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Okinawa voices: 'No more bases!'

5 May 10 23:03 GMT

Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has said it will not be feasible to entirely remove a controversial US base from the island of Okinawa.

The US Marines' Futenma base is deeply unpopular with many residents and removing it had been a key election pledge of the prime minister.

Here, residents of Okinawa and mainland Japan, discuss the future of US military bases in Japan.

Kazue Nakamura-Huber, English language teacher, Okinawa

I was extremely disappointed by the announcement our prime minister made. He was the first Japanese politician in 65 years who heard our voice and put the issue of Okinawa on the national agenda.

Mainland Japanese people want the US to protect us, but they don't want to take the burden.

Seventy four percent of US military [based in Japan] are here in Okinawa, yet we account for only 1% of the country's population. It's not fair, it's a prison for us.

Violence still exists here and although there are fewer news-making incidents, we don't have any rights because of the Japanese-US agreement, under which Japanese jurisdiction is not valid for US citizens.

Our children can't sleep because helicopters go over. The agreement not to fly at night is being breached daily.

Politicians don't care. They don't live here and they don't see it. The bases are not in their backyard.

It's true that there is money coming in, but the effect of the money is bad. The development they bring is hurting the environment. As a result of dams, roads and various construction projects there are no more natural beaches on the shores of Okinawa island.

Thirty years ago it was different. Now I have to take my son to a neighbouring island to enjoy a day on the beach. This is damage accumulated throughout the years and it is hurting the tourism environment.

I don't think we need US military bases. Japan should focus on making friends and building a good relationship with neighbouring countries. We should develop our own defence force.

Although I am disappointed with our prime minister for not sticking to his promise, I give him credit for bringing this issue to the attention of the Japanese people.

People in Japan are ignorant, they don't know many things. Now at least they have heard about the hardship we are living with. And I am grateful for that.


Suematsu Kondo, 70, retired, Yokohama City

Our prime minister had no other option but to say that the US base in Okinawa can't be relocated. Japan is surrounded by China and North Korea, countries which have nuclear weapons.

As long as Japan has the policy of not having nuclear weapons, we have no other option but to rely on the US for our defence and to accept the US military presence in Japan.

I fully understand the feelings of local Okinawan people and I have a lot of sympathy for them. However, I do think that they have to accept their position for the sake of the whole country. In return, the government should provide more financial support and should compensate them for their troubles.

Mr Hatoyama made a fundamental mistake by promising something he knew he couldn't do. He did that just so that he could win the election. He misled the people of Okinawa, he raised their expectations, he gave them an empty hope.

Relocation might be an option, but the problem is that no-one will accept a US base relocating to their backyard. For instance, the government proposed relocating part of the base to Tokunoshima island and there was an outcry from the local population who refused to accept it. A relocation is not going to achieve anything, it will only antagonise a different group of people.

Having the political skill to win an election is not enough for the position of prime minister. The prime minister should think about all the people in the country. Many Japanese people have lost their trust in Mr Hatoyama.

Christopher Melley, US lecturer in Okinawa

Okinawa needs many voices to speak on its behalf.

The 24 April demonstration here in Yomitan of over 90,000 people is just a recent example of the public frustration over the US military presence on the island. It was a happy day, full of hope for a fundamental change, where Japan could stand up to the United States' insistence over keeping the 2006 brokered accord.

It was just the opposite on 4 May when Prime Minister Hatoyama, donning a festive Okinawan shirt, told the Okinawans that he had to back down from his original election promise to rid Okinawa of the highly contested US Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma.

Even I, a gaijin (non-Japanese), sensed the muted and polite frustration of the crowd about how small places count for less when large decisions are made by important nations.

I am complicit in this presence. I have been working within the military community for a long time, teaching wherever US service personnel and dependents are located.

I sometimes forget the enormous contradictions upon which my modest teaching activity is built. In the last year, I have learned enough Japanese to chat and banter with some low level of fluency.

The Okinawans are painfully polite: a few favour US military presence as an economic and strategic necessity, but most of my young students would rather that they go elsewhere and leave them alone for eternity.

As I walk about the village of Chatan, where I live, I cannot help but think of one of Orwell's famous essays, Shooting an Elephant, describing his experience as a policeman in Burma near the end of Britain's heyday.

I often wondered how it must have felt to be part of a crumbling empire, where one can see the cracks and fractures in the ramparts. Now I know.

Anonymous Okinawa resident, employed by the US military

I wasn't surprised by Mr Hatoyama's comment, I expected it. Okinawan people have been campaigning against bases for a long time yet nothing ever changed.

I knew it was an empty promise just to get votes from Okinawan people.

Most Okinawan people wish Okinawa had no American bases, especially older people who have experienced the war.

There have been lots of incidents involving the US military - rapes and accidents of all sorts. Japan and the US made a contract, called Japan Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa). This contract is extremely disadvantageous for local people.

Camp Futenma is in a residential area. Helicopters fly so low over our houses, there's no escape.

There are people who point out that the bases bring income to local people. It's true - most Okinawan income comes from tourism and the US bases. I work on a base and I can say that the salary is very good. The bases create employment - there are restaurants, shopping malls and bars.

So we do get some money. But there are too many bases on our small island and it's not fair. Okinawa is home to 75% of US bases in Japan. Okinawan people have been taken advantage of.

We don't simply want relocation of the bases. Okinawan people don't want other people to be in a similar situation. I hope that there'll be no more bases in the future. I know this is like a dream but we have been dreaming it for long time.

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