It’s been 41 years since Okinawa reverted to Japanese rule, and yet the residents don’t feel that they are totally free yet because of the strong US military presence in the prefecture. To commemorate the anniversary last Sunday, around 3,500 people gathered in a park in Ginowan to call for an Okinawa free of US military bases.
Despite the heavy rain, the peaceful protest had a good turn-out and they adoopted a declaration to oppose any strengthening and expansion of US military bases in the prefecture and even in other parts of the country. Shiko Sakiyama, one of the organizers of the event and a leader of an Okinawan peace movement center, says that they still feel oppressed by the “roar of the warplanes” and the incidents and accidents where US military are involved. He said that the past 41 years have been a “struggle to regain humanity,” and so they are now calling for a peaceful movement. Megumi Miyamoto, one of the participants in the rally, said that local residents are always at risk due to the military presence. “It’s like war or a nuclear power plant is very close to us,” she added.
One of the guest speakers at the rally was Kim Bok Dong, 87, a former comfort woman from South Korea. She talked briefly about her past experience of being forced to work as a sexual slave for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. She said that her terrible experience, as well as the thousands of other women who were coerced, should be reason enough for Japan to look back at their mistake and make sure it never happens again. Kim is set to meet on Friday with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose controversial statements about comfort women has been met with a lot of criticism from both the local and international communities.