People gather for a peace march in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday. Photo: KYODO
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Peace march held in Okinawa ahead of 50th anniversary of return to Japan

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A peace march calling for the burden on Okinawa from hosting U.S. forces to be reduced was held Saturday in the southern island prefecture, a day before the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan.

For the first time since taking office in October last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Okinawa to mark the anniversary.

The prefecture that is geographically closer to Taiwan than to Tokyo is home to 70 percent of the total acreage exclusively used by U.S. military installations in Japan, despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of the country's total land area.

The 9-kilometer march, the first of its kind in three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, started near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the middle of a residential area in Ginowan.

Under rainy skies, many participants were seen wearing headbands with the message "Okinawa without bases," a dream shared by residents on the island when it was returned to Japan after 27 years of U.S. rule.

They chanted "Remove the Futenma base" and "Stop noise pollution" as they walked down the streets guarded by police.

"It's still far from ideal," said Manabu Oshiro from Itoman in the prefecture, who has participated in a peace march about 30 times. "By raising my voice (against the burden) in the milestone year, I want to make the current situation in Okinawa known."

"The situation surrounding bases has not changed at all from 50 years ago," said Junko Iraha, a 61-year-old resident in Naha who also joined the march. "We should not forget that crimes and accidents involving the U.S. military are still happening."

Keisuke Yokota, a 30-year-old resident of Yokosuka said he was marching out of sympathy for people in Okinawa as his city near Tokyo hosts a U.S. Navy base. "I know it's a complicated issue, but I hope Okinawa will become free of bases one day," he said.

Following a 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement on returning the land occupied by the airfield, known as the world's most dangerous because of its location, the two countries have been trying to move the base to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago.

The relocation plan has met with fierce opposition from people in Okinawa, with many demanding that the Futenma base be moved out of the prefecture.

Okinawa remained under U.S. control until 1972, after Japan regained sovereignty in 1952 following the country's defeat in World War II.

About 1,000 people took part in the march to an area near the U.S. Kadena Air Base, held at a smaller-than-usual scale to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Since 1978, such events have been held around May 15 to mark the day of Okinawa's return to Japan, but peace marches were canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the spread of the virus.

This year, the march's course was shortened and was held just on Saturday instead of the usual three days, according to Okinawa Heiwa Undou Center, a civic group that organizes the event. The participants were also limited to members of its affiliated organizations.

Speaking to the participants gathered in a park near the Kadena base after the march, Hiroji Yamashiro, a senior official of the civic group, emphasized the importance of raising voices.

"We will not be involved in any kind of war. We will oppose any kind of war," he said.

"Let's join forces so Okinawa won't be a battlefield again."

On Sunday, official ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary will be held simultaneously in Okinawa and Tokyo, which will be attended online by Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

After arriving in Okinawa for a two-day visit, Kishida offered flowers at the national cemetery for the war dead within the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of a bloody ground battle in the final stage of World War II.

© KYODO

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
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How about independence March next?

-14 ( +7 / -21 )

 headbands with the message "Okinawa without bases," a dream shared by residents on the island 

A dream is correct. Okinawa has the misfortune of being strategically located and has always been eyed and coveted by greater powers. And I don't see this changing in the near future.

1 ( +15 / -14 )

Is there really any prospect of peace?

What is there to commemorate on this 50th anniversary?

The global community is closer to blowing the living daylights out of each other tomorrow let alone 50 years ago.

Certainly if the unthinkable took place and the Government of China took advantage of the Putin's crazy war in Ukraine, invading Taiwan, those forward bases will become indispensable.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

Happens every year, just this year is a "memorial" year being the 50th anniversary.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

It’s really hard to tell if eliminating the bases would destroy the Okinawan economy or not. If it did that costs Tokyo a lot of money.

Japanese government not sure either and bases gotta be somewhere and that’s where they already are so….

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Set up fund to subsidize those who don’t want to live near a military base to move away as far as they want. The base can’t move due to strategic reasons but people can.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Keisuke Yokota, a 30-year-old resident of Yokosuka said he was marching out of sympathy for people in Okinawa as his city near Tokyo hosts a U.S. Navy base. 

Many participants in "marches" and "bases protests" on Okinawa are from mainland Japan.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

How much per hour are they paying now to show up?

Last time I lived at Chatan, my neighbor read an ad paying ¥1000 an hour to "Protest".

3 ( +9 / -6 )

itsonlyrocknrollMay 14  06:12 pm JST

Certainly if the unthinkable took place and the Government of China took advantage of the Putin's crazy war in Ukraine, invading Taiwan, those forward bases will become indispensable.

Indispensable to whom? So the US can fly/ ship blankets and ammunition to Taiwan?

The US and the UN will retaliate with stern, strongly-worded scoldings if China attacks Taiwan.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Many participants in "marches" and "bases protests" on Okinawa are from mainland Japan.

That's obvious, judging from the banners in the photo above.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

noriahojanenToday  12:31 am JST

That's obvious, judging from the banners in the photo above.

No, it is not obvious, because the photo above is from one march, and there are no photos from any protests accompanying this article.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Maybe if US bases were spread more evenly across Japan, this might elevate any animosity some people in Okinawa have towards Japans protectors.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

One wonders if Japan and the US would be better off if Japan granted Okinawa their independence and walked away. Let them fend for themselves.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Alan HarrisonToday  01:04 am JST

Maybe if US bases were spread more evenly across Japan, this might elevate any animosity some people in Okinawa have towards Japans protectors.

“Japans protectors” are there for their own purposes of global presence, not to protect Japan. The US will protect its bases and people.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The U.S should just give what the people of Okinawa really want and get out off there ..after let’s see what happens in the very very near future if the Okinawa people would regret and cry back for that protection …I have one question Do You Really Think Russia,China and North Korea care what Japan wants?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The U.S should just give what the people of Okinawa really want and get out off there 

Right, and please tell me how you are going to differentiate between the Okinawan people (ethnically) and Japanese(ethnically) who are ALL citizens of Japan, on Okinawa?

No one can answer that question, because it is impossible! Okinawan's are Japanese too! The overwhelming majority are apathetic to, support, or have no strong opinions about the bases.

Just a loud, noisy group that gets press a few times a year.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Right, and please tell me how you are going to differentiate between the Okinawan people (ethnically) and Japanese(ethnically) who are ALL citizens of Japan, on Okinawa?

Chose what country you wish to belong to and if necessary move there. The so-called Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia into separate Czech and Slovak republics is a good model to follow.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The U.S should just give what the people of Okinawa really want and get out off there ..after let’s see what happens in the very very near future if the Okinawa people would regret and cry back for that protection …I have one question Do You Really Think Russia,China and North Korea care what Japan wants?

The major problem with leaving Okinawa unprotected is that it would be ripe for picking by China. Once their forces are established there in any numbers the US and Japanese would have an awful fight to take it back, and the population as a whole would suffer grievously. Control of Okinawa would be a big prize for the Chinese as it would make it impossible for the US to defend Taiwan or to bottle the Chinese fleet inside the First Island Chain. The strategic importance of Okinawa is hard to understate.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Peter I believe that these forward bases have been indispensable for the protection of US interests since they came into service.

Okinawa will continue to bear the burden, as will Yokosuka.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Okinawa will continue to bear the burden, as will Yokosuka.

Yokosuka Arsenal was constructed for the IJA in the 1870s. The original drydock completed in 1871 is still in use. Long before WWII it was one four major IJA shipyards. The other three are Kure, Sasebo and Maizuru. If US forces left tomorrow it would remain a major naval base and shipyard for the JMSDF.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thank the US for providing peace the last 50 years.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Thank you, Desert Tortoise, I was not aware of Yokosuka history.

I understand the concern, the Japan people have a target on there back.

I am a tad cynical about policy of these forward bases main priority.

To protect Japan or US interests in the South China Sea?

With the war in Ukraine, the regional security objectives could change.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A deja vu image, this photo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ryukyu Independence!! Ryukyu doesn't belong to Japan!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Ryukyu Independence!! Ryukyu doesn't belong to Japan!!"

You seem a "bit" confused.

Ryukyu ceased to exist in 1879.

There's no more Ryukyu, Guvnor.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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