Posts Tagged ‘yanbaru’

Finally went to Takae and Henoko today. Thanks so much to Kinjô-san and Ariarakawa-san for taking me along.

These are two sites where the US military, with the support of the Japanese (national) government either are building, or have just completed, new military installations – against the will of the Okinawan people, and despite extremely extensive peaceful protest + formal political & legal efforts.

Right: A banner reading roughly “We don’t need Ospreys in the Yanbaru forest.”

Takae is a region of the sparsely populated, densely forested, northern part of Okinawa Island, called Yanbaru. The US military has controlled a significant portion of this forest for decades, using it to stage training and practices for jungle warfare (esp. during the Vietnam War). Much of the forest has been ruined by Agent Orange, something the US kept secret for years. And now, over the last few years, they’ve tripled the number of helipads in the forest, in large part to use for the experimental Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) crafts that keep crashing, and which the Okinawan protesters have particularly seized on opposing. Meanwhile, the US returned portions of the forest to public Japanese/Okinawan use, last week, as part of a distraction, and in order to make themselves look good, and to make the Okinawans look bad. “Look, we returned all this land! You should be grateful!” “Yeah, but it’s useless land, that you stole, that we never chose to give up to begin with, and which you’ve ruined with Agent Orange.” Further, some number of people who’ve lived in this neighborhood for decades, in many cases for generations, are now voluntarily leaving because they just can’t bear to live with the noise and difficulty that these brand-new helipads – built without their agreement or permission, and indeed built against their opposition! – will bring. As the US continues to expand its operations, so long as helicopters and Ospreys continue to crash in Okinawa, it’s only a matter of time before one hits a school or hospital, a residential neighborhood, or even worse, one of the dams that – between five of them – provide some 60% of the fresh water, and much of the electricity, to the island.

Part of the Takae section of the Yanbaru forest.

As for Henoko, this is a gorgeous bay, home to corals and dugongs and much other significant sea life, a beautiful bay which would be fantastic for swimming, boating, fishing, environmental tourism… and which the US has decided to fill in partially with landfill, to create two new runways, to make up for what they’ll lose by eventually returning Futenma Air Base to public (Okinawan/Japanese) control. Of course, the Okinawans don’t want a new base. They want Futenma to be dismantled, and for nothing new to be built to ruin any other part of the island; the positive of seeing Futenma dismantled shouldn’t be balanced out by inflicting further damage and burden elsewhere.

An illustration of the plans for Henoko. The orange area shows where landfill will be done, to build two runways, and a docking area for aircraft carriers. Munitions and possibly even nuclear weapons (despite Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles) will be stored in an area labeled in white, just to the northeast. The red line, meanwhile, shows the area that will be blocked off from civilian entry. Areas circled in dotted white lines are archaeological sites, and the yellow oval within the orange shows a key section of the dugong habitat. Abu, which I mention later in this post, is just off the map to the upper right, just on the opposite side of the bay. Finally, an area just north of the red area contains facilities for hosting eco-tourism, hosting tourists/visitors who would want to enjoy the bay and its wildlife, bringing valuable revenue to the area, if only the bay weren’t ruined by an expanded US military presence. (Thanks to the protesters at the Henoko tent for this information.)

It was really something to finally visit these sites I’d read so much about in the news. To see the tents, which I’d seen so many times in photographs, where protesters have set up camp, protesting day in and day out, for hundreds – indeed, thousands – of days. Beyond that, though, there wasn’t too much to see. I’m not sure what I expected – these are military bases, after all. With the exception of places like Kakazu, where a public park happens to be located on high enough ground that it does offer a pretty nice view down into the base, otherwise, why should I expect that us civilians would ever be able to get a closer view, especially of places that are so contested, so strongly protested? Of course, that said, I have heard that there are boat tours of Henoko, and I would very much like to get to do that, see it from that perspective.

In any case, to begin, we stopped at a few small sights and things on the way up to Takae. This fellow’s name is Konsuke こんすけ. He’s a Ryukyuan boar, and he lives at the Mountain and Water Livelihood Museum 山と水生活博物館 in Higashi Village.

Look at that cute face. Don’t worry – he has plenty of space to chill. As you can see on the right side of the image, his pen goes back quite a ways. And I presume he’s well-fed and looked after.

At Takae, after walking through the protesters’ main tent / camp (where I was instructed not to take photos), we walked down a small dirt path, to find this wacky set of walls and fences and enclosures, blocking protesters (or visitors like ourselves) from even getting close to the guards (in blue, in the background), or to the actual boundaries between public/private Japanese property, and US military property. Layers upon layers. I am in no way an experienced protestor or activist, nor someone with any military background (or the like) whatsoever, so I have no idea what’s normal, but there was something about this that I found just really funny.

Indeed, overall, there’s this funny imbalance or paradox, where on the one hand the authorities have deployed a level of security totally out of proportion to the actual protester presence – suggesting that they see the protesters as a very real and serious threat – while at the same time, just totally bulldozing (sometimes literally) past/over the protesters’ opposition, showing that the protesters in fact pose very little threat at all to their agenda. Things were pretty quiet at both Takae and Henoko today – I saw no more than ten or so guards (private security firm guards) at the one area of Takae we were at (plus two police vans from the Okinawa Prefectural Police), plus a totally reasonable two to five guards or so at each of the gates we passed by.. and similar numbers at Henoko. But, to have even that many, when the protesters are doing absolutely nothing but sitting quietly in a tent by the side of the road, handing out pamphlets and whatever, while anti-base banners and the like have been put up all over the area… what the hell are you guarding against? No one’s doing anything.

Just outside the protesters’ camp, they’ve posted some signs making fun of the signs that are fucking everywhere in Okinawa, saying things like “U.S. Army Facility. Unauthorized Entry Prohibited and Punishable by Japanese Law.” These tongue-in-cheek signs say, roughly, “Entry by those associated with the Police or the Okinawa Defense Bureau is Prohibited,” with the implied earlier line “Territory of the Okinawan People, [Entry … prohibited].” Totally meaningless in terms of actual legal authority, but I really appreciate the chutzpah.

We also visited the beach at Abu 安部, where an Osprey crashed just a couple weeks ago, on December 14. Click through on the photo above to see a larger version. There was nothing really to see there today, as the cleanup was already completed quite quickly, but the crash took place just immediately off the point (Abu-no-saki 安部崎) seen on the far left in the picture. This is a quiet, secluded, beautiful beach in a tiny village, which we accessed only by walking through a small entryway at the end of a quiet street. Locals examined some kind of tank they had found on the beach – not associated with the Osprey, but whether this belonged to the US military, or what it was at all I did not learn. An older man from the neighborhood, recognizing us as outsiders (though two of our party were native Okinawans), came up and engaged us in conversation, telling us about the beach and about the crash…

After visiting Takae, and stopping at Abu, our last major stop for the day was at Henoko. The protesters’ camp/tent is located right along the waterfront, and is loaded with posters, newspaper clippings, flyers, and other resources. We arrived just before four o’clock, when the protesters apparently pack up for the day, before returning at 8:00 the next morning, much as they have done for over 4,500 days now. But, still, one of them was kind enough to take the time to talk to us, and point out on the map much of the information I have shared above. I know it’s difficult to see in this photo, but the rock on the right-hand side of the photo marks where the two runways will converge – the “point” of the “V.”

I welcome clarifications or corrections, but as far as my understanding, while the helipads at Takae were completed last week, regardless of popular opposition, construction has not actually begun at Henoko just yet. The military has conducted various surveys, and maybe some kind of digging or something on the seabed, and has started dropping concrete blocks which will help serve as foundations – something like that – but, there was a Japanese court decision in March 2016 which demanded construction be halted until the situation could be reassessed, and some degree of discussions completed between the Okinawan and national (Japanese) governments. This decision was reversed by the Supreme Court of Japan quite recently, and it is my understanding that Governor Onaga is being obliged to rescind his rescinding of permission for construction to continue, starting as early as tomorrow (Dec 27).

Just a view of Okinawa’s beautiful waters, as seen from the car, somewhere along the north/eastern coast of the island.

I was on the verge of tears several times today, just talking to people, and thinking of how the US and Japanese governments, and most especially the US military, clearly don’t care one bit about the desires or best interests of the Okinawan people. They just don’t regard Okinawa as a place full of people with real hopes and desires, with rights as citizens and as human beings which deserve to be respected – let alone as indigenous people. No, they see it purely through geopolitical strategic lenses, as a Rock, or an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” on which to situate our military bases, using the land and air and water for training and so forth, regardless of who is affected by the noise and pollution, by the crime and crowding, and by the very real dangers of potential aircraft crashes, etc.

It upsets me in particular to see people protesting so vigorously, and yet peacefully, for so long, through so many avenues, and to get just totally steamrolled. People have been holding sit-ins at Henoko for over 4,500 days, and at Takae, Futenma, and other places for at least that long (though perhaps not quite as continuously). Anti-base sentiment dominates in the chief Okinawan newspapers, and it dominates in the Okinawan people’s democratic selection of anti-base candidates for mayors (of Nago and elsewhere), for governor of Okinawa, and for Okinawa’s representatives in the National Diet. It dominates on and off the university campuses, and in academia, and in regular protests before the Prefectural Government building, and elsewhere. And yet, nothing changes. The helipads were completed anyway. The Ospreys are here anyway. Futenma is still here, 20 years after Washington and Tokyo agreed to dismantle it. And Henoko is being built as a replacement, anyway, despite extensive efforts at opposition.

Sign at Henoko. “The will of the people is NO on construction of new bases.”

I of course don’t believe that governments or other authorities should simply bend to the will of whichever group shouts the loudest, on any and every issue. Indeed, there are quite a few issues where I am glad that governments, university administrations, and other bodies of authority have stood their ground despite one group yelling and shouting their fucking heads off, pretending they represent most or all of the rest of us, when they most assuredly do not. And that’s a whole conversation for another time. So, it’s complicated. I certainly don’t think that we should automatically leap to the defense of any or every group that claims to speak for all Native Hawaiians, or all Asian-Americans, especially when one well knows that there are other Native Hawaiians, or Asian-Americans, or Asians, who disagree. But, in this particular case, while I fully recognize that there are those Okinawans who hold differing political views, and while there are some very real, practical, economic considerations for how Okinawa benefits economically from the bases’ presence, even so, I really cannot help but feel that these protesters are not some small fringe – that they truly do represent the voice of the majority of the Okinawan people, and that they truly are in the right. That their voices are being ignored, and their land and water, their sovereignty, their rights as equal citizens of a democratic country, indeed their fundamental human rights themselves, are just being trampled on by top-level (inter)national agents who just think on some other level, some ‘higher’ abstract level of pushing pieces around a Risk board – people who just don’t fucking care. What is the purpose of protest, when it accomplishes so little? It seems almost like a joke. Like a sick joke. These people are here day in, day out, putting so much effort into expressing their political will, into doing something that is at the very heart of what it means to be free and democratic – at the very heart of what it is the US military claims to be defending: Freedom and Democracy. And yet, Tokyo and Washington have the nerve to fucking disrespect and ignore these people so thoroughly, so completely, on issue after issue, month after month, year after year? There is something very very wrong here, and when peaceful protest is so totally ineffective, when a people seem so utterly powerless in the face of government/military agendas, it just makes me feel so saddened, so worried, so disappointed, in the state of our world.

A view of the ocean near the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Station.

All photos my own.

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8/5 (Mon) – Day three in Okinawa. Yet another wonderful adventure.

The view of Ôgimi Village from a tiny shrine I discovered at the top of a serious set of stairs, in a random corner of the village.

After spending the last two days on my own, today was the first of a few days tagging along with a pack of professors on a (slightly) more pre-planned, organized schedule. The main event of the day today was a drive up to Ôgimi-son (Ôgimi Village), in the somewhat more mountainous, remote/rural, northern part of the island known as Yanbaru 山原. Because of its somewhat more remote location, Ôgimi was spared much of the damage & destruction of 1945, and so, I am told, more pre-war documents survived. Whether they still survive today, I was a little unclear, since in the end, the professors ended up spending the day poring over piles of records from the 1940s-50s.

This was my first time going anywhere in Okinawa outside of Naha (I’m not counting my jaunt into Haebaru to go to the Archives on Saturday, since pretty much all I saw of anything there was the Archives themselves, and a brief stretch of highway with the Archives, a Lawson’s convenience store, and a public bus depot/terminus). So, I was pretty excited. Not that we got to really walk around and see anything much of Ginowan, Nago, Okinawa, Urasoe, or anywhere else, but, even so, just passing through them, and seeing the placenames on the signs, and getting some sense, in the process, of the geography and the look, the feel of the various areas, better than I had before… Not to mention, the beautiful views of the ocean.

Above: The view of the beach from near the archives building; the torii here is not, strictly speaking, for a Shinto shrine, but for a monument to those from Ôgimi lost in the wars of the 19th-20th centuries.

Below: The streets of Ôgimi-son.

This was also one of the most rural (inaka) places I’ve been in Japan – moreso than Sakura, by a longshot – and while Okinawa is most certainly a different atmosphere/feel than anywhere else in Japan, and, going back to my post from a few weeks ago, I will refrain from inferring any sort of generalizations about what rural Japan, or rural Okinawa, or “the real” Okinawa, is like… especially since, even in this small village, we saw two very different sides of it. First, arriving in the village, we simply drove up on the highway, with the ocean on one side, and the middle school, and then a soba shop, and then a tiny little road leading over to the town hall, making it seem, for the moment, like perhaps that was how most/all of the town was organized – somewhat scattered, and around the highway, i.e. along the beach, with very little walkable “community” sort of space. Later in the day, however, we drove around a little bit, going deep into residential neighborhoods, and I saw an Ôgimi that is spread out over a large geographical area, but that within that area, has at least some pockets (maybe many, I guess) of narrow, quiet, very local-feeling residential streets, lined with stone walls and banana plants, and filled with red-ceramic roof-tiled homes. It’s not quite Taketomi, but it definitely gives the impression of Okinawa – an Okinawa, one of the stereotypical images of Okinawa, though of course a place like Kokusai-dôri, with its touristy shops, bars, (some) neon lights, and live houses, is also a standard image of Okinawa.

The former village hall of Ôgimi, which today serves as a local archives, while a new building behind it has taken over the governmental/administrative functions. I am disappointed to discover that I have failed to take any good pictures of the inside of the office/archives room that would properly convey the size of the room, and its atmosphere/appearance. But, maybe you can kind of get some impression from these two images.

Returning to talking about the village archives, our chief destination for the day, where we’d come to look at documents, it’s housed in the former town hall, which is apparently the oldest still-standing reinforced concrete building in Okinawa Prefecture. Reinforced concrete, mind you, so not “traditional architecture,” and not all that old, but even so it was very much something to see. Completed in 1925, it looks and feels it. A particular style, a particular feel, that reminds one of the Taishô period (1912-1916). If it helps you imagine the period we’re talking about, think of the earliest movie theaters, jazz bars, flapper girls. Not that any of that was going on in Ôgimi-son, so far as I know, but, it’s that period…

The inside, on the ground floor, is just one large space, with bookshelves, looking quite quaint and cute, just like one might expect from a very small, very local village archives – but, actually, for researching those specific things, e.g. village history, Okinawa history, the bookshelves were actually quite well-stocked, a hell of a lot better (for certain topics) than you’d find in even, for example, the Univ. of Hawaii Library, let alone a place like UCSB that isn’t really all that strong in East Asian Studies at all (let alone Okinawan Studies). And, then, there’s the office, the one room with climate control, and I have to admit, in certain ways, it really looked/felt just like what I might have (but didn’t quite) imagined. A small room, with a single large table and piles of documents hand-written or carbon copied on browning paper; a minimum of office set-up or equipment; a light, airy, sunny atmosphere as created by a combination of the many windows, and the white concrete construction; and two very kind staff members, presumably volunteers, with (my apologies to say it, but I’m going to say it) wonderful accents, who were very gracious, and generous, and helpful, and maybe just a little, what’s the word, well, not at all used to entertaining professors from Tokyo, and from the National History Museum. The village mayor even came out to see what was up.

I feel bad for Orientalizing or romanticizing or whatever about the experience, and about how quaint the village is, or how it matched or didn’t match my romantic expectations. But, it really did, and that I cannot help but be aware of, and want to say something about.

In any case, we had lunch at a rest stop (michi no eki, 道の駅) on the side of the highway, where I enjoyed some very tasty yakisoba, Okinawan style, and shikuwasa soft serve. Apparently Ôgimi is particularly famous for its shikuwasa, which is a small green citrus fruit similar to but apparently completely separate and different from the sudachi and from the standard lime. Mmm, shikuwasa.

After finishing with the documents (I found some books on the shelves which I took note of, or photocopied relevant bits out of – the day still managed to be useful for my own research), we all piled into the cars – what a sight we must have been, ten or twelve researchers from the ‘mainland’ showing up in three cars, and then all leaving all at once a few hours later – and drove around the village a little bit, checking out some very local shops and community centers and such, and just generally getting a feeling for the village. I learned that kyôdôten 共同店, which we might translate as “co-op,” are quite common in Okinawa, though they operate somewhat differently from the coops we’re used to in some of the more student-heavy or hippie-dominated areas of the US. At the Isla Vista Coop, for example, people can choose to become ‘members,’ or, essentially, part-owners, and I don’t know all the ins and outs of how it works, but you get some kind of rights or powers in “owning” or controlling how the place is operated, or something, and you get discounts and deals whenever you shop there. The purpose of such coops, as I understand them, is to fight “the man” in some way, and to support local farmers and provide access to organic products. Something like that. At Okinawa’s kyôdôten, meanwhile, everyone in the immediate vicinity pays in, and helps support this non-profit local store, in order to help allow there to be a store at all in such a community which would otherwise be too small and too remote for any private business owner to hope to make enough of a profit for it to be worthwhile to open a shop there.

The next stop before returning to Naha was to go to Ginowan, and to attempt to get a peek at the Futenma Marines Air Base, which we did from the top of a hill in the public park at Kakazu 嘉数 – apparently itself the site of particularly fierce or particularly famous fighting during the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa TV was stationed up there as well, today, with their satellite uplinks and large TV cameras, and I was surprised at just how starkly and easily one could see the airstrips, inside the US military base, from this Japanese (Okinawan, read: public, civilian) park. But, I’m not sure there was much to see.

I was kind of hoping to get a glimpse of one of the Ospreys – this, I think, was the main goal for the sensei as well – two of which were moved onto the base this past Saturday (Aug 3), and ten more of which were believed to be scheduled to be brought to the base today (Aug 5). Normally I don’t follow these things so closely – in terms of day-to-day developments – but, while I could hypothetically be keeping up with it all on the Internet if I so chose, being here and seeing it in the actual physical newspapers, feels quite different.

The Osprey is a model of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) military aircraft that has become a sort of tool or stepping point for those who oppose the military bases in Okinawa – it gives them something specific to point to, something specific to focus their rage at. This is a subject about which I am most certainly not an expert, but the general impression I get is this: The Ospreys have got a less than wonderful flight record, in other words, in terms of successfully flying without crashing, and this makes them a great target of ire and opposition, in order to highlight and draw attention to the more general problems of the Futenma base, which people have been opposing for years and years. The helicopter crashes into civilian buildings; the noise and general disruption; and the fact that, in violation of the US military’s own policies, the base is built right in the middle of a heavily populated residential/commercial municipality, whereas in the US (as I understand it), bases are mandated to be located a certain distance from any civilian homes or shops (or something roughly to that effect).

Case in point, a US military helicopter crashed just this same day, today (8/5), at Camp Hansen, one of the numerous other US bases on this tiny island. No civilians were hurt, nor their property affected, I don’t think, as I’m pretty sure the crash happened within the base. But, some of the professors were suggesting, with this in the news, the Marines would probably reschedule any kind of appearances or uses of the Ospreys, and try to keep a slightly lower profile for the rest of the day. A bit unfortunate, for me, I think, just since I was hoping to see them, and maybe even get some photos to share on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. But, I did manage to at least get some photos, blurry though they may be, of protesters just outside the base. A very different, but also very prominent, side or aspect of Okinawa from the 16th-19th century history I normally chiefly focus on. … And, to my mind, all the more reason that the bases need to go. Okinawa deserves, just like any other place deserves, to be defined by its own culture, its own history, and deserves to have its own path, rather than being defined by military bases, by protests, by accidents & incidents, and by the profound cultural influence or impact of an American military presence. Okinawa should be defined by rafute and shikuwasa and gurukun, not by spam and A&W; it should be defined by kariyushi wear, and not by military logos; it should be defined by eisa and sanshin and Shuri Castle, and not by protests and Futenma. It should be defined as a former island kingdom, not as “The Rock.” It should be defined as a place recovering from, or otherwise dealing with and moving on from, its history as a formerly independent kingdom that was conquered and annexed, as an island that was the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of WWII, with so much of its architecture and everything destroyedOkinawa deserves to be recovering from that, dealing with that, moving forward, being or becoming whatever it is to be in and of itself, rather than to be trapped with this current situation imposed upon it, imposed upon its land, and its people, and their culture and lifestyle, despite their continuing opposition to it.

I don’t consider myself an activist, and I won’t get too much more into it here, but, just in terms of experiencing Okinawa, getting to know Okinawa, getting to know the issues and such, it really would have been great to get to see a bit more today, a bit more of the bases and of the protests. Maybe on my next trip, I’ll manage to meet some protesters, and get a closer look in some fashion.

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Tom Corrao of the Okinawaology Blog shares with us today a post about the threat posed to the Yanbaru rainforests, and the endangered species that live there, by US military bases, and by possible development should sections of the Northern Training Area, which currently contains some of the most pristine areas of jungle, be returned to Okinawan sovereignty.

A thought-provoking post, from an always excellent blog. Check it out.

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