Sunday, December 25, 2016

Opinion: Tokyo may keep ignoring anger of Okinawa but it won’t go away

With Christmas Eve over, Santa Claus must be taking a rest.
Japan is actually a large country. The other day, while the northernmost major island of Hokkaido was blanketed with white snow, tourists in short-sleeved shirts reveled in the sight of a gorgeously decorated Christmas tree in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture.
Santa Claus in Okinawa, dressed in the traditional red and white costume, was probably drenched with sweat.
The subtropical island has actually been at the center of a series of chilling developments in recent weeks. The U.S. military resumed operations of Ospreys amid serious safety concerns. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling that endorsed the reclamation work to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district in Nago.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga lashed out at the central government, saying it has “no intention whatsoever to be considerate of our suffering.” Onaga expressed his indignation by boycotting a ceremony held on Dec. 22 to mark the return of about 4,000 hectares of land in the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area.

The news about the accident involving an Osprey reminded me of what happened about 10 years ago when I was doing a stint in Okinawa.
In response to a news flash saying a U.S. military helicopter had crashed, I rushed to Okinawa International University, the site of the accident. I found a plume of black smoke rising from the crashed chopper.
An access control line installed by the U.S. military kept even the mayor of the city from entering the accident site. But pizza shop employees delivering pizzas ordered by American soldiers were allowed to enter the restricted area.
At the site of the Osprey crash, waves were lapping against the wreckage.
The access control line in such cases is now under the joint administration of Japan and the United States as the related rules have been changed. But Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine was not allowed to walk past the line.
Some of the U.S. service members sent to the site to recover the wreckage amused themselves by taking group photographs.
I wouldn’t describe this as a scene that you can’t believe what you are seeing. I can easily picture people in Okinawa letting out a sigh and saying, “Here they go again.”
During his visit to Okinawa following the accident, Kenji Wakamiya, vice defense minister, didn’t come close to the crash site and “inspected” the situation through binoculars from a sandy beach about one kilometer away.
The Japanese government is always too afraid of displeasing Washington.
The Osprey accident and how it was handled have provoked a fresh chorus of familiar protests from people in Okinawa. “What does Okinawa mean to Japan? We are also Japanese citizens.”
Japan is a large country. Is that the reason why the voices of Okinawan people receive little attention in the mainland?
Mainland Japan’s attitude toward messages from Okinawa is not unlike the way many people deal with troublesome e-mails. They just read and ignore them without making any response.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 25
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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