Until when will the suffering of Okinawans continue?
It was a question that permeated the atmosphere of a protest rally held in the city of Naha on June 19 following the alleged murder of a 20-year-old woman from the city of Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, for which a former U.S. Marine was arrested.
With a sense of deep sadness and unmasked anger in their hearts, participants at the rally -- which organizers estimated to number around 65,000 -- expressed indignation toward both the Japanese and U.S. governments, saying that such an incident must never be permitted to occur again.
The assembled crowd -- which included small children, elderly individuals walking with canes, and young women around the same age as the one who was recently killed -- stood in the searing heat, with many participants wearing clothing such as Kariyushi (Okinawan-style) shirts in black.
Prior to the start of the event at 2 p.m., the space was already characterized by a somber, requiem-style mood.
The demonstration began with the song "Warabigami" -- which recounts the love of a mother for her children -- performed by Okinawan folk singer Misako Koja, 62, whose father was killed in a traffic accident inside the U.S. Kadena Air Base. A moment of silence was subsequently observed by all participants.
Speaking next was the father of the recently murdered woman, who said, "My daughter has become one of the victims. Why did she have to be killed?"
The participants fell silent in response to his words. The rally was taking place exactly one month after the arrest of the suspect -- and it was also Father's Day. As they observed the moment of silence, members of the crowd could be seen being moved to tears.
This was followed by several speeches given by young people around the same age as the woman who was recently killed.
"Mr. Shinzo Abe, and all Japan mainlanders: Who else do you think is the perpetrator in this crime? It's you (who continue to push the U.S. military bases on Okinawa). Can you please start to face up to Okinawa's reality? "
As Ai Tamaki, a 21-year-old, fourth-year student at Meio University from Uruma -- the same city as the victim -- spoke emotionally at the podium, the sound of applause and people whistling through their fingers erupted from the crowd.
Also speaking at the demonstration was Jinshiro Motoyama, 24, a fourth-year student at International Christian University in Tokyo who is originally from the Okinawa prefectural city of Ginowan.
"The people who live on this island want nothing more than to say 'see you later' as they send off their children and their other loved ones in the morning," he said. "We just want to live normal lives."
A similar rally attended by some 85,000 people was held in Okinawa Prefecture in 1995, following the rape of a young girl by three U.S. servicemen, at which time participants expressed their rage.
Suzuyo Takazato, 76, who launched an organization called "Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence" in response to the crime, said forcefully during the recent rally, "We need to make a resolution that this type of incident will never happen again. We must listen very closely to the voices of women who are being injured, killed and silenced now more than ever before."
Also on the morning of June 19, numerous individuals gathered in the wooded area near the village of Onna in the northern part of the main Okinawa prefectural island, and lay down incense and flowers where the young woman's body was found following the recent murder.
"It's now become difficult for me to go out at night because I'm too scared," said Kiriko Ando, 21, a third-year student at the University of the Ryukyus. "Do we really need bases in Okinawa?"
While the rally drew people from outside Okinawa Prefecture, however, some people chose not to attend.
A 51-year-old self-employed man from the city of Okinawa commented, "The rally entails too much opposition to the U.S. bases."
The man, whose cousin is married to a U.S. serviceperson, said with an expression of complexity on his face, "The recent murder was atrocious -- but it doesn't mean that all soldiers are bad people."