Dispute over American military presence in Okinawa

Demonstration against the expansion of Camp Schwab in Henoko
Image: Patrick Welter

50 years ago, the Americans returned the administration of Okinawa to Japan. However, many US military bases have remained – and with them the resentment of many older Japanese.

EIt is not a mass rally. There are 15 demonstrators sitting on small camp chairs in front of the entrance to Camp Schwab, a US Navy base in northwestern Okinawa. “Stop the construction work,” they shout. “Don’t destroy the sea!” It was the generation of pensioners who demonstrated on a Tuesday morning in April in Henoko against the expansion of the base and against the American military on the Japanese island. They block the approach of dozens of trucks for half an hour several times a day. They bring the rock that is used to build up land on the coast.

Patrick Welter

Correspondent for business and politics in Japan based in Tokyo.

The seniors sing a protest song from the time when the Americans occupied the island of Okinawa after World War II: “Give us back Okinawa!” It was only 27 years after the end of the war, on May 15, 1972, that the United States returned administrative sovereignty over Okinawa back to Japan. Even 50 years later, the resentment on the island about the American bases has remained. “We were deceived back then,” says Hiroji Yamashiro, the 69-year-old spokesman for the protest. He is one of the best-known activists against the expansion of Camp Schwab, who has also been in prison for his resistance.

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