Okinawa residents push return of land used for U.S. military bases to island

CCTV News

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In the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, U.S. military planes and vehicles are part of daily life, and with that come noise, accidents, and crime. CCTV’s Terrence Terashima reports from Tokyo.

Okinawa residents push return of land used for U.S. military bases to island

Okinawa residents push return of land used for U.S. military bases to island

In the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, U.S. military planes and vehicles are part of daily life, and with that come noise, accidents, and crime. CCTV's Terrence Terashima reports from Tokyo.

U.S. bases occupy 20 percent of mainland Okinawa, meaning that Okinawans have lived next to the fences for decades.

Stress from the noise, accidents and crimes caused by U.S. servicemen are a burden that mainland Japanese don’t understand in the way that Okinawans do.

Kiyoshi Nakamura lived his whole live next to the controversial Futenma airbase. He knew he had to live with the consequences, until a CH-53 transport helicopter crashed not far from where he lived.

“The Futenma airbase is in a middle of residential areas,” Nakamura, Chairman of Ginowan Residents group, said. “The helicopters flyover houses everyday here, and the crash reminded me to what kind of danger we are under all out lives. I want the base to close as soon as possible. We want the city to have peace once and for all.”

Okinawa has demanded the reduction of U.S. bases for decades, and some of the properties have been return to the landowners. But the key and essential bases remains operational.

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Meanwhile, accidents and crimes continue. There have been 676 accidents, some with fatalities, and an average of 140 crimes a year are committed by U.S. military servicemen.

“If the presences of the U.S. forces are based on the U.S.-Japan security agreement, we have to have a fair discussion and distribution of responsibility,” Okinawa Prefectural Assembly Speaker of the House Masaharu Kina said. “Politicians and governments in mainland say, we need the security agreement. But they do not want Ospreys flying over their cities or presence of U.S. bases in their neighborhood. It’s contradictory and why should we bare the entire burden.”

Most of the residents in mainland Japan do not realize the high number of accidents and crime in Okinawa and often say Okinawans are exaggerating. Some politicians have even said Okinawans are digging their own graves since so much of their income is reliant on the bases.

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Experts say the potential economic effect from use of the land after its returned to Japan is far greater than the present situation. Revenue from the bases is about $210 billion or 5.1 percent of the prefectural gross income. The base also employs 8,600 local workers.

“Recently a shopping mall was built on a returned land, which used to employ 50 people. It now employs over 3,500 and economic effect of over 200 billion yen [$1.9 billion],” Okinawa International University Professor Hiromori Maedomari said. “If we take Kadena base as example, it is twice the size of the Narita international airport with two 4,000-meter [2.5-mile] runways. It is worth about 200 billion yen, most of which are paid by our won taxpayers. If it is turned into a hub-airport, it could produce over one trillion yen [$9.5 billion].”