GINOWAN, Okinawa — As the national government celebrated the April 28 anniversary of the return of Japan’s sovereignty, Okinawans gathered in a protest, branding the anniversary a day of “insult” for them.
According to organizers, around 10,000 people gathered at the protest, held at an outdoor coastal theater. The seats were full and many participants were standing.
“The government’s celebration is an insult to Okinawans, considering we had U.S. rule and the Battle of Okinawa forced upon us,” said 74-year-old Katsuko Gushiken. She was an elementary school student when the Battle of Okinawa concluded in 1945, and her school was occupied by the U.S. military. The restoration of Japan’s sovereignty after the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty got her hopes up for an improved situation, but when the U.S. bases on Okinawa didn’t go away, she felt she had been “tricked,” she says. Gushiken’s home city of Nago, meanwhile, has been selected by the Japanese and U.S. governments as a relocation site for the Futenma air base.
“They always force bases on us. We have no sovereignty,” she said.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, speaking onstage at the protest, said, “Politicians should learn about history.”
City resident Chosei Ota, 85, nodded in agreement as he listened. At age 16, Ota left Okinawa to receive pilot training. As he returned on a boat soon after the war ended, he saw that the only lights on in his city were coming from U.S. military facilities. He thought that if he waited a while longer the U.S. troops would leave, but Okinawa was left out of the peace treaty that took effect on April 28, 1952.
“(Those in the national government) don’t notice that there are differences in how we look at our history. Does the government want to stir up Okinawa so that it secedes?” he asked.
There were young people at the protest as well. One of them, a 15-year-old high school girl, used to go to a junior high school near the Futenma air base, where vertical take-off-and-landing Ospreys have been deployed.
“Sometimes class was stopped because of the roar of U.S. aircraft. I don’t think an Okinawa where that happens has sovereignty,” she said.
Around the same time, at the celebration in Tokyo, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe was saying, “We should endeavor to reflect on the difficulties that Okinawa has endured.”
However, Nago city council member Zenko Nakamura, who opposes the relocation of the Futenma air base to the Henoko district of Nago, said, “If he’s going to say people should reflect on Okinawa’s difficulties then he shouldn’t have held the celebration in the first place, and he should stop the relocation of Futenma to Henoko. His words conflict with his actions.”
Toshio Ikemiyagi, 73, who serves as head of a group of lawyers for people protesting noise pollution in the Okinawa town of Kadena, commented, “I even sense outright deception” in the prime minister’s words.
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