No more US military bases: Japanese hunger striker demands expulsion
After an abduction and rape incident in 1995, the island has expressed increasing rejection of the presence of US bases.
Jinshiro Motoyama placed a banner outside the Japanese prime minister's office, sat on a folding chair, and went on a hunger strike. Motoyama demands the end of the US military presence in his birthplace, Okinawa.
Though Okinawa is a speck in the ocean and accounts for only 0.6% of Japan's entire land, 70% of US military bases in Japan are centered there, in addition to 47,000 troops.
On Sunday, the island will mark its fiftieth year since Japan returned its sovereignty after US control; however, Motoyama is not in a mood for celebration.
“The Japanese government wants there to be a celebratory mood, but that is not possible when you consider that the situation over US bases is still unresolved,” the 30-year-old graduate student, on his fifth day of hunger strike, said.
He argued that over the past half a century, the island is still being treated like a 'quasi-colonial outpost.'
“The biggest issue since reversion to Japan, and since the end of the second world war, is the presence of US military bases, which have been disproportionately built in Okinawa.”
A US marine corps airbase, Futenma, has sparked anger and controversy on the island. The airbase is located right in the middle of a densely populated city. Inhabitants are complaining that the base will destroy the delicate marine ecosystem in the area, in addition to threatening the safety of about 2,000 residents.
This frustration surfaced particularly after 1995 when three US servicemen abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa.
The year after, Japan and the US agreed to decrease US military presence by moving Futenma's personnel and military hardware to Henoko.
Denny Tamaki, Okinawa's anti-base governor, promised to fight the Henoko move - this was backed by more than 70% of voters in a 2019 referendum, which organization was helped by Motoyama.
Tamaki is the son of a Japanese woman and a US marine whom he has never met. This week, he met with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida, demanding that he resolve the issue through dialogue.
A local poll showed that opposition to US presence on the island was strong. Published in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the poll showed that some 61% of the locals want fewer US bases on the island, whereas 19% said they were satisfied with the situation.
“I believe there is a risk that Okinawa could again become the scene of a battle,” Motoyama said referring to an invasion by US troops in April 1945 in which 94,000 civilians – about a quarter of Okinawa’s population – died, along with 94,000 Japanese soldiers and 12,500 US troops.
“I want people to think about why I’m having to do this,” he said. “However loudly Okinawan people make their voices heard, no matter what they do, they are ignored by the Japanese government. Nothing has changed in 50 years.”
Okinawa is a target, and not a cornerstone of deterrence, especially taking into consideration the rising tensions in the Asian region, according to professor emeritus Masaaki Gabe, who was 17 by the time the US occupation finished. “Okinawa will be the frontline in the case of a war or conflict between Japan and China,” Gabe said. “After 50 years, the insecure feeling still continues.”