NAGO, Okinawa -- It has been 22 years since Tokyo and Washington agreed to the return of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Japan, prompted by the 1995 abduction and gang rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three U.S. servicemen stationed in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. But today, not only is Futenma still under U.S. military use, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun land reclamation for a new base on the coast of this city's Henoko district, which many Okinawans have long fought to protect.
Why does the central government refuse to listen to the will of the Okinawan people? Why does it not look at them squarely in the face, and instead dump soil and sand into the waters off Henoko in the Okinawan city of Nago, to build a replacement base for Futenma?
Before the break of dawn on Dec. 14, protesters flocked to the gates of the U.S. Marines' Camp Schwab along National Route 329. Even though the waters zoned off for the land reclamation work were some 1.3 kilometers away and not visible from the gates, the people gathered there to express their anger at the government. "Stop construction!" they yelled. There were protesters on the water, too, who made their fury known from sea kayaks and boats.
At around 9:25 a.m., some 500 protesters turned in the direction of the ocean and began marching in front of the base. "We won't tolerate the government's tyranny!" they yelled. "Stop land reclamation!"
Setsuko Kinjo, a 69-year-old farmer from the southern Okinawa Prefecture town of Yaese, raised her fist. "There's only so much I can do. I also know that the Abe administration ignores the will of the people. But I can't go away without raising my voice here and now," she said. "Even if Futenma were relocated to Henoko, the fact remains that Okinawa will continue to be embroiled in accidents and incidents involving the U.S. military."
Hiroji Yamashiro, the 66-year-old head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center and a longtime leader in the anti-base movement in Okinawa, spoke angrily into a microphone. "I am outraged. Don't underestimate us. Let us uphold we Okinawans' pride and burning passion for justice and fight to the end in front of the gates. Let us hang tough. We must not lose to the government."
Meanwhile, 69-year-old Seizen Oshiro, a farmer from the prefectural capital of Naha in southern Okinawa, held on tightly to a placard that read, "Okinawans will resist." Said an indignant Oshiro, "Even if two or three shiploads' worth of soil and sand are dumped into the sea, it doesn't even constitute 1 percent of the land that the government wants to reclaim. The government is trying to create a fait accompli in a bid to convince the entire nation (that there's no going back), but that's outrageous."
At 10 a.m., the number of protesters was still growing.
Hideyuki Kinjo, a 74-year-old former engineer from Naha, said it was the first time in three years that he was participating in a protest in Henoko. "The issue of national security is not a matter just concerning Okinawa," he said. "The government is trying to compel the people of Okinawa to give up by forcing through the soil dump, but until our voices reach mainland Japan, I will continue to raise mine against this construction plan."
(Japanese original by Tadashi Sano and Hiroshi Higa, Kyushu News Department)