19

Location: Classroom 3-101, Okinawa University

*** Co-sponsored by Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus and The Institute of Regional Studies, Okinawa University

*** In collaboration with Okinawa Biodiversity Citizens' Network (Okinawa BD) and Peace Philosophy Centre

*** Conference organizers gratefully acknowledge the support received from the Australian Naitonal University.

*** Free admission. The forum will be primarily run in the Japanese language. Translation from and to English can be provided during the Q and A.

*** For inquiries: Okinawa University Regional Studies Institute (Phone 098-832-5599; emai: )

*** Inquiries in English can be made at:

See the English translation of the program at the website of the Peace Philosophy Centre.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Human rights awardees inspire Tokyo audience in emotional ceremony

Kanda Kaori, Kitamura Toshiko, Tairah Firdous, interpreter (Motoyama Hisako, Director of the Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center)

“The one and only way to bring about positive change in the world is through love.”

Journalist and social activist Kitamura Toshiko, one of the honorees at the Woman Human Rights Activities Award (or Yayori Award) ceremony held in Tokyo this past Saturday afternoon, revealed that she was able to arrive at this seemingly simple understanding only after a period of profound soul-searching.

"At one point in my life, I was driven almost exclusively by anger. After reaching a point where my work was no longer sustainable, however, I turned to spiritual pursuits including meditation and yoga. Only then was I able to realize what was missing in my approach."

In her work with numerous social issues, including child abuse, homelessness, youth bullying and suicide, Kitamura has deeply probed corners of society where love is often painfully lacking.

Her selection as this year's Yayori Journalist awardee was in recognition of her tireless commitment to these issues—as well as her recognition of the interconnections therein. In fact, her understanding of the common thread between all forms of discrimination and suffering—and her ability to look past surface-level social categorizations in order to connect with the common humanity that we all share—has often led to uncomfortable moments with others who do not share her vision.

Kitamura Toshiko

"When some members of the women's movement heard that I was working with homeless people in Osaka's Kamagasaki district, they reacted by saying they couldn't understand why I would want to spend that much time with 'a bunch of lewd men'," she said. "Similarly, when I began a correspondence with a youth who was jailed after killing a homeless person—telling him that I believed in him and his capacity to change—I was harshly criticized by some of the other Kamagasaki volunteers as having betrayed the life-affirming work that we were trying to do there.

"In fact, violence is something that we are all capable of. Instead of immediately condemning someone for committing a violent act, then, we must seek to understand what particular constellation of factors caused that person to act in the way that they did," she emphasized to Saturday's attendees—most of whom (including myself) were in tears as her gentle and yet powerful words traveled straight into our heart-centers. "It is only when we calm our rage with love that we are able to have compassion for others and encourage them to change in positive ways."

Also speaking at Saturday's event was documentary filmmaker and human rights activist Tairah Firdous, who grew up in Kashmir amidst constant turmoil as India and Pakistan have continued a decades-long power struggle over the region. She received the Yayori Award in support of her forthcoming documentary, which will focus on Kashmiri survivors of rape and torture.

"The Indian government has declared Kashmir a 'disturbed area', and implemented an Armed Forces Special Powers Act that essentially gives state officials free license to do whatever they feel like," Firdous explained to Saturday's audience. "What this means in terms of actual experience are continuous human rights violations including forced migration, searches without warrants, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, and rape.

Tairah Firdous

"My own work with these issues began when my family was forced to leave our home after my father was arrested and tortured on six different occasions, even though he had absolutely nothing to do with the conflict," Firdous told attendees. "Completely innocent peoples' lives are being shattered within this political climate, and so I intend to expose the killings and other unreported human rights violations so that the rest of the world will know what is really happening."

New to the 2010 awards lineup was a special prize given to Kanda Kaori, a kodan (traditional storytelling) performer whose work focuses on issues connected to war and other forms of institutionalized violence.

"After I finished the obligatory three-year period of apprenticeship and was able to start my own career as a professional performer, I went on vacation in Saipan to celebrate," she told Saturday's crowd. "I was completely unprepared, however, for what I saw: a sunken U.S. military ship and other lingering remnants of World War II, which seemed so completely out of place amidst an otherwise idyllic scene of beauty. After I got over my shock, it became clear to me that I must use my craft to communicate the personal suffering unleashed by wars."

Kanda Kaori

Kanda followed her acceptance speech with a brief kodan performance detailing the painful final hours of a Yokohama family after a U.S military jet crashed into their home in September 1977, badly burning their two toddlers, who died several hours later. Again, there were few dry eyes in the room at her emotional interpretation of the tragic event, memorialized in a bronze statue in a Yokohama seaside park titled Ai no boshizou ("An Image of a Mother's Love"). The statue represents the two small boys with their mother, who also died four years later from complications sustained in the crash.

Ai no boshizou ("An Image of a Mother's Love")

"I sometimes feel overwhelmed by pain while preparing my performances, which have focused on horrific issues such as the Hiroshima atomic bombing and the Chernobyl nuclear power accident," Kanda said. "However, I will continue to speak out against war and other injustices, and encourage my protegees to do the same—particularly as Japan continues to follow the United States in its misguided war escapades."

Saturday's event was held at a small chapel located on the same grounds as the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM), an institution founded by the Violence Against Women in War Network (VAWW-Net) that was spearheaded by the late Matsui Yayori (from whom the Yayori Awards have been bequeathed). The museum is presently housing an exhibition commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery that took place in 2000. Following the ceremony, a separate memorial was held in remembrance of the of the so-called "comfort women" who have died before having attained full justice for their suffering.

More information about the Yayori Award program may be read at this previous post. For full profiles of the 2010 (and past year) awardees, see the official website.

Text by Kimberly Hughes
Photos by Ando Makiko

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mr. Toyama Sakae, “mayor” of Henoko Tent Village, has passed away

The Tent Village “Mayor” Toyama Sakae explains the history of protest at Henoko. Toyama is pointing at the “V-shaped Runway Plan” in the 2006 agreement between Japan and U.S. officially described as a “replacement facility” of Futenma Air Station.

Mr. Toyama Sakae, “mayor” of Henoko Tent Village, died on December 5.

We join the rest of the members of the Network for Okinawa in extending heartfelt condolences to all Okinawans, especially the residents of Henoko.

Yumiko Kikuno’s essay, “Henoko, Okinawa: Inside the Sit-In,” published at The Asia-Pacific Journal on Feb. 22, 2010, describing her visit to the small coastal village in northern Okinawa with Satoko Norimatsu, pays tribute to Mr. Toyama and his legacy:
On the rainy and cold Christmas Day of 2009, we got lost several times driving down the winding narrow roads towards Henoko, a small fishing village on the North Eastern shore of Okinawa Island, about a two-hour drive north of the capital, Naha. We were looking for the “Tent Village,” where activists were sitting in to protest against the government’s plan to build a new US Marine Corps airbase as a “replacement facility” of Futenma Air Station. Yes, this issue has been at the centre of the news reports in Japan for the six months since the new coalition government took power, but do we really know what has happened for the last eight years in and around this tent, on and off this coral beach, and in the ocean where endangered marine mammal dugongs come by for feeding? The victory of Inamine Susumu, the anti-base candidate in the January 24 mayoral election of Nago, where Henoko is located, was anticipated but was not known yet when the 40-minute lesson on the history of Henoko activism was given inside the tent to two visitors from the mainland and from overseas. Thinking back, the protesters at Henoko were among the citizens of Nago and Okinawa who served as advocates of democracy during the thirteen years of chasm between the pro-base government of Nago and the popular will opposing the new base, expressed in the 1997 plebiscite. In the Western world, the sit-in by the workers of Gdansk shipyards is well-known as one of the longest in modern times, and one that launched the transition to democracy in Poland and helped end the Cold War. But the multi-year Henoko “sit-in” story is little known outside of Japan, if not outside of Okinawa. Here is the first short account from “inside” the movement by one of its stalwarts.

Okinawa used to be the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, blessed with a bountiful environment and friendly trade relations with many other Asian countries. In March 1609, Satsuma-han (now Southern Kyushu Island) invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1879, the Meiji Government forced the Kingdom to surrender Shuri Castle by means of the “ Ryukyu Disposition,” which brought down the curtain on the Ryukyu Kingdom. Ryukyuan culture was subsequently lost under the assimilation policy of the Japanese government. Towards the end of the Asia-Pacific War, war was forced upon Ryukyu Islanders in the Battle of Okinawa, in which 200,000 lives were lost, including over 90,000 local civilians who were killed or forced to commit suicide. Today, Okinawa is burdened with 75% of all U.S. military bases in Japan. It seems so unfair that the Ryukyu Islands have had to endure such a tragic history. I want to bring my heart closer to Okinawa and its people, especially in light of the “Futenma Base Transfer” controversy.

On December 25, 2009, I visited “Henoko Tent Village” in Okinawa, with Satoko Norimatsu, Director of the Peace Philosophy Centre, a peace education centre in Canada. The “village” has acted as a base for the 13-year long nonviolent anti-base movement. On the day we visited it was raining, which made Henoko beach look like it was crying. We were welcomed by Toyama Sakae, the “mayor” of Henoko Tent Village, and by other activists, including Nakazato Tomoharu, “Yasu-san,” and “Na-chan.” Mr. Toyama invited us to have a seat and proceeded to explain the history of the movement to save Henoko.
Read the rest of Ms. Kikuno’s beautiful essay here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Japanese Churches appeal to U.S. Christians for Prayers to halt U.S. militarism to bring Peace to Okinawa

Earlier this year, Ecumenical News International (ENI), a Switzerland-based Christian media outlet, issued a press release on behalf of the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ) urging U.S. churches to gain awareness, pray and appeal to their government about the impact of a U.S. military base relocation in Okinawa, an archipelago south of Japan's main islands.

"The beautiful coral reef, which had provided a livelihood for the villages and which was the seabed home of the endangered dugong, would now be destroyed with landfill for the purpose of constructing a military base for waging war," said the moderator of the National Christian Council in Japan, the Rev. Isamu Koshiishi.
33 member and associate member churches and organizations participate in the NCCJ, which works in concert with local groups as well as international organizations, including the YMCA and the Fellowship of Reconciliation:
The networks to which NCCJ relates, including the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and World Council of Churches (WCC), enable Christians in Japan to stand in solidarity with people and partner churches throughout Asia and other parts of the world. Consultations between the NCCJ and other councils of churches in other countries have emphasized issues of minority discrimination, human rights, peace, and justice.

NCCJ continues to work ecumenically as well as with NGOs, citizens' groups, and people of other faiths in the area of peace. One recent event was the inauguration of the Interfaith Network for Peace (made up of Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims) to unite to maintain Japan's Peace Constitution and oppose the "emergency" legislation that would allow Japan to participate in a war and to arm itself. The emerging nationalism in Japan is one of many concerns for NCCJ.
The NCCJ newsletters in English may be found at this page. The theme of its fall issue: "Love - the Law of Life."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

As the Christmas Season begins, the U.S. & Japan launch their biggest-ever joint war games amid growing tensions in the Korean Peninsula

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men...

And in despair I bow'd my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men...

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," American Civil War era poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864
During the winter season when Christians worldwide traditionally express wishes of peace and goodwill towards all people, the U.S. and Japan have embarked on their biggest war games ever following a year of joint war games held by the U.S. and South Korea. During a war game in the spring, a South Korean ship, the Cheonan, mysteriously sank:
South Korean government allegations that a North Korean torpedo attacked the warship provoked tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, providing an excuse to convince Japan to keep the US military presence in Okinawa. However, two scholars have disputed the evidence that the ROK government has used for the allegation and the recent poll showed that 63% of S.Koreans do not trust the government's report.
And in a recent US-S. Korean war game bombardment of its border, North Korea retaliated, with fatal consequences.

PressTV reports, "Japan and the United States have launched their biggest-ever joint military exercises off Japan's southern islands near South Korea amid growing tensions in the Korean Peninsula,"
The drills---dubbed Keen Sword---will continue until December 10.

Washington has deployed more than 10,000 troops, 20 warships and 150 aircraft to take part in the maneuvers.

Tokyo recently invited South Korean military officials to observe the exercises.

The exercises come several days after an exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas.

However, US and Japanese officials claim the drills were planned before the Korean clashes.

The developments come days after Japanese on the southern Island of Okinawa re-elected incumbent governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who wants an end to the American military presence in the island.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tessa Morris-Suzuki's just-released To the Diamond Mountains sheds much-needed light on the Korean peninsula's past & present

Released on November 16, Tessa Morris-Suzuki's To the Diamond Mountains: A Hundred-Year Journey through China and Korea could not be more timely.

Korea scholar Alexis Dudden gives this description:
Tessa Morris-Suzuki is the most important writer of Northeast Asia today.

Told through a historian's eyes and with a humanist's compassion, To the Diamond Mountains achieves an artful balance between the geopolitical concerns swirling around the region and the lives lived there now, particularly among North Koreans. The book lucidly blends together ancient pasts with present realities, presenting a subtly powerful case that those who would fail to understand the layers of Northeast Asia's deeply interwoven whole are playing with fire.

To sample this travelogue/history that creates an illuminating, multi-dimensional portrait of Korean peninsula, read an excerpt at The Asia-Pacific Journal.

(Diamond Mountain (Kŭmgangsan) is one of the best known mountains in North Korea. Its name means "a firm heart in the face of truth." Between 1998-2010, Pyongyang allowed South Korean tourists to visit (by ship and bus) the craggy, wild, relatively untouched scenic area. In 2002, North Korea separated Diamond Mountain from Kangwŏn Province and created a a separately-administered tourist region, allowing South Korean conglomerate, Hyundai, to operate hotels there. Over a million South Koreans visted the area, but in 2008, after a South Korean woman was shot, when she allegedly entered a military area, Seoul banned further travel there. In 2010, after South Korea blamed the North for the mysterious sinking of the Cheonan, Pyongyang seized the South Korean hotels.)