by Jon Day
TOKYO, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- Japanese people in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa observed six months since the arrest of a U.S. military worker who was suspected of brutally raping and killing a young women, with thousands paying tributes and eulogies at the site of the women's murder on both Saturday and Sunday while calling for the island's base-hosting burdens to be lifted.
As evidenced by the outpouring of grief over the weekend observers close to the matter said that it was apparent that anti-U.S. base sentiment is steadily on the rise in the prefecture that hosts the vast majority of the U.S.'s military bases in Japan, and Okinawans are adamant that the central government and the U.S. returning land used by the bases and relocating the troops off the island is the only way for them to ever hope to lead normal lives.
"It seems as though just as we recover from one horrific incident involving losing one of our family members, neighbors, or our friends, at the hands of (U.S.) troops here, another situation occurs," Yuichiro Taga, 71, the owner of a small hotel in Naha, Okinawa's capital, lamented to local media Sunday.
"Losing the young girl was terrible and shocked the entire island. She did nothing wrong, she was just a young girl living her life with everything to look forward to, until that monster did what he did," the elderly islander sobbed, adding, "We just dream of a day when life can be normal again."
Taga was referring to the rape and murder of a local women in May this year by a U.S. base-linked worker who had previously served as a Marine.
The odious slaughtering of Franklin Shinzato's victim was preceded by numerous drink driving incidents, another account of rape by a serviceperson in a hotel in Naha, and an unprovoked vicious assault by a high-ranking military official on a young Japanese female student on-board a commercial flight to Japan.
The islanders, none more so than the murdered girl's father himself, simply fail to understand why the central government has allowed this situation to continue for so many years and hence are demanding that all the U.S. bases and hence the servicepeople be moved off the island entirely.
"Why did it have to be my daughter? Why did she have to be killed?" exclaimed the victim's father in an open letter he previously read at a demonstration attended by tens of thousands of protestors who took to the streets of Okinawa in June.
The massive rally, which garnered worldwide attention, saw around 65,000 protestors united in calling for the U.S. military on the island to withdraw completely and for an archaic agreement inked between the U.S. and Japan governing the handling of incidents caused by U.S. military personnel in Japan to be urgently reviewed.
The protestors held placards and shouted slogans like: "U.S. Military Out!" and "How many more crimes will we suffer?" as well as, "Relocate the (U.S.) bases outside Okinawa," and chants like, "We want our land back!"
The rally was the biggest organized protest in Okinawa since the islanders took to the streets in the days after three U.S. servicemen viciously raped an elementary schoolgirl in 1995 -- an abominable crime that still haunts the consciousness of Okinawans of all generations.
"So as not to have another victim, the people in the prefecture can unite and make it possible for all bases in Okinawa to be removed," the father of the murdered girl urged.
Along with the local residents, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch advocate of lessening the base-hosting burdens of the islanders, and in particularly blocking the central government's plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma within the prefecture, also stands resolved to see his island released from the shackles of the U.S. military.
Of the savage murder of the young girl this year, Onaga said it was utterly unacceptable, while reiterating his calls for a key agreement between Japan and the U.S. to be urgently reviewed and for the bases to be kicked off the island for good.
The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was originally inked in Washington between the U.S. and Japan in 1960, and many politicians such as Onaga along with political watchers believe it does not work to effectively legislate the treatment of U.S. servicepeople in Japan who commit crimes and does not reflect the growing instances and severity of such.
Calls from Okinawa for SOFA to be urgently revised are becoming more vociferous, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a proponent of relocating the Futenma base from a crowded district in Ginowan to a coastal region on the island that will see vast amounts of land reclaimed from the sea to build the mega-base, also seeking its review.
But Okinawa citizens have gone one step further in adopting their own resolution, demanding that definitive measures be put in place and enforced to prevent further heinous crimes from occurring in the future.
"The anger and sadness of the people of Okinawa has reached its limit toward the repeated incidents and accidents involving U.S. military and nonmilitary personnel," the resolution said.
"To protect the lives and human rights of the people in Okinawa, it is urgent that U.S. bases be significantly reduced and consolidated, and for Marines to withdraw from Okinawa," the resolution said, adding that plans to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma should also be scrapped.
The resolution also stated that previous measures to curtail acts of crime or enforce discipline had failed miserably and that the only way to effectively prevent crime against locals from U.S. servicepeople going forward is to remove the U.S. bases from Okinawa island entirely.
All prefectural and local assemblies in Okinawa have adopted resolutions against the latest murder and the prefectural assembly is now dominated by politicians opposed to the Futenma base relocation, which, along with growing indignation from the locals, adds gravitas and political momentum to Onaga's moves to block the relocation and make further moves in the future to see U.S. bases removed from Okinawa entirely.
Amid rising instances of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel, noise pollution caused by military hardware such as the accident-prone MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, that can take off and land like a helicopter, but fly like a regular plane, military-linked accidents and a protracted dispute over the relocation of the Futenma base, Okinawans are also annoyed about being associated with Japan's ballooning defense budget.
Japan's so-called "sympathy budget", a pseudonym for costs related to hosting U.S. forces here, jumped to 192 billion in 2016, from 190 billion yen in 2015, with Japan paying up to 50 percent of all the costs involved.
Despite anti-U.S. sentiment reaching a fever pitch on the island where 75 percent of U.S. bases in Japan are located, with the subtropical island itself accounting for just 1 percent of Japan's total land mass, some see the current shift in the U.S. administration as perhaps being a catalyst for the change they have been yearning for.
"Two decades have elapsed since the U.S. and Japan originally agreed to the return of Futenma, and yet nothing has happened. As a former businessman, and now as president, there's hope that (President-elect Donald) Trump will realize that, from a business and economic angle, the Henoko relocation is impossible," Satoshi Taira, the leader of an Okinawa group opposed to Henoko, was quoted as saying recently.
"Okinawan opposition to Henoko has remained strong, and the Japanese government hasn't been able to carry through with its promise to carry out the Henoko plan. Even if it were possible, it would still take more than 10 years to complete. Is it economically feasible to wait so long?" Taira said.
"With the planned relocation of the Okinawa Marines to Guam, it's clear they do not need to be in Okinawa. In addition, Trump has said he wants to rebuild America's infrastructure. Bringing back the Marines (to Guam) helps create a sort of market' justification for these new infrastructure projects," said Yoichi Iha, an Okinawan Upper House member, who believes Trump may act on the issue based on "good business sense."
"We want our beautiful island back and for these awful crimes to stop. We are a peaceful people, but feel we have been consistently exploited by both the U.S. and Japan. If changes in the U.S. leadership means the bases are moved out of here, I support that," Taga said.
"Perhaps if mainland Japan and the U.S. felt the same way we do, there would be no need for such disputes as we are a humble, warmhearted, peace-loving people and have been throughout history," the elderly man said.