By Shinichi Fujiwara
The Asahi Shimbun learned from the Lower House of the Diet that in less than two years in the recent past a total of 160 local assemblies have adopted written statements requesting revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The LDP prefectural assembly members in Okinawa have also supported SOFA revision. Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts a large proportion of the U.S. bases in Japan, marks 48 years on May 15 since the reversion to Japan. Voices calling for revision are finally being heard nationwide.
In July 2018, the National Governors’ Association proposed a fundamental readjustment of the SOFA for the first time, in response to a call from then-Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga. The association’s statement included such items as applying Japanese laws to the U.S. forces and guaranteeing the rights of local governments to enter the bases.
Since the governors made this proposal,160 local government assemblies have followed suit by submitting requests calling for a reevaluation of the SOFA, according to the Diet Lower House. As of the end of April 2020, they include nine prefectural assemblies (Hokkaido, Iwate, Shizuoka, Nagano, Wakayama, Nara, Saga, Miyazaki, Okinawa), and 151 city- and town/village assemblies such as Sapporo (Hokkaido), Nagano (Nagano Prefecture), and Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture).
In November 2019 , an F16 fighter jet belonging to Misawa Air Base (Aomori Prefecture) mistakenly dropped 230 kg of dummy cartridges on private land in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. The U.S. side failed to inform the local village authority until the next day, adding to local distrust of the U.S. forces. The incident led the local assembly to adopt the statement on the SOFA revision for the first time.
The chairman of the assembly, Fumio Takahashi (66), said that he had witnessed through the media the anger of Okinawa people who have been denied access to the accident site. “After that incident (in Rokkasho), the entire atmosphere in the assembly and among residents changed. As long as U.S. military planes fly overhead, the situation of the SOFA is a Japanese issue, not only an Okinawan issue.”
Despite the requests, the SOFA has not been revised since 1960, when the two sides first reached the agreement. With every occurrence of an incident involving a U.S. military aircraft, the central government has responded by revising guidelines and reaching a supplementary agreement, leaving the U.S. military with the final say.
Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has said, “The fundamental solution must be revision of the SOFA so that Japanese laws apply to the U.S. military.”