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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Henoko Okinawa


As I was walking back to Yotsuya station after work a student handed me a pamphlet as I went by Sophia University. I pulled it out of my pocket on the train and had a scan. It is by a group opposing the relocation of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, a heliport in Okinawa, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. 75% of the US's many bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa.

It is planned to move the base to a so-far unspoiled area of Okinawa called Henoko, an area designated by Okinawa prefecture as a conservation area, noted for its coral reefs, tidelands and seaweed grounds. It is also the northern limit of the habitat of the dugong, an endangered saltwater manatee that is internationally protected.
The reef is said to be home to nine other endangered marine species. (Local authorities claim that no living dugongs have ever been sighted inside the reef.)

The base will be centered round a massive 1,280m (4,200 foot) long runway with 100m (328 foot) overruns at either end, built, like the whole base, on land reclaimed out as far as the reef. The total area to be reclaimed is about 2.4km (1½ miles) long and 800m (½ mile) wide less than a kilometer (about 1000 yards) off the coast. Drilling into the seabed began almost two weeks ago, on September 16.

Local opposition to the project is understandably strong, running at 82% according to a survey carried out last month. Some of the most ardent of the campaigners against the project are second-generation Okinawan Americans, known as uchinanchu, many of them living in the United States. They have organized themselves into an organization called the Okinawa PeaceFighters. They have even brought legal action against the US government in the form of the ‘Rumsfeld vs Dugong’ case before the San Francisco Federal Court, arguing that the danger posed to the dugong by the construction of the base makes it illegal under the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.

What difference such activities make to the progress of the base remains to be seen. But the fact that at least a few of Japan's notoriously apolitical students are moved to do something beyond the usual confines of their sheltered worlds can only be encouraging.

Guide to Okinawa

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