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Shigenori Kanehira’s Commentary – Okinawa facing “inhumane” reality

  • 2015-01-08 15:00:00
  • , Okinawa Times
  • Translation

(Okinawa Times: January 8, 2015 – p. 16)


By Shigenori Kanehira


Hello, everyone. I’m finally back at the Okinawa Times after a long absence. This column is dedicated to dispel pent-up feelings built up in Okinawa. This time, I have written an open letter to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.


The Honorable Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, the Ambassador of the United States to Japan


Dear Madam Ambassador:


Representing the many Japanese citizens who have been impressed by the vitality and passion you have displayed since you were posted to Japan, I would like to extend you New Year’s greetings through this letter. At the same time, please allow me to convey several things I have in mind.


I have been engaged in journalism for some 30 years. As a journalist, I have covered many interesting topics. The U.S. base issue in Okinawa is one of them, and I have attached great importance to this subject throughout my career.


Over our long history we have developed common values with U.S. citizens. In particular, the history of the founding of the United States taught us the importance of values that guarantee the realization of democracy, such as freedom of speech, press, and expression; of protecting the rights of minorities and the socially vulnerable; and of fighting against discrimination. Your ancestors fought the War of Independence for freedom from British colonial rule. I can imagine many stood up for the sake of justice.


Have you watched The Butler, a 2013 film? It features a black man who worked as a butler at the White House and served eight Presidents from 1952 to 1986. It was also a big hit in Japan. You in your childhood along with your father, President John F. Kennedy, appeared in the film. Many Japanese viwers were impressed by your father’s strong resolve to seek justice and denounce discrimination and his deep understanding of the civil rights movements. That is why the killing of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mississippi, in 2014 captured our attention. We were closely watching how justice would be carried out in your county.


When I think about what is happening in Okinawa, I naturally grow angry and sad because injustice is not address here. The will of the Okinawan people is completely disregarded when it comes to the military facilities your country operates in the island prefecture. This cruel reality cannot be overlooked. In February, you visited Okinawa and met with Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, though it was not officially scheduled. I was there to cover your visit and was indeed surprised. On the contrary, the Japanese government gave a cold shoulder to Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who was elected to office with an overwhelming majority, when he visited Tokyo. It turned down his request to pay a courtesy call and did not allow him to step inside the Prime Minister’s Office. It is a shame that the same government extended a warm welcome to then Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima only a year ago.


The intrinsic problem is that Henoko was mistakenly selected as a relocation site of the Futenma base. Let me say again the selection is wrong. Tokyo and Washington have agreed to the early relocation of Futenma, dubbed as “the most dangerous U.S. military base in the world,” from Ginowan. The question is where it will be moved. Henoko is located along a beautiful beach and the nature there is untouched. How would residents in a U.S. town similar to Henoko react if a project to reclaim beachfront property to build a huge facility was proposed? Based on the procedures of democracy, they might seek to hold a referendum or express their will by choosing delegates who can represent their voice. The Okinawa people have also expressed their will through several elections. They sent people who oppose moving the Futenma base to Henoko to office in the Nago mayoral election and Nago city assembly election. Most recently, they chose Onaga, who campaigned against the relocation plan to Henoko in the gubernatorial race, over incumbent Nakaima. In the Lower House election held at the end of last year, which is equivalent to a House election in the U.S., opponents to the Henoko plan prevailed in all four single-seat constituencies in the prefecture. Of course, you already know about these election results.


You have been active in sending tweets, and many people in Okinawa are touched and encouraged by reading these messages, as they show you inherit your father’s beliefs and are committed to fighting against discrimination for justice. You have posted tweets expressing respect to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and admiring Beate Sirota Gordon for her efforts to stipulate women’s rights in the Constitution of Japan. You also courageously posted a message opposing a dolphin-drive hunt carried out in some parts of Japan, calling it “inhumane.” I wonder if this expression can also be applied to describing the situation facing dugongs in the Henoko beach. The will of the Okinawan people has been ignored by the central government. The prefecture accounts for only 0.6% of the Japanese land but hosts 74% of U.S. military bases in Japan. I must say this reality deserves to be described as inhumane.


You have served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. You also expressed support for a parade advocating the rights of sexual minorities. I just wish you would wield your influence for justice [in Okinawa]. The people of Okinawa are closely watching you, including the students you interacted with when you visited the prefecture.


This year is of great significance to Okinawa, as it marks the 70th anniversary of hosting U.S. military bases. I hope Japan and the U.S. will promote friendship in a true sense at this juncture of history.


I wish you all the best and happiness. By the way, please allow me to add I am a member of the generation who came of age listening to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

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