Japan: Bloggers cry foul over plans for Henoko Bay

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, consists of some 160 islands in an archipelago stretching from Kyuushuu to Taiwan. Historically part of a distinct nation called the Ryuukyuu Kingdom, Okinawa only became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. Its people, the poorest in Japan, have struggled over the years to find a place for themselves in their new country, facing persistent discrimination from their post-war American occupiers as well as from their mainland Japanese countrypeople.

For many decades, Okinawa has borne the brunt of the post-war military burden, having been seized and occupied by American forces immediately following the end of World War Two and only finally (nominally) returned to Japanese rule in 1972. Following the Battle of Okinawa, in which 200,000 soldiers and civilians — including one quarter of the prefecture's total population — lost their lives, Okinawa was turned into an extended military complex for American forces and made to house numerous bases, espionage centres, and estates for American families. While taking up only 0.6% of the area of the entire country, Okinawa hosts 75% of all American military bases in Japan (occupying 20% of the prefecture's entire territory), a lasting testament — given widespread opposition to such bases across Japan — to the continuing marginalization of the Okinawan people.

The latest chapter in the ongoing tale of America's military presence in Okinawa involves a plan to construct a new military airport in Henoko Bay, a plan which has been opposed fiercely by local residents and environmentalist groups. Last week, officials gave the go-ahead for a preliminary survey, a move which angered many people in the area, notably bloggers actively involved in nonviolent protests and sit-ins.

Henoko Bay Protests

Blogger nesupa writes:


For the first time in a long time, I participated in a protest against the prefectural government.
The Defence Facilities Administration has forced through an investigation of the waters at Henoko Bay to accompany the construction of a new military base. From the start, this type of investigation requires by law an environmental assessment before it can proceed. Despite this, under the name of a preliminary survey, they are trying to go ahead with this investigation. The procedure is the wrong way around. The head of the civil engineering division involved in the matter is declaring that they will use the data from what they are calling a preliminary survey in the [environmental] assessment. In fact, however, the first step should be for the assessment to specify what kind of investigation should be carried out to collect this data. The procedure is the other way around.


The national government wants to hurry the commencement of construction. They are trying to make it look like they are doing a good thing with this preliminary survey, but actually what they are doing goes contrary to the substance of the law. This kind of thing has already been going on at the New Ishigaki Airport; this type of problem is on the increase. When one looks to the past, it seems inevitable that if the administrative process is not carried out in accordance with the law, problems will occur and the whole thing will end in a quagmire.

国は強権で突破でき、県民世論は捻じ伏せられると考えているだろうが、力で押さえられないものもあるのだ。成田空港を見てみろ、もう40年を越えるのに未だに建設の第一歩のボタンの掛け違いが尾を引いている。その時はどうにか辻褄を合わせてもシコリは何時までも残り事を複雑にするだけだ。 甘く見てはイケマセン。

The national government may be thinking that they can use their power to force their way through and stifle the voices of the citizens of Okinawa, but there are some things that cannot be held down by force. Look at the case of Narita Airport: already 40 years have passed, and the mismanagement of the construction has, from the very first step, had lasting effects that are very difficult to reverse. Although things were made to sound legitimate at the time, tension and anger still remain after all this time, only to complicate the situation. This cannot be taken lightly.


Look at the case of nuclear power plants. Hearings about plans for construction, guarded by riot police, were held in order produce an alibi; on top of this, opposition groups were completely excluded. Recently, reports on accidents that had been hidden have been coming out one after another. This is a result of ignoring local citizens and forcing through plans for construction.


As a result of insisting that everything is safe and that no accidents will occur, when accidents do occur, all they can do is to say that nothing has happened. There are no excuses for these kinds of mistakes and accidents. It's impossible that they are 100% clear of accidents, they should have said that there is at least a 1% chance. If they had done this, then if something had happened, they could have told us that they were taking measures to make things okay.
The actions of the government in ignoring at this time the assessment for Henoko Bay will probably result in problems in the near future.


I am a part of the opposition campaign. I think of my role as being one more voice in the crowd. I am just one of many, I am that kind of person, but when I hear exchanges made in negotiations, it makes me want to say that the prefectural government should not just mindlessly do what they are told, they should be more independent and confront the national government.
Don't manipulate the law to hurry the construction process. It's true that there is a lot of money tied to this construction project. But if you want money that badly, then think about ways to get away with the money, in other words take the money for construction from the national government but never actually build the base. What I'm saying is, trick them the way that telephone scam operators trick old people.


Trick the national government by pretending that you are tricked. (LOL)

Another blogger at Kichi Kensetsu Soshi (Stop construction of the base) gives more detail on actions against government forces, comments on Prime Minister Abe's involvement, and wonders about the mindset of the divers carrying out the investigations:


This is information up to the evening of April 25th. Today the survey investigating current conditions was again repeated, boldly in violation of the [environmental] assessment law. Eight canoes, two boats, and three divers were deployed in actions to block this investigation. A large number of people from the Facilities Administration Bureau also arrived in boats and held back operations at one location. Rubber rafts surrounded and blocked off one canoe, making it impossible to move. However they were not able to stop the movement for peace.


The huge mobilization this time reflects the impatience of the Facilities Administrative Bureau, who wants to get operations off the ground and provide themself an alibi. This strikes me as a kind of gift for Prime Minister Abe's visit to offer to the United States. It's just so irritating. At various places here and there, Abe is eagerly showcasing the [planned] constitutional “revision”, and has made it clear that he actually intends to go ahead carrying forward this process. In his tyrant-like behaviour, Abe has far surpassed Koizumi.


I wonder what the divers, who were hired by the Facilities Administration Bureau and who, yesterday as well as today, have been diving as part of these operations, think about the fact that the sea is being threatened with a landfill crisis. As a diver, diving into a sea that is almost too beautiful to behold, doing work involved with the sea, and as a single human being, what do they think about this? I really want to ask them and find out. Or is it that they will do anything if there is money in it? Operations are expected to continue tomorrow. Anyway please gather together, join the blockade movement and bear witness to the true face of an arrogant Japan. Even if you cannot row a canoe, even if you can only take pictures or video from the boat, you can still play a role as a witness. Please come join us.


Yesterday news from media across the country managed only dismal coverage of this issue. What kind of pressure has been put on them? This country in which the mass media and various other social institutions are intimidated with pressure so that government policy can go ahead, can we really call this free and beautiful? This is really shameful. Halting at any cost the contamination of the sea of Henoko and the sea of Okinawa, this is what we could call the real meaning of “beautiful country”.

Blogger Youko writes about the failure of mainstream media to cover the Henoko Bay issue and describes her own eyewitness experience of government hostility at protests and sit-ins:


In Okinawan media, including the two major newspapers in the prefecture, it seems to me that the strength of criticisms against the forcing through of the current investigation is clearly missing.
At times like this, when major media is not reliable, we have no choice but to set up our own small-scale media and start broadcasting the message ourselves.


In this space called Henoko Bay, people with no former association to each other gather and sit side by side in non-violent direct action, opposing state power and maintaining their blockade against construction of the base.


I don't think it is right to categorize these actions under the label of a “blockade by opposition groups”.
On the contrary, serious questions should be directed to the government over its use of state power, which it has used to send “warnings”, to mobilize riot police, to continuously intimidate and even go as far as arresting the local citizens participating in non-violent sit-ins.


To become a participant and eyewitness to these events is to open up the possibility of transmitting information about the events to other people. This is an act of opposition against the major media, who pretend to be neutral while actually tied to the system.


  • By speaking up and requiring that the government listens to the will of the people, we can ensure that the Japanese and US governments live up to their obligations under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Heritage Convention in order to protect the Ryukyu Heritage and relationship with the Dugong.

  • […] GVO previously reported about a protest against the construction of a new heliport in Henoko Bay, Okinawa last week. Blogger dr-stonefly quotes news broadcast on Nippon TV that the Japanese government has decided to send the Self-Defense Forces to put down the protesters. Share This […]

  • […] On the evening of May 9, Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV had an update on events surrounding a scientific survey presently being conducted in the Henoko Bay area of Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture (see a report on the reactions of local bloggers to this survey posted last week at GVO). The May 9 broadcast mentioned that the government has decided to bring in the Self-Defense Forces in order to put down the activity of the local protesters. In response to the news, a blogger who runs a blog called Kichi Kensetsu Soshi (Stop construction of the base) argues that the real purpose of bringing in the Self-Defense Forces is not to suppress the protesters’ activity in the area, but to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces as a military: しかし今回の海上自衛隊導入は反対派牽制が一番の目的ではないはずです。今までの物量作戦を考えれば、民間業者を使って作業を強行することも出来るだろうと思うのです。それをわざわざ軍隊を出して来るということは、平和的なカヌー隊を蹴散らすことが目的とは思えません。日本中から抗議の声が上がることを想定した上で、「それでも国はやることはやる」という明らかに間違った主体性を示す道具として海上自衛隊を導入するということでしょう。アメリカにどれだけ発破をかけられたのか分かりませんが、「実力行使」に「自衛隊を使う」という「実績」が欲しいのか、「自衛隊が国民になめられないようにする」ことが目的なのか、「国民に自衛隊の力を認めさせる」ことが目的なのか分かりません。理由ははっきり分かりませんが、野党からわざわざ猛反発を食らうような決断をすることで、「自衛隊」をしっかりと「日本の軍隊」として周りに認めさせる「強行作戦」であることは間違いないと思います。 […]

  • […] statement itself (quoted in the blog entry) outlines the background to reasons for the protests, describes the involvement of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and notes that the survey operations […]

  • The thing is, Okinawa is unlike most of the rest of Japan in so many ways. World War II scarred them in ways that they will never forget, and now with much of that land covered in military bases, what hope is there for me even to this day? I applaud them doing their part and trying to reclaim what’s theirs.

  • […] from local citizens, politicians, the government and bloggers [ja], reigniting anger at the continued presence of American military bases in Japan's southernmost prefecture. While different in many ways from the current case, a […]

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