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Sarasa & Kamoshita

Sarasa, left, and Kamoshita.

The Wind from Okinawa blows into Hastings

Japanese monk and activist, Kamoshita Shonin, 32 years old, and Sarasa Aihara, 29, will be visiting Hastings this Sunday, 31 January 2016, as part of The Wind from Okinawa European speaking tour, raising awareness around US military bases in Okinawa – and the construction of a new base in Henoko, which is set to landfill a critical feeding ground for the endangered dugong. Local activist and campaigner, Maya Evans, is helping to promote the tour.

As part of the legacy of the second world war, East Asia has hosted around 200 US military bases, 32 of which are on Okinawa, a small southern island which is home to 74% of such bases in Japan, but consists of just 0.6% of the national land area.

Kamoshita at Henoko

Kamoshita at Henoko.

The new base in Henoko, to the northeast of Okinawa Island, is to replace Futemna Air Station, which is positioned in the middle of a very busy city and acknowledged by the government as ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’. Over the decades there have been numerous accidents, including a US marine helicopter crashing into Futemna University.

Protesting outside US military base

Protesting outside the US military base.

Daily protests are now taking place at Henoko, attracting over 200 people, many of whom sit in front of the gates in an attempt to stop construction, while also representing the 77% of Okinawans who oppose the construction of the new base. Many eyes are currently on Japan as the Conservative government looks to align further with the US, while ramming through a law which could lead to a revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Okinawa Sit in

Okinawa sit-in.

Local activist, Maya Evans, who has helped to organise the  local event, said: “I visited Okinawa for three weeks in October. I was so shocked to see US Osprey helicopters practicing dangerous military drills over built-up residential areas. Can you imagine if that happened in Hastings, 10 men dangling from a rope coming from various helicopters, flying in a V-formation over Priory Meadow shopping centre? It’s bizarre and extremely dangerous.”

Kamoshita Shonin said: “My Buddhist practice means spreading peace to the rest of the world – and I do this by being active in protest; real inner peace can only be achieved through caring about others and being kind to the environment.”

Kamoshita Shonin and Sarasa Aihara will describe the Okinawans’ struggle against the new base and end their presentation with a guided meditation – and an explanation of the Buddhist Nipponzan Myohoji order. This is an amazing opportunity to hear from grassroots activists from Japan, as well as striving for peace through spiritual practice.

Maya Evans’ experience

“Henoko Town, Okinawa. Around 150 Japanese protesters gathered to stop construction trucks from entering the US base ‘Camp Schwab’, after the Ministry of Land over-ruled the local governor’s decision to revoke permission for construction plans, criticizing the “mainland-centric” Japanese government for compromising the
environmental, health and safety interests of the islanders.

“Riot police poured out of buses at 6am, out-numbering protesters four to one, with road sitters systematically picked off in less than an hour to make way for construction vehicles.

“All the mayors and government representatives of Okinawa have objected to the construction of the new coastal base, which will landfill 160 acres of Oura Bay for a 205-hectare construction plan which will be part of a military runway.

“Marine biologists describe Oura Bay as a critical habitat for the endangered dugong (a species of manatee), which feeds in the area, as well as sea turtles and unique large coral communities.

“The bay is particularly special for its extreme rich ecosystem, which has developed due to six inland rivers converging into the bay, making the sea levels deep and ideal for various types of porites, coral and coral-dependent creatures.

“Camp Schwab is just one of 32 US bases which occupy 17% of the island, using various areas for military exercises from jungle training to Osprey helicopter training exercises. There are on average 50 Osprey take-offs and landings every day, many next to housing and built-up residential areas, causing disruption to everyday life with extreme noise levels, heat and diesel smell from the engines.

Kayaktivists

Kayaktivists.

“Two days ago there were six arrests outside the base, as well as ‘kayactivists’ in the sea trying to disrupt the construction. A formidable line of tethered red buoys mark out the area consigned for construction, running from the land to a group of offshore rocks, Nagashima and Hirashima, described by local shamans as the place where
dragons (the source of wisdom) originated.

“Protesters also have a number of speed boats which take to the waters around the cordoned area; the response of the coast guard is to use the tactic of trying to board these boats after ramming them off course.

“The overwhelming feeling of the local people is that the Government on the mainland is willing to sacrifice the wishes of Okinawans in order to pursue its military defence measures against China. Bound by Article 9 of its constitution, Japan has not had an army since World War II, though moves by the Government suggest a desire to scrap the article and embark on a ‘special relationship’ with the US, who is already securing control of the area with over 200 bases, and thus tightening the Asia pivot with control over land and sea trade routes, particularly those routes used by China.

Okinawa Protest

Okinawa protest.

“Meanwhile, Japan is footing 75% of the bill for accommodating the US, with each soldier costing the Japanese Government 200 million yen per year, that’s $4. 4 billion a year for the 53,082 US soldiers currently in Japan, with around half (26, 460) based in Okinawa. The new base at Henoko is also expected to cost the Japanese Government a tidy sum, with the current price tag calculated to be at least 5 trillion yen.

“Okinawa suffered devastating losses during the Second World War, with a quarter of the population killed during the three-month ‘Battle of Okinawa’, which claimed 200,000 lives in total. Hilltops are said to have changed shape due to the sheer bombardment of ammunition.

“Local activist Hiroshi Ashitomi has been protesting at Camp Schwab since the expansion was announced 11 years ago. He said: ‘We want an island of peace and the ability to make our own decisions; if this doesn’t happen then maybe we might need to start talking about independence.’”

The Wind from Okinawa: 2pm on Sunday 31 January in the White Room, Observer Building, 53 Cambridge Road, Hastings TN34 1DT. Free entry. For more information contact Maya Evans, Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK coordinator, on 07973 484 202.

More info here and here.

The event has been organised by Voices for Creative Non-Violence (Facebook: Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK)

Photos by Maya Evans.

Posted 12:23 Wednesday, Jan 27, 2016 In: Campaigns

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