Japanese protest arrival of Stennis

An organizer gives directions over a bullhorn Friday during a protest of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis mooring in Sasebo, Japan.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 1, 2009

SASEBO, Japan — Masato Shinozaki was bobbing in his boat and watching through binoculars when the hulking USS John C. Stennis slowly materialized out of the gray sea mist Friday.

For a moment, the aircraft carrier seemed to be just another of the many islands around the mouth of Sasebo Bay. Then the swarm of news helicopters arrived, circling the carrier like noisy insects.

Shinozaki, a peace advocate and protest organizer with Rimpeace Sasebo, and 25 other boats raced across the ocean to confront the warship with their red flags.

"Carrier get out!" they chanted through megaphones as they circled the aircraft carrier twice.

The band of tiny boats carried Japanese of different vocations and from different areas, but what united them Friday was their opposition to the U.S. military in Japan.

For them, the aircraft carrier is a symbol of war and violence, the devastation of the atomic bomb, or the loss of valuable port property to the United States.

They had gathered — about 100 people — on a pier in the cold morning to tie protest flags and make their case to the world’s most powerful military.

Shinozaki said the carrier visit, by extension, ties Japan to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said he envisions a world of peace without war, especially in Asia. Though he knows such a goal is a far-off ideal, he keeps hope. Meanwhile, he organizes demonstrations in Sasebo.

Others came in memory of the atomic bombing at Nagasaki, where more than 70,000 people were killed in 1945.

Yukio Nakazaki, chairman of the Nagasaki Peace Action Center, said the opposition to nuclear weapons and nuclear powered warships drew protestors from Sasebo, Nagasaki and Kanagawa on Friday.

In 1969, about 100,000 protested the visit of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, Nakazaki said. Though the protesters are fewer today, "nothing changes in their heart," he said.

The Citizen Network of Sasebo is against war, the U.S. Navy base in Sasebo and nuclear warships, said Yumiko Miano, a member of the group and one of about 30 who showed up to protest the Stennis.

"We are hoping all the U.S. bases in Japan will go back to the U.S.," she said.

Friday’s protesters also included the Socialist Democratic Party of Sasebo and the All Japan Dockworkers Union.

The union is upset that U.S. bases such as Sasebo Naval Base take up dock space that could be used by Japanese businesses, said union president Akinobu Itoh, who traveled from Tokyo for the protest.

The Navy controls 86 percent of the waterfront in Sasebo, according to Itoh.

After the orderly protest, the group disbanded into the gray day, disappearing back into the population until the next chance to voice their discontent with the United States military.

Protestors flying red flags circle the USS John C. Stennis as the aircraft carrier arrives Friday for a visit to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Opponents say the carrier represents war and recalls memories of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki during World War II.