After the completion of the transfer of carrier-borne aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, a number of events featuring Japan-U.S. friendship are being organized in Iwakuni, which are gaining popularity with local communities. Those who oppose hosting carrier-borne aircraft are tenaciously rallying protests, but the scale is limited. Some people point to differences from Okinawa, which has a high concentration of U.S. military bases since the end of World War II.
In early March, about 200 residents and U.S. military personnel gathered at an athletic stadium, which was built in the city’s Atagoyama district after the relocation of U.S. carrier-borne aircraft to MCAS Iwakuni, to enjoy sports and dance together. “It a fun event,” said a 39-year-old woman, who was there with her eight-year-old son.
On the other hand, a week before the event, those who oppose the transfer of aircraft staged a sit-in protest in the Atagoyama district, but only 20 some people were there.
In a local referendum that former Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara proposed in 2006, about 90% of those who cast their ballots voted against the transfer of carrier-borne aircraft. But the outcome did not serve the city well. The central government froze subsidies in retaliation and the municipal office took a direct hit. In the mayoral race of 2008, which focused on whether to accept carrier-borne fighter jets, incumbent Yoshihiko Fukuda defeated Ihara and made a decision to host them.
People in Iwakuni express rather subdued opposition, compared with Okinawa, where anti-base sentiment remains strong. At the end of World War II, Okinawa became a battleground involving many local residents. After the war, the U.S. military seized private land. Now about 70% of all U.S. military facilities in Japan are concentrated in the prefecture. On the other hand, MCAS Iwakuni used to be an airfield for the Japanese navy in the prewar days. A municipal government official in Iwakuni pointed to differences in local sentiment, saying that “the circumstances are significantly different [between Okinawa and Iwakuni].” (Slightly abridged)