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45 years after reversion to Japan, Okinawa still suffers from base overload

Protesters in canoes and on boats stage a demonstration around the reclamation site off the coast of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on May 15, 2017, the 45th anniversary of Okinawa's return to Japan. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- Okinawa Prefecture on May 15 marked the 45th anniversary since its reversion to Japan, with regional economic development overshadowed by the heavy burden of hosting large U.S. military bases.

A total of 12.16 trillion yen in public funds has been injected into promoting Okinawa's regional economy over the past 45 years, leading to the improvement of roads and public facilities. In recent years, Okinawa has enjoyed a brisk economy, with the number of tourists in the prefecture reaching a record 8.76 million in fiscal 2016. On the other hand, the per capita income of prefectural residents still remains somewhere around 70 percent of the national average, among other lingering challenges.

With regards to the base issue, Okinawa Prefecture hosts 70.6 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan, while the island prefecture occupies a mere 0.6 percent of Japan's total land area. Although residents decry the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of the city of Nago, both in the prefecture, the central government on May 15 continued land reclamation work for the base transfer off the coast of Henoko. Protesters in canoes staged an offshore demonstration near the reclamation site as Japan Coast Guard officials kept watch around the area.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the Futenma relocation to Henoko, is poised to further resist the government's move through withdrawal of his predecessor's approval of landfill work and other means.

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