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Okinawa man starts sit-in over fears landfill for new US base may contain war dead remains

Takamatsu Gushiken (center) stages a sit-in in front of the Okinawa Prefectural Government office in Naha on March 1. (Mainichi/Takayasu Endo)

NAHA -- Criticism has arisen over a plan by the Japanese defense ministry to collect soil from 1945 battlefields for reclamation work for the relocation of the U.S. Futenma Air Station to the coastal area of Henoko in this southernmost Japan prefecture.

    A man who has been collecting the remains from the area as a volunteer began a sit-in protest over the issue in front of the prefectural government office in Naha on the morning of March 1.

    Takamatsu Gushiken, 67, who has vowed not to eat as a form of protest, said, "It's wrong to use soil mixed with the remains of the war dead for landfill. The national government has been saying that it will 'stand by Okinawa,' but it is trying to do the exact opposite. I don't feel they are showing any respect for the dead."

    In April 2020, the Ministry of Defense applied to the Okinawa Prefectural Government for a design change to improve the soft ground found in the planned landfill area in Henoko, Nago. The prefectural government is currently reviewing the application, but some of the candidate sites for collecting soil for reclamation have been changed from the original plan, and Itoman and Yaese in the southern part of the main island of Okinawa have been newly added. This area was the site of fierce fighting during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of the Pacific War, and the remains of sacrificed residents and others still lie in the soil.

    Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki inspected the newly added site on Feb. 21, and said at a Feb. 25 plenary session of the prefectural assembly, "The use of soil from a place where the remains of the war dead may have been left hurts the feelings of the people of Okinawa and their bereaved families who experienced the tragic war." He indicated that he would consider taking action over the matter.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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