Report of Study Program to Okinawa, April 1 - 4
We are thrilled to report that US for OKINAWA and Peace Boat successfully completed our April 1-4 study program to Okinawa! It was an incredibly eye-opening, constructive and enjoyable program, and inspired all members to share the voices of the Okinawan people with others around the world. The program also gave us the chance to make new contacts/partnerships with various individuals and organizations, and helped to generate media coverage about base issue in 3 newspaper editions and 3 television news programs. Finally, the program gave us great ideas for more actions and events this year!
Here's a detailed report:
A total of 11 people participated in the program --six U.S. citizens and four from mainland Japan. Six were women, five were men, and ages ranged from 23 to nearly 70 years old. For all but three, it was their first time to witness the bases firsthand. One of the participants--Dani Pierre--became not only an US for OKINAWA member, but also an US for OKINAWA representative in Shikoku. She's 23, from Colorado Springs (where many U.S. military facilities are based) and currently working as JET teacher. Bright, funny, well-spoken, passionate about international relations and diplomacy, and full of creativity, we're very happy to have her onboard! Another participant, Tre Packard of PangeaSeed, will team up with US for OKINAWA as a partner organization, and work with us in holding events and study programs later this year. Tre started PangeaSeed to raise awareness of shark finning and of the need to protect our ocean environments, and we think it's one of the finest advocacy organizations in Japan. Tre is from California, an excellent photographer and diver, and has much experiencing organizing events and campaigns, so we're very happy to have this opportunity to work with him and PangeaSeed, too! I just highlighted these two, but actually EVERYONE on the program was amazing and contributed to it enormously, and we are very grateful for their positive participation. Here is how we spent our time together during the program:
Day 1 Evening:
At the top of the ridge, we had a clear view of the USMC Futenma Air Base, and could witness the large swathe of land it occupies with only a thin line of trees between it and all the surrounding houses, schools and other facilities. That morning, we also witnessed the unfathomable close proximity (less than 20 meters) of the base to an elementary school in Ginowan that has long been disturbed by the base's aircraft noise as well as the fear of an aircraft accident occurring in the area, because the aircraft regularly transport active chemical and biological weapons. We also witnessed firsthand where a military aircraft crashed into Okinawa International University in Ginowan in 2004, sparking a large protest again in Ginowan and renewed calls to shut down Futenma.
After visiting these sites, we headed to the city office in Ginowan to meet with Mayor Yoichi Iha, who has been doing his utmost to raise awareness in Japan and the United States of the need to close Futenma Air Base and to bring information to light about the issue that military officials in Japan do not share with other Japanese officials or the public. Despite being extremely busy, especially during this time of the year, he gave us an hour of his time and explained the issue to us in great detail. We used this opportunity to express the support of U.S. citizens for his call to close Futenma, and to state that we don't think Futenma should be relocated anywhere else inside or outside Japan. Instead, we think peace and security should be developed through non-militaristic means, such as the creation of an East Asian Community, the establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, and the promotion of peace constitutions in the region. This meeting with the Mayor, along with our morning activities, was covered by the media in Okinawa later
that same evening. Before saying goodbye to the Mayor, we gave him a big framed copy of our US for OKINAWA photo taken in Yoyogi Park, a copy of the recent article that appeared in Metropolis Magazine about our organization (and that includes a photo of him), and a copy of the powerpoint we made that describes his efforts to protect Ginowan residents from base-related noise, crime and accidents.
Afternoon: After meeting with the Mayor, we headed toward Kadena Air Base by bus, passing through a labyrinth of assorted fenced off military facilities located in residential and commerical areas just to get there--training grounds, military personnel housing units (many of them standing empty), ammunition storage areas, shopping complexes, clubhouses, golf courses, guest houses, and schools just for U.S. military personnel and their families. All of these facilities took up vast tracts of land and were hardly populated, while the local people squeezed homes and businesses into the remaining free areas. On the way to Kadena, we also passed through Chatan, which used to be occupied by a U.S. air station, but was finally returned to Okinawa. Now it's a popular spot for tourists and young people, and has more people employed in the area than when it was occupied by a base, which demonstrates that industries such as tourism are more successful than the base industry.
Once we reached the perimeters of Kadena Air Base, we stood in disbelief at how huge the base is--so large that one end of the runway disappeared into the horizon and we couldn't even tell where it ended. A variety of aircraft take off and land there frequently everyday, because the base is used as an aircraft training ground for other bases around the world and in mainland Japan. As a result, the people in this area are exposed to daily doses of noise pollution against their wishes, and many suffer health problems from the stress of constant exposure. They have set up a really interesting information center about the base across the street from one of the fences, in order to explain its history through photos and captions. A must for anyone to visit!
From Kadena, we went to Yomitan village and descended down a small ravine, at the bottom of which lies a limestone cave that 120 local villagers--primarily women, children and elderly people--took refuge in 65 years ago shortly before the Battle of Okinawa broke out. On April 1st, the people learned that U.S. forces had landed in the area, and on April 2nd, two men left the cave to confront U.S. soldiers with the bamboo spears the Japanese Imperial Army had instructed them to make in order to fight the U.S. forces with. Both were killed on the spot. Inside the cave, fear of being raped and tortured by the U.S. soldiers began to mount, and one 18-year old girl named Haru begged her mother to kill her rather than let her fall into the hands of the enemy and be shamed. This plea was a reflection of the teachings and ideology the Japanese Imperial Army had spread to local people: You will dishonor yourself, Japan and the Emperor if you allow yourself to be caught by the enemy, and it's more honorable to die by your own hands instead. The mother of Haru reluctantly took up a kitchen knife to kill her, but the knife was old and dull, and Haru died slowly and with much suffering from the knife wound her mother inflicted upon her. Seeing this, the others in the group decided to kill themselves by pouring kerosene from their lanterns on cloth and setting fire to it. In this way, 83 people died from smoke inhalation. Our visit inside this cave was on April 2nd--the very same day that this mass suicide occurred 65 years ago, and we could hardly imagine how 120 people could fit into the cave, or what it would be like for us to kill our own loved ones or be killed by our parents who treasured us, but we could also imagine how the cave must have been filled with great dread, fear and sorrow.
Today, the descendants and survivors of such horrific wartime incidents live with such memories and scars, and they are hard to dispel or heal when every day, they are exposed to the sights and sounds of the U.S. military bases around them. That night, though not officially part of the program, half of us headed to Naha City to enjoy a drink and to find U.S. Marines to talk to in order to hear about their experiences. We were able to meet two, aged 26 and 27, both of whom were twitchy about not being late for their base's curfew time. One said he tried to leave his base (Camp Lester) as often as possible, because inside the base he had no freedom of expression and simply spent the whole day doing things he's ordered to do. The other seemed somewhat mentally disturbed and could hardly speak, except to say that he had joined the Marines in order to get money for education, but somehow that plan never materialized.
In Henoko, our first stop was to Tent Village on the shoreline of Oura Bay, where locals were marking more than 2,100 days of consecutive sit-ins. One of their representatives, Onishi-san, used photos to tell us about the history of their non-violent struggle (which, incidentally, was inspired by the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr.). Then we walked over to a beach that is divided by a long stretch of curled razor wire that functions as a border to Camp Schwab. Peace lovers had covered just about every inch of the wire with colorful ribbons and banners calling for no war, no killing, no bases, protection of the dugong, and so on. Apparently, the U.S. military used to regularly remove these ribbons (once, even by setting fire to them all!), but people kept retying them with such persistence, that the military finally gave up trying to remove them. One funny aside: on the way to the beach, we passed by a municipal sign that said: "Keep this beach clean--please take your garbage home with you." To this sign, locals had pencilled in the word "base," so that it read: "Keep this beach clean--please take your base and your garbage home with you."!
At the beach, we were joined by three young Japanese people, two of whom are Okinawan university students. All of them are just starting to learn about the base issue themselves, and it was their first time to visit Henoko. We were inspired when Onishi-san said he wants the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty to be voided and replaced with a Japan-US Peace and Friendship Treaty, so before leaving Henoko, we decided that rather than waiting for our governments to do this, we would initiate such a treaty ourselves at the citizen level, and inaugurated this new symbolic treaty on the beach with the university students (see photos later).
From Henoko, we travelled to the Takae and Yambaru Forest area to see the U.S. military's Northern Training Area, which the U.S. military has used for jungle warfare training since 1956--initially to prepare for jungle warfare in Vietnam (to our shock, we learned that the U.S. military even forced local villagers to play the role of Vietnamese people in their jungle warfare trainings!). This training area occupies thousands of hectares, much of which wasn't being used, so the U.S. military finally agreed to give part of it back to Okinawa. However, the part they agreed to give back has seven aircraft landing pads, and the construction of 7 new landing pads elsewhere was made requisite for its return. Unbelievably, the area chosen for the new construction is rich in biodiversity, and home to endangered species such as the Okinawan woodpecker and Okinawan rail. Opposition to this plan finally led to it being discarded, and a new plan was drafted: this time the landing pads would be built around a small village of fewer than 150 people. However, this village is already surrounded by 15 other landing pads, and the people were opposed to more being built around them, because of the danger and noise problems that they pose. So they went to Henoko, and learned from the people of Henoko how to build a sit-in tent and carry out resistance activities. Again, unbelievably, the government sued 14 people for stopping the construction work from beginning (charges were later dropped against 12), and the case is now making its way through the court. In other words, instead of using civil law to protect citizens, the government is using civil law to prosecute them, and our local guide explained that this sets a very dangerous precedent around the nation, because if it gets established, people who protest against things the construction of nuclear power plants or big dam projects in their communitities can also be sued by the government.
What's worse, the villagers are being sued under the Hatoyama administration's government, which is an enormous betrayal for them (and for us!), because they had voted for him and his party after he promised to lighten the burden of the military bases on Okinawa. We asked them if they planned to countersue, but they said it's difficult because their numbers are so small, it's difficult to balance a livelihood and stay fully active at the same time, all expenses would have to come from their own pocket, and it takes them 3 hours just to get to Naha, where the district court is located. (So we want to hold a fundraiser for them this year!).
With heavy hearts, we left the Takae area and returned to the Henoko area just in time to participate in a peace candle night in front of Camp Schwab. Peace candle nights have been held in front of Camp Schwab every Saturday evening for the past 6 years, and were started by a base-protester who wanted to give young children and others who could not participate in physically risky resistance activities a way to get involved in the movement. The organizer explained that flames symbolized the soul, and that many souls have been lost because of the bases in Okinawa, given that they have been used to attack Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas. So he taught his three young children to hold the candles carefully, and to see them as souls that need caring and should be cherished. At this event, we held our US for OKINAWA banner on the sidewalk in front of the base, and waved to all the cars passing by, including those that were leaving the base carrying military members. A television cameraman was on hand and recorded us as we also made appeals such as "Base Free Okinawa!", "Save the Dugong, "Peace not War," "Americans for a base-free Okinawa," etc.
After participating in this action, we headed to the guesthouse we would be staying at that night--a haven next to the sea that was lovingly built by a longtime base resister named Mr. Teruya. He built it largely from recycled wood, and decorated it beautifully with driftwood and polished glass he had picked up from the coastline. In the garden area of the guesthouse, an underwater photographer set up a screen and gave us a slideshow presentation of all the rich, beautiful life that can be found in Oura Bay, as well as in the mangrove lined rivers feeding into Oura Bay. It's hard to believe that anyone could consider pouring dirt and concrete over such rich and rare biodiversity--and of course, those who are proposing to do so are far removed from it, in offices in Tokyo and Washington. After the presentation, Teruya-san prepared a delicious barbecue for us, and we cracked open some local Okinawan beer and spent the rest of the night talking, drinking, and celebrating Okinawa's baseball team victory at Koshien Stadium earlier that day.
Day 4 Morning:
After this, we headed to Naha to catch our flights in the afternoon. We had a bit of time in the city, so we used it to record everyone's impression of the program and thoughts on the issues before heading off to munch on some Okinawan specialties, such as pig ears, taco rice, and salt cookie ice cream. After that, we dispersed to catch our flights, but with a strongly united feeling that we wanted to continue working together to share what we saw, learned and felt with others in order to not leave the people of Okinawa alone and unsupported. They are not the ones who created the enormous base problems that they have to face everyday, and they shouldn't be expected to try to undo them singlehandedly. Now, more than ever, it's time for U.S. citizens and mainland Japan citizens to get involved in the issue. As Dani Pierre said several times, citing a quote she once heard, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." From this study program, we felt very keenly the need to stand up for justice, democracy, peace and environmental sustainability in Okinawa so that our entire world doesn't fall into greater darkness.
Tomorrow and Wednesday, we will hold meetings to discuss what we can do from here. In Okinawa, when we asked what we could do, everyone said the same: Please continue to tell people you know what is happening here in Okinawa, and please try to bring people here again to witness the conditions with their own eyes. We already have a number of ideas brewing about how we can help get the word out further, and we're already working with PangeaSeed to evelop a second study program to Okinawa in September. This second program will let people dive or snorkel in Oura Bay to experience its beautiful diversity and to see the dugong's habitat up close. It will also allow them the opportunity to participate in Save the Dugong Center's efforts to map the entire bay for conservation purposes.