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Okinawan woman on hunger strike against US base soil that may contain war dead remains

Mikayo Kin is seen on hunger strike outside the prime minister's residence, next to numerous flowers given to her by supporters, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on March 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Mei Nammo)

TOKYO -- An Okinawan woman went on a hunger strike outside the prime minister's residence in Tokyo in protest against plans by the Ministry of Defense to potentially use soil from Okinawa Island's southern area for reclaimed land in connection with the moving of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko coast of the city of Nago.

    In the final stages of World War II, Okinawa Island became host to the brutal Battle of Okinawa concentrated primarily in the island's south, which civilians were also dragged into. Resistance to digging up the island's earth has been motivated by views that the remains of the dead lie buried there. Hunger striker Mikayo Kin said, "I want to create a bridge between me, an Okinawan person in Tokyo, and the people here on the Japanese mainland."

    Kin, 47, grew up in Ginowan, and lives in Tokyo working as an interior decorator. When the U.S. military made landfall on Okinawa in 1945, her mother -- now 83 -- was 7 years old. She and her family managed to escape the fires of the battle, but they were eventually captured by U.S. forces and saw the end of the conflict.

    At times they would climb past corpses and there were moments when stray bullets grazed their clothes. She also heard from her mother that in the limestone caves in the island's south used as evacuation areas for residents, many of the bones of the dead remain.

    In March this year, Kin learned that Takamatsu Gushiken, 67, who volunteers collecting skeletal remains from the Battle of Okinawa, staged a sit-down hunger strike outside the Okinawa Prefectural Government headquarters in opposition to the soil sampling. Kin said she decided then to do the same in Tokyo. Because she felt that Gushiken's activism is not well-known on the mainland, she said she came to feel that "Okinawan people have a duty to communicate the importance of human lives. I felt like the baton had been passed to me."

    On March 8, Kin began staying outside the prime minister's residence on a hunger strike, with a board reading, "Against the new base using the dead's bones." All she consumed was water, salt, and soup without any ingredients, which were provided by supporters. Until March 30, she continued her hunger strike while resting on a plastic sheet.

    Among the people who learned about what Kin was doing and came to support her was a woman whose grandfather was a Japanese soldier who died in the south of Okinawa Island. His bones have never been returned to the family, and the woman said that when she visited where her grandfather had been stationed on the island's south, she "picked up a stone there, in place of his bones, and put it at his grave."

    Even though Kin has finished her hunger strike, she intends to stay out protesting until the middle of April. When people come to her and ask what they can do, she says she responds: "Tell people close to you (about the remains issue). In the street and on the train, if you say the words Henoko or skeletal remains, someone who hears them by chance might develop an interest."

    (Japanese original by Mei Nammo, City News Department)

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