Ginowan, Okinawa Pref., Dec. 13 (Jiji Press)–Students at an elementary school in Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, have taken shelter from their schoolyard nearly 700 times to avoid approaching U.S. military aircraft since a U.S. helicopter window fell onto the yard a year ago.
On Dec. 13, 2017, a window dropped from a CH-53E large transport helicopter belonging to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air station in the Okinawa city of Ginowan, falling onto the schoolyard located next to the military facility.
“I cried when I saw the children evacuating,” Osamu Tobaru, who came to the school this fiscal year as its principal, said.
According to the elementary school, the children and others have evacuated from the schoolyard 693 times in the past year. During one particular gym class, children had to take shelter five times.
Tobaru said that there was no point in holding classes if students had to evacuate twice during the class period.
He added that the children’s right to receive education had been violated.
After the incident, shelters and surveillance cameras were set up at the school.
Guards who urged children and others to flee from U.S. aircraft were positioned at the school until the end of September this year.
Teachers and other school staff now decide whether to evacuate. Tobaru, however, said, “We are conflicted because we don’t know what is right.”
The Japanese government is expected to start the placement of soil in landfill work off the Henoko coastal district in the Okinawa city of Nago on Friday in a project to relocate the Futenma base.
When asked about the base relocation within the prefecture, Tobaru asked, “Why only Okinawa?”
He said that he would like the government to give a little more thought to the tiny island prefecture, which hosts 70 pct of U.S. military installations in Japan.
Meanwhile, what looked like a part from a U.S. military helicopter was discovered on the roof of a nursery near a landing field of the Futenma base on Dec. 7, 2017.
Ryoko Chinen, 43, who sends her two daughters to the nursery, said that she was “at a loss for words” when the incident occurred.
Chinen, an association employee, is a graduate of the elementary school.
Although a U.S. military aircraft crashed inside the air base when Chinen was attending the school, she said that she did not feel that she was in danger until the incident at the nursery.
The U.S. side has denied that the object fell from a U.S. military aircraft and the cause on the incident has not been identified.
Chinen and others traveled to Tokyo last Friday, the first anniversary of the incident, to ask the Japanese government to urge the U.S. side to stop its aircraft from flying over the nursery and to investigate the cause of the incident.
“I hope that our children will not have to do this kind of thing,” she said.