Over 28,000 people gathered outside Japan’s parliamentary house on Sunday, rallying against a proposed plan to relocate a U.S. base to the southern island of Okinawa, Reuters is reporting.
Thousands of protesters, wearing blue as a symbolizing show of support, carried banners reading “Don’t build that Base,” “Follow the will of Okinawa,” “No More US bases in Okinawa,” and “Protect Henoko.” Henoko is the northern district of Okinawa, where the replacement base is meant to be situated.
Dozens of opposition rallies were held across the country, including Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya, Toyama, and Okayama, to mobilize against the unpopular project.
During World War II, Okinawa was a fierce battleground for Japanese and American forces.
Japan admitted defeat, and Washington went on to govern the southern island until 1972 — 20 years after the occupation of the Asian country had ended. Despite America relinquishing the territory, military forces have continued to maintain a formidable presence in the area.
Okinawa occupies less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land mass. But it still provides accommodation for over 47,000 U.S. service personnel as part of a defense alliance strategy between both countries, a move that has not gone down well with local residents. The United States and Japan have been pushing to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from congested Ginowan to the sparsely populated coastal area of Henoko in Okinawa, following the gang-rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen.
Local politician Susumu Inamine explains that the U.S. should consider the will of the Japanese people when deciding to move the military base.
“The central government is trying to force through landfill work to move the base to Henoko, but justice and righteousness are on our side. We can never tolerate a government that ignores democracy and local autonomy.”
Both the U.S. and Japan insist that the replacement base must be located in Okinawa, where American aircraft and troops can respond swiftly to any emerging conflicts in the Asian region. Tokyo is bent on keeping its ally satisfied despite the frustration of local residents at the continued presence of U.S. military forces for over seven decades on the island. Despite growing agitations to cancel the project, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, restated last month that the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Okinawa was the only option available.
The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, refutes this claim, saying that popular votes in Okinawa show overwhelming support for the base to be moved elsewhere. Residents complain they can no longer put up with the noise, accidents, and sporadic crimes committed by U.S. servicemen.
In the interim, over 5,000 high school students assembled at the Shibuya district in Tokyo to voice their disapproval against 2015’s contentious security laws that deepen the roles of Japan’s self-defense forces overseas. The students touted banners reading “War is over” and “Teens against war law” imploring Article 9 of the constitution, which “forever renounces war as the sovereign right of the nation”
Similar gatherings of 1,000 to 5,000 protesters were held in 14 other places across Japan with high school students marching in sync with hip-hop music. Participants frowned at the collective right to self-defense and called for the resignation of lawmakers who supported the bill.
The security laws allow Japan to provide military support for the United States and other allies that come under attack. The enactment is scheduled to take effect in March and has stirred fears that Japan will be dragged into a foreign war with heavy casualties.
[Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images]