Yomitan Sports Park in Okinawa was filled with 90,000 people, and the event was over before a lot more people could make it there due to the heavy traffic. (Photo by Sasamoto Jun )
The banner reads, "We do not need a military either on the ocean or on the land." (photo by New York Times)
At the April 25 rally at Yomitan Sports Park, over 90,000 Okinawans have stood up and spoken, again, but this time with the unprecedented all-party participation of the Governor, all Mayors of the 41 municipalities (39 attennding and 2 sending their reps) out of the 49 inhabited islands, members of the Prefectural Assembly, Chairs of the municipal assemblies, 8 out of the 9 Parliamentarians of the Lower and Upper Houses, even including LDP's Shimajiri Aiko. People's New Party's Shimoji Mikio, endorses a plan to build another base in Okinawa, was absent as expected.
Based on the success of the April 25 rally in Okinawa, representatives of the steering committee of the rally, including members of the Prefectural Assembly, will go to Tokyo on April 26 to submit the resolution of the rally, which calls for a swift closure and return of dangerous Futenma Air Station and for the government to give up the idea of building a replacement base within Okinawa (the resolution in Japanese is quoted below. I will post when an English version is available.)
"It just ended. Number: 90,000. With the rallies on the two other islands, 93,700. Not quite reached the goal, but significant.
My husband said: "Nakaima just had a loud voice."
Governor Nakaima just said two points: elimination of the Futenma danger, and reduction of base burden of Okinawans. Both ambiguous terms. He made only one clear point though: permanent use of Futenma could not be tolerated.
Well, PNP's Shimoji, the only MP who was absent (Even LDP's Shimajiri was there!!!), could say all those things too and stay politically correct.
But again, any Nakaima is better than No Nakaima.
The three mayors, Iha of Ginowan, Inamine of Nago, and Shimabuku of Uruma, all made powerful and convincing statements, though pretty much what they have been saying every day.
All 41 municipalities were there, 39 mayors attending and 2 their reps.
The biggest significance was that it was the first all-party rally of this magnitude. "
English-language reports of the event:
Okinawans seek U.S. base removal from prefecture in mass rally
YOMITAN, Japan, April 25 KYODO
Anti-Futemma base rally in Okinawa child reacts to a speech during a rally calling for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Co...
By Maya Kaneko
- About 90,000 local residents and politicians in Okinawa called for the removal of a U.S. Marine base located in a crowded residential area in the southernmost prefecture in a mass rally Sunday, venting their frustration against the central government which is struggling to resolve where the base should go.
Many participants in the rally in the village of Yomitan were clad in yellow, the symbol color of the protest rally to demonstrate their ''yellow card'' warning against Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government. They excitedly cheered for and gave applause to speakers.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who has conditionally accepted an existing Japan-U.S. plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station, urged Hatoyama to remove as soon as possible the danger of accidents and crimes involving the Futemma base and called for nationwide support to ease base-hosting burdens on Okinawans.
The governor said he cannot allow the base to continue to sit in the densely populated area of Ginowan if the current efforts by the premier to transfer the facility out of the prefecture get bogged down.
''Some Cabinet ministers have indicated their tolerance for the possibility of Futemma airfield remaining as it is, but I say absolutely no to that,'' Nakaima told the rally participants. ''I want the prime minister to never give up and honor his pledge.''
Before his Democratic Party of Japan came to power last September, Hatoyama promised Okinawa people that he will try to transfer the Futemma airfield out of the prefecture or even abroad. The premier has vowed to settle the issue by the end of May.
Nakaima also said burdens to host U.S. military bases in Okinawa have exceeded the capacity of locals and asked people in other parts of Japan to ''lend a helping hand'' to ease them.
''This is not a problem that only concerns Okinawans. The safety of each Japanese individual is connected to Okinawa,'' the governor said, referring to the Japan-U.S. security arrangement.
The island prefecture hosts about 75 percent of the land area used for U.S. military facilities in Japan and half of the around 50,000 U.S. service personnel in the country.
Under the 2006 bilateral accord, the heliport functions of the Futemma base would be transferred from Ginowan to a coastal zone in the Marine's Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa, by 2014.
The United States has maintained its position that it prefers the existing plan.
The governor told reporters after the gathering while it has become ''extremely difficult'' to implement the current Futemma relocation plan as it is, he expects Hatoyama to respond to the wishes of the 90,000 attendants and ''find the most appropriate solution as a veteran politician.''
At the rally, Kana Okamoto and Narumi Shikiya, both 17-year-old students at Futemma Senior High School near the airfield, complained about the constant noise of U.S. Marine aircraft and said all bases in the prefecture should be removed.
''I sometimes feel the noise and danger of aircraft crashes as an everyday matter, but we should not think it cannot be helped,'' Okamoto said. ''I want everyone to face up to the base issue and make changes.''
Most of the mayors of the 41 municipalities in the island prefecture, which has a population of around 1.4 million, attended the rally.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine blasted the state for repeatedly suggesting contradictory policies on the Futemma issue.
Touching on a news report Saturday that the government has indicated to the United States that Japan would broadly accept the current plan to transfer the Futemma facility to Nago, Inamine told the attendants, ''Such an erratic and unscrupulous manner ridicules Okinawans and we can never forgive that.''
Uruma Mayor Toshio Shimabukuro also rejected any idea to move heliport functions of the Futemma facility to an artificial island to be constructed off the Katsuren Peninsula in the city, saying it would transform the community into a ''major military site.''
All major political parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party, were represented for the first time at an anti-base convention in Okinawa.
The LDP, which was defeated by Hatoyama's DPJ in last August's general election, was in government when the current Futemma relocation plan was forged.
The convention adopted a resolution seeking the early closure of the Futemma facility and the return of the land it occupies as well as a slogan calling for the revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and measures to boost the local economy.
''To save the life, property and living environment of citizens, we Okinawans urge both Japanese and U.S. governments to give up the relocation of the Futemma airfield within the prefecture,'' the resolution said.
Prior to the mass rally, about 2,000 Yomitan villagers protested an alleged fatal hit-and-run case of a 66-year-old Japanese man in the village involving a U.S. Army member last November. They called for the SOFA revision, claiming the release on bail of the U.S. soldier earlier this month is ''unreasonable.''
People in Okinawa have held mass protest rallies in the past following incidents such as the gang rape of a local schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995 and an education ministry instruction in 2007 to delete or rewrite references in history textbooks to the Imperial Japanese Army's role in coercing civilians to commit mass suicide during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.