The Dramatic Struggle for Our Planet and for Humanity in Henoko, Okinawa

Photos by Kawaguchi Mayumi
Text by Joseph Essertier

The political scientist and activist Douglas Lummis has written, “The reasons for abandoning construction of the new US Marine Corps Air Facility at Henoko in northern Okinawa are many.” Indeed. It is hard to think of any legitimate reasons to go through with the project. Illegitimate reasons I can think of off the top of my head include increased status for the US and Japanese military, more power for ultranationalists and militarists in general, and a steady Pentagon-centered cash flow from US and Japanese taxpayers to fat-cat weapons suppliers. Professor Lummis outlines some of the many reasons why we all should oppose this new base construction:

“It tramples on the Okinawan people’s anti-war sensibilities; it adds to the already unequal burden on Okinawa compared to mainland Japan and is therefore discriminatory; it will cause more accidents and crimes victimizing Okinawans; it will damage, perhaps fatally, Okinawa and Japan’s finest coral garden in Oura Bay (much of which is to be filled) and destroy the habitat and feeding ground of the dugong, an endangered species considered sacred by Okinawans; as shown by a decade of resistance, it can only be done by overriding the people’s will with massive riot police force. If that’s not enough, another factor is being increasingly discussed at the protest site and in the newspapers… First, the fact that testing of the soil beneath Oura Bay, begun in 2014, continues today, suggesting that the Defense Agency has been unable to determine that the sea bottom is firm enough to bear the weight of the airstrip-length block of concrete it plans to set down there.”

In other words, this base is being built on a firm foundation of “mayonnaise.” Some engineers wonder if the project can be pulled off, according to Lummis: “These engineers point out that Kansai International Airport, completed in 1994 by reclaiming land in Japan’s Inland Sea, is slowly sinking; every day trucks bring in rocks and dirt to shore it up, and the buildings are kept level with jacks.” Are they going to repeat the mistakes made at Kansai International Airport?

To fill out a little more this quick list of reasons to oppose the base, see also the brief, excellent analysis; quick summary of the situation; and slide show in the speech of Mr. YAMASHIRO Hiroji that was read by Mr. INABA Hiroshi at the recent anti-base conference in Dublin, Ireland:

Mr. Inaba’s reading of Mr. Yamashiro’s speech begins around 6:55:05. After reading Mr. Yamashiro’s speech, Mr. Inaba gives his own speech and fields some good questions from the audience.

These are two of the best-informed and eloquent opponents of the Henoko Base construction. The Japanese government has attempted to silence both of them—unsuccessfully at least so far.

They are part of a tenacious peace / indigenous people’s rights / environmentalist movement that has been ongoing in Okinawa against the Henoko Base idea ever since the idea became public around 20 years ago. The US military has had bases in Okinawa for most of the last century and Okinawans have constantly struggled against making their islands into battlefields. Ever since the Battle of Okinawa, in which over one hundred thousand Okinawan civilians lost their lives (i.e., about one-third of the population), a large percentage of the population has opposed US bases, and the vast majority (around 70 to 80 percent) of the population now opposes the new base construction at Henoko. The victory of Denny Tamaki in the gubernatorial election of Okinawa demonstrated that strong opposition to more bases.


Ms. Kawaguchi is a guitarist and singer who regularly inspires people in the antiwar and anti-base movements throughout Japan. She appeared in a Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper article recently in Japanese.

Here is a rough translation of the article:

On the morning of the 21st [of November], the Okinawa Defense Bureau delivered dirt for the landfill work to the American military base Camp Schwab for the new base construction at Henoko, Nago City. A total of 94 construction related vehicles made two trips. Citizens protested. They held up signs for dump truck drivers to see that read “Stop this illegal construction” and “Don’t turn this treasure into an American military base.” Ms. Kawaguchi Mayumi (43 years old), a resident of Kyoto, cheered on the citizens by performing her song “Now is the time to stand up” and “Tinsagunu Flower” on her keyboard harmonica as the trucks carried in the dirt to the base. Ms. Kawaguchi said, “This is the first time that I have performed as trucks carried in dirt. The sound of the instrument and the song of the people was not overpowered by the sterile sound of the trucks coming in and out.”

The context of her cheering on peace-loving citizens in this way is the truly dire situation in Henoko. The struggle has reached the stage at which the construction companies that work for the Japanese government (and indirectly for the US) are now about to kill one of the healthiest coral reefs in this region and destroy the habitat of the dugong and many other endangered species. Okinawans above all, know what is at stake. Not only their lives but the life of the sea. They know that a crime against nature is about to be committed—crime against nature that will lead to crimes against humanity if we allow it to be committed, if we stand aside and watch. The burden of US bases has fallen on their shoulders much harder than the shoulders of Japanese in other regions of the Archipelago of Japan because both their population and their land area is so small, and US bases take up a huge chunk of their land. Their land was stolen by the US military at the end of the Pacific War and never returned. Murders, rapes, noise, pollution, etc., mostly caused by US citizens has been out of control, with little to no justice in Japanese courts for the victims.

Thus the anger of Okinawans is naturally reaching a critical point. The sea that is precious to their way of life is about to be destroyed. This is very much an issue of sovereignty and indigenous peoples’ rights, even as it is an issue that many people around the world should pay attention to since it concerns the ocean. A dramatic clash is underway, with innocent and self-sacrificing leaders such as Mr. Yamashiro and Mr. Inaba being mistreated, even tortured, at least in the case of Mr. Yamashiro, and slandered in the cases of both men. Non-violent protesters are being treated violently by police from other regions hired by the central government (since it is difficult-to-impossible to force Okinawan local police to ignore the legal rights of their own communities).

This is a drama unfolding! Yet journalists and documentary film makers are either unaware or ignoring the plight of Okinawans, a tiny percentage of the people of Japan up against Tokyo and Washington.

It is in that context that I, an American, with only a little direct experience in Okinawa except one study trip, present a series of photos and videos kindly sent to me by Ms. Kawaguchi. She is definitely beloved here in Nagoya among the dozens of people who regularly do activist work, volunteering their time and energy, to educate their fellow citizens about the bases in faraway Okinawa and protest the pro-Washington policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ms. Kawaguchi is a great singer with a powerful voice, so this is heartbreaking for antibase folks to see her roughly handled, as one can see from the photos below.

Before the photos, just one example of her singing with and inspiring protesters. I have transcribed and translated some of the lyrics. Usually she plays guitar and sings. And usually with much better acoustics, of course, but as an example of music in the service of peace, I am fond of the following video

1st song:

Kono kuni wo mamoru tame ni

Senso wo shinakereba naranai to shitara

Senso wo shinakereba horobite yuku to shitara

Horobite yukou dewa nai ka


Watashi tachi wa donna koto ga attemo

Senryoku wa motanai

Watashitachi wa nanto iwareyoto

Senso wa shinai


[The same song above in English:]

In order to protect this country

Even if it becomes necessary to fight in a war

Even if the country will die without a war

Let it die


No matter what happens we will not take up arms

No matter what is said to us

We will not engage in war


2nd song: Skipping the Japanese, here are some of the words:

Que sera que sera que sera

What becomes of our lives

All we need to do is live

Seeking peace and freedom


Facing tomorrow

With strength

Sing of the kindness of human beings

Sing sing sing…


Sing sing sing…

Sing of the kindness of human beings

With strength

Wide, high, and big


Now, here is an example of the kind of coverage that the mass media has contributed to inform us all:

“On Thursday, the Japanese government began transporting construction materials to the planned site for the first time in around three months to prepare for full-fledged landfill work.”

That was a week ago. Just this one sentence, with no photos. Ms. Kawaguchi’s photos and videos below will give you much more information. Grassroots, democratic media people, and anyone with a video camera, even an iPhone, please come to Okinawa and record what the Japanese and US governments are doing.

Governor Denny TAMAKI, who opposes base construction, was recently at New York University and went to Washington and gained a little at attention. As was reported in one article in Ryukyu Shimpo, a local Okinawa newspaper, “Additionally, he expressed a sense of urgency in stopping construction of the new base, as it will soon come to a point where what is done cannot be undone.””

Yes, it is getting close to the point of no return, and Okinawans know it. Tokyo is trying to destroy their hope by getting the concrete laid as soon as possible. Okinawans have exhausted every democratic and peaceful avenue.

Now for the video footage and photos.

Here we see the men doing the dirty work of the Vassal of Washington (i.e., Tokyo). Washington, the feudal lord, has demanded of its Vassal that it push through the new base in Henoko no matter what. The Vassal dutifully ignores the will of the Okinawan government and people. It is shameful work, so no wonder these men hide their faces with their white masks and dark sunglasses.

See and hear the Okinawans demanding that this crime against nature and this violation of their sovereignty stop. Base opponents won the election. The anti-base candidate Gov. Tamaki is their new governor, but this is what they get for all their efforts to win peace for their community and for the world through non-violent, legal channels? The first sign in Japanese below in red reads “Stop this illegal construction work.” The second in red, white, and blue reads, “No new base in Henoko.” At the very end of the clip on the far right we see a sign in blue writing on a white background. That one reads, “Do not kill the coral.”

The dump trucks carrying their coral-killing and dugon habitat-destroying loads into the base.

Various kinds of heavy trucks rolling into the Base one after another. The first one painted blue on the bottom and yellow on the top reads “Ryukyu Cement” in Japanese. “Ryukyu” is the name of the island chain of which Okinawa Island is a part. These cement trucks carry the material that may become part of the runway above the coral (yet alive)—a runway for US bombers to land on. They will load up their planes with bombs that will kill civilians and increase wretchedness in faraway lands IF we do nothing.

How can we thank these elderly ladies who choose to stand up for democracy and world peace and spend their golden years doing this work, rain or shine, rather than enjoying leisure activities after a lifetime of raising families and community service?

How can we thank these elderly men who like the elderly ladies make this choice? Rather than playing golf they are sacrificing their precious time for all of us. Okinawans young and old oppose these murder centers called “bases.” The intensity of their opposition comes not just from a need to protect their children and grandchildren so that they can go to school without the massive noisy Osprey aircraft flying overhead and crashing onto school grounds, not just so that their daughters and granddaughters will not be raped by American military personnel, and not just so that their lands will not be polluted with toxic chemicals, but also because some of them remember the Battle of Okinawa and they know the hell of war; they don’t want anyone to have to experience hell on earth.

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