Hundreds of local residents of the town of Naha made their voices heard in a protest on Tuesday ahead of a visit by United States Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. The protesters are fighting against the planned relocation of an American military base to their area. Okinawa is host to the bulk of American troops stationed in Japan under Tokyo’s defense agreement with Washington.
With their picket lines and bold signs declaring “No base!” and “Bring democracy to Okinawa,” over 300 protesters marched along the main thoroughfares of Naha shouting their desires to have the US bases moved out of Okinawa altogether. Many of the protesters were families with children and were walking the main street of Naha to the banging of drums and music. “We as Okinawan people gave our answer many, many times that we don’t want the bases here,” said Kazue Nakamura-Huber, a 47-year-old English teacher. “We want to stop the new base project here.” Kennedy, the newly installed US ambassador to Japan, arrived in Okinawa late on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet with Okinawan officials. There may also be a possibility that the ambassador would go to see the base relocation site during her three-day visit.
Okinawans have long felt that they were unfairly burdened with hosting the US military forces in Japan. The US had obviously realized the strategic location of the prefecture as a gateway to China and Taiwan, but the number of issues that the locals have borne out of the agreement have been so many that they have for a long time lobbied the relocation of the US troops outside of the prefecture. There have been many sex crimes where the offenders, usually US military personnel, have not been given proper punishment. There is also the issue of safety, with the airbases very close to population centers. Wakana Toguchi, a 12-year-old girl who joined the protest with her family, said that she hoped to show Ambassador Kennedy the planned relocation site in her town so she would understand why they don’t want the base there. “If I get to see Mrs. Kennedy, I will invite her and show her the beautiful sea, jugons (rare sea animals) and lots of corals. She can perhaps enjoy riding a canoe,” Toguchi said. “And I must tell her not to build the base here.”