Japan earmarks $10M to find WWII ordnance on Okinawa
February 16, 2009
ITOMAN, Okinawa — Japan is about to step up its efforts to locate unexploded World War II ordnance on Okinawa.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura has announced that a $10 million fund is being set up to hunt for the estimated 2,500 tons of unexploded bombs and shells that remain buried and to compensate victims of explosions from ordnance that rained down on the island during the 83-day Battle of Okinawa.
The government’s move came in response to several bomb incidents last month. On Jan. 14, a construction worker in Itoman was seriously injured when his power shovel struck a buried bomb. The 63-year-old device exploded with such force that it broke the windows in a nearby senior citizens home.
Since that explosion, the Japanese military has disposed of some 445 pieces of ordnance uncovered at several construction sites. The ordnance ranged from machine gun rounds to a shell from a 6-inch naval gun. And two elementary school students brought in a dud bomb they found in a field to their Haebaru school for a show-and-tell in a peace studies program. Itoman and Haebaru are towns in southern Okinawa, where the most intense fighting took place.
Itoman Mayor Hirotsune Uehara was pleased at the government’s announcement, an official of Itoman City said Thursday. "We feel that our voices were heard by the government," Uehara said, according to Isao Tamashiro, chief of the city’s General Affairs Office.
The fund would represent the first time the national government has offered to compensate victims of such incidents, he said. For example, in 1974, two years after Okinawa reverted to Japan, a World War II bomb exploded at a kindergarten in Naha, killing four people including a 4-year-old girl. No adequate compensation was made to their families, Tamashiro said.
Kawamura said the fund will not cover the victims of any accidents prior to the Jan. 14 incident. It will cover the cost of magnetic surveys of Okinawa, particularly the southern part of the island. Japan Ground Self-Defense Force spokesman Masaru Kaneko has said that bomb disposal units annually dispose of an average of about 30 tons of unexploded ordnance.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.