Monday, May 17, 2010

Trouble in Ginowan City

Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. rule, something you might suppose would be cause for celebration. Wouldn’t a people who chafed under military occupation for 27 years after World War II feel good about the day? A liberated population breathing the freedom of self-determination. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

The occasion was marked this weekend by double-barrel protests that put thousands of Okinawans on the streets. One barrel pointed at the U.S. military for the crushing burden that its bases place in crowded urban areas. The other barrel aimed at Japan’s central government for its ineptness in resolving a decades-long struggle to reduce the bootprint of the Americans on Okinawan soil. It’s even still more complicated than that. 

People lined up in the pouring rain Sunday to form what protest organizers called a “human chain” along the 8-mile perimeter of the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, a facility tucked in the center of the city of Ginowan. This is where the Marines practice taking off and landing their very noisy CH 53 helicopter gunships all day and night, spooking neighbors and making them fear accidents. Some Ginowanians remenber the 2004 crash landing on the campus of nearby Okinawa International University like it was yesterday.

The protest would have attracted sparse attention if Japan’s hapless prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, hadn’t promised to solve the problem for once and for all by deciding on a plan to move the base elsewhere by the end of May. But moving it where? To Guam? To a seacoast in northern Okinawa where opponents say a planned offshore runway would destroy the local marine ecosystem? To a remote island called Tokunoshima where residents adamantly oppose the idea? Stay tuned.

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