Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Devil in the Details

Today I went swimming in Oura Bay, a body of deep blue water exposed to the Pacific Ocean about half- way up the island on the thickly forested east coast. Bobbing in the water would be a better term than swimming. I felt like a jelly fish, floating about in shallow water about 40 meters (we don't say yards here) from the shoreline where the bottom drops out from the coral-sand floor of the bay. I back-paddled a bit to make sure I could stand in the gentle surge. I gazed at a rocky coastline wrapped mangrove. I saw helicopters in the sky.

They were fat stogie-shaped aircraft that buzzed their way from somewhere in the north to nearby Camp Schwab, one of the dozen or so U.S. military bases pocking the island of Okinawa.  Swimming was my hidden agenda today. I supposedly came up to visit a small down-at-the-heels fishing village called Henoko, situated on the other side of Schwab. A barbed wire fence on the Henoko beach separates the military base from civilian territory, but it’s only two-feet tall. Its purpose, it seems, is not to keep out intruders but to provide a place for protesters to string up colorful banners and streamers bearing anti-military slogans. You have to squat to read them.

Henoko is the notorious site where American military strategists have been planning (secretly) for decades to relocate the Futenma Air Station training operations out of the over-crowded city of Ginowan down south. (See post about the Futenma brouhaha below.)  The proposal to move to Henoko resurfaced in recent years as one of several options, and it now appears to be the only option. Japan’s Prime Minster Yukio Hatoyama is rumored to be panning a visit the nearby city of Nago Sunday to give a speech that would justify breaking his campaign promise to move Futenma’s operation out of Japan. The newspapers today said a formal decision to build at Henoko may be announced next Thursday, days before Hatoyama’s self-imposed deadline to resolve the Futenma issue.

On the demilitarized side of the little Henoko fence a gaggle of protesters have set up an encampment under a large white canvas tent where they educate visitors on the environmental and social impact of the airstrip. A V-shaped runway would be built in the middle of an algae forest on landfill running along the beach front and fishing harbor. It would ruin a lot more than the view

Teru Onishi, a former high school teacher from the area, chairs the Nago Peace Committee  and runs the Henoko protest operation that attracts activists from across Japan. He is a calm man who looks very tired. But he got revved up during our short conversation about the air base and ended in a flourish. “They’re going to build a fortress for the devil,” he said, pointing out to sea. “A fortress for the devil.”

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