Okinawa protestors vow to thwart environmental survey for Marine base
HENOKO, Okinawa — Anti-base activists and village residents are camped out at this tiny Northeast Okinawa port, intent on halting an environmental survey for a new Marine air station planned for the offshore waters.
About 50 protesters were at the port Tuesday, vowing to continue a protest that began Monday when they learned the Japan Defense Facilities Administration Bureau in Naha was set to begin an underwater survey in preparation for construction of an airport on reclaimed land and a reef.
The facility is supposed to replace the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, located in the heart of urban sprawl in central Okinawa. The new air station will be connected by a causeway to Camp Schwab.
On Monday, the DFAB canceled the survey work, citing poor weather. However, about 100 protesters clashed with 40 employees of a company contracted to put up a fence marking off work space for the survey. No injuries were reported and the workers left the area.
On Tuesday, about 50 people, half of them elderly residents, remained at the site vowing to prevent any work by DFAB contractors. The bureau had planned to send divers into the waters to survey the condition of the coral reef and an area where residents gather seaweed.
Environmental activists also have reported that the area is the northernmost feeding ground of the dugong, an endangered saltwater cousin of the manatee. Among the several protest groups camped out at the port is the Save the Dugong Network, which has expressed concern that the air station, which also will be used by civilian aircraft, will destroy the feeding ground.
Many protesters were elderly village women who said they have been fighting plans for the new base since it first was proposed eight years ago.
Kiyoko Miyagi, 77, said her group has about 20 women. They take turns staying at a nearby shack to keep an eye on any activity connected to the new base.
“We all believe it is our duty to hand down the beautiful sea to our children and grandchildren,” she said. “If worse comes to worse, we will go into the water and stop the construction with our bodies. We are prepared to die.”
She smiled broadly and said she was part of Monday’s skirmish with the fence builders.
“When they put up the fences, I was so upset. But after we successfully chased them away, I felt so good,” she said. “We will continue to fight. They said that the survey had been canceled because of bad weather, but that was just an excuse. The truth is that we chased them away.”
Miyagi served in the Himeyuri Students Nurse Corps during the Battle of Okinawa. Many of the young nurses were forced by Japanese soldiers to commit suicide rather than be captured by the invading Americans.
“As a survivor, it is my mission to do the best I can to stop anything that would lead to war,” she said. “A new military base should not be added, no matter the reason.”
Nobuko Oroku, 83, who owns a thrift shop in the community, says she spends most of her time down at the port.
“My shop is closed most of the time because my heart is no longer there. My heart belongs here,” she said.
“It will be the end of our community if our sea is taken by the military,” said Yoshi Shimabukuro, 91. “I will do whatever it takes to stop the construction. I do not mind going into the water to stop it.”
She smiled at the thought. “This is the sea I used to swim since I was a little child,” she said. “As long as my life continues, I will fight to protect our sea.”
Sitting near her was Hiroo Naganuma, a Buddhist monk from the Nipponzan Myohoji temple in Nago.
“I am here to support the residents,” he said, while beating a drum for peace. “Military bases are for troops whose mission is to kill other people. We must stop Okinawa from serving in this role.”
Shigeji Sakihama, 73, a retired schoolteacher from Nago, also said he would lay down his life to stop the construction.
“The environmental survey is only the beginning,” he said. “No matter the outcome of the survey, the government will proceed with the construction. That’s why we need to stop the survey at any cost.”
“The project has already proven to be a failure,” said Takuma Higashionna, an environmental activist and director of the Save The Dugong Network. “The plan is doomed to fail. Why does the government keep spending money on such an impossible project?”
At the nearby Henoko Fisherman’s Association building, four women awaiting the DFAB contractors’ arrival got into an argument with a plainclothes policeman.
“Everyone wants peace,” he told the four. “Please cause no trouble today.”
“We are not causing any trouble,” a woman answered. “It is you and the government who are causing the trouble by allowing a new military base.”
“I am talking about the trouble, like what happened yesterday,” the officer said. “Under the circumstances like yesterday, you could have been arrested.”
“So, you are threatening us now?” one of the women shouted.
“Our duty is to prevent any trouble from happening,” the officer said. Then, he retreated.