Okinawa flea markets still open for business
September 17, 2003
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — Both flea markets on Air Force property in Chibana remain open for business.
As Kadena Air Base’s 18th Services Squadron sent out news releases announcing that its twice monthly flea market at the Chibana Recreation Area is still open, operators of an illegal flea market, on a public-access road through Air Force property nearby, defied orders to close down.
The ramshackle market along a half-mile road through the Kadena Ammunition Storage Area was jammed with shoppers last weekend, despite a move by Air Force and Okinawa authorities to close it in the wake of an Aug. 31 surplus ammunition incident in an Okinawa City junkyard.
Takio Tamura, 53, a Japanese Air Self-Defense senior master sergeant, was killed when a surplus rocket-propelled grenade he was cleaning for resale at the flea market exploded. A police investigation disclosed that Tamura dealt in military surplus goods, including used ammunition shells.
He sold the items at a stall in the illegal flea market, police said.
Two homes he rented in Naha were piled floor to ceiling with military clothing, decades-old rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder launchers, ammunition, flares and other military paraphernalia. The areas were evacuated Sept. 7 so Air Force explosive-ordnance personnel could defuse several rockets.
Police and military officials are investigating the source of the surplus munitions.
Signs, authorized by the Air Force, Okinawa City government and the Japanese Defense Facilities Administration Agency, were posted along the road lined with the flea market stalls, ordering the proprietors to dismantle them. Only a few obeyed the order.
“Closure of the flea market deprives us of a means to earn our livelihood,” one retailer told the Okinawa Times, a Japanese-language daily newspaper.
“I cannot understand why our flea market has to close because of an accident that has nothing to do with our business,” another said.
The stall operators formed a committee last week to urge Okinawa City and prefectural officials to keep the flea market open.
Okinawa City officials announced previously that the city will erect fences to block any illegal use of the roadside.
The road is designated by the DFAA and U.S. Air Force as public access, but the land on both sides belongs to the air base. It has been unused for years, according to 18th Wing officials. The landowners who lease the property to the DFAA are allowed to operate small garden plots.
The illegal flea market has been operating along the roadside for 20 years, with an increase in business the last three years or so, an Air Force spokesman said.
A decision to clamp down on the stalls was made before Tamura’s death at the request of an Okinawa business association that complained the flea market was hurting its members, he said.