Friday, July 27, 2007

Resistance sparkling Okinawa shallow waters

Okinawa, July 25th, I fly to Okinawa thousands of
kilometers from Tokyo, I am on a special assignment
report about this pearl of the Pacific island part of
Japan archipelago. Okinawa is the location of an
impressive and dissuasive US military armada. 70% of
US military forces are stationed on Okinawa since it
was reversed to Japan in 1972. About 26000 US
military personal live here and criss cross the whole
Asia and Middle East for security and military
operations. Okinawa is under their thumb and
Okinawans don't like it at all.

Opposition remains firm from population who feels
harassed but also needs the economical assets provided
by US military bases.

There, a few days ago, at Henoko beach where the USA
and Japan government seem to agree to build a new
runway for its Air Forces, an issue far from being
resolved by Tokyo government and local Okinawans
nature lovers, an incident happened, as many before,
between Okinawans and military forces.

One activist, Teruo Onishi of the Nago Peace Commitee,
embarked with us on our frail wooden boat. In spite
of the distance to approach the activists off shore,
we could reach the 3 boats that permanently strike
since nearly 4 years! There we met Taira Natsume, who
could have died from the hand of a JSMDF diver as
local press stated after a very nasty under water
lethal alike struggle between well trained military
divers and peaceful but unwavering activists.

Taira san told us how events got sour after an anti-base
activist action opposed to building a new U.S. airfield at
Henoko and took his protest to a physical violence
level. He was physically trying to block a military diver
from doing his job. The Japan Maritime Self Defense
Forces divers were inspecting underwater sonar
equipment and repairing damages to moorings caused by
Typhoon Man-Yi.

Natsume Taira, leader of the Peace Liaison Network, a
Christian, approached the divers and began disrupting
their work re-securing the sonar units. Taira and
other activists have learned scuba diving in order to
take their protests beneath the water, where they
could watch JSDF divers.

The three divers report that they first ignored Taira
as he interfered with their work. During the scuffle
that ensued, anti-base divers claim one of the JSDF
divers turned off the oxygen valve on Taira’s scuba
air tank, and he was forced to return to the
surface. Taira, whose encounter with the divers was
documented by another underwater anti-base activist
with a camera, now charges the diver tried to kill
him. He is threatening a lawsuit against the JSDF,
claiming the divers’ action prevented him from
breathing. “I am going to contact my lawyer,” he
says, “and see if we can take this to court.”

"Do you think the JMSDF diver wanted to kill you or
just scare you as you are a good diver"? I asked him.
"I do not know for sure if his intentions were to kill
me, but why did he cut air from my tanks? What we
want is simply to preserve life and nature, and this is
why we are opposing the construction of the runway for
the US and Japanese military forces".

When we visited the place, I myself felt a bit of
anxiety when we saw a threatening Japan Coast Guard
helicopter approaching our small boat and the
opponents' cruisers. The chopper flew above our
heads, monitoring and, we guessed, filming our small
boats off shore. Then after spying on us, to the
point to interfere in our freedom of report, and
hearing a few words from the sea... the Coast
Guard helicopter escaped.

Taira's father is a minister who gave him the sense of
moral responsibility and duty and a sense of givings,
his mother Etsumi san said. "

"I belong to a small NGO and I had occasion to bring
medicines to Iraq and went to Fallujah in 2003",
Natsume said. "I consider myself as a responsible
citizen of Okinawa." He said to me before to jump in
the emerald shallow bay of Henoko, marvelous location
for nature lovers indeed and refuge to the famous
endangered specie, the Dugongs.

Okinawa Mayor Mrs. Toumon raised strong issues against
American and Japanese military forces recently at
FCCJ. She strongly believes that the message of peace
from Okinawa has strengthened. Her city of
Okinawa organizes the Kijimuna Festa, an International
Festival for Young Audience, currently into its third
year of its dreamlike art project, at public
facilities in Okinawa City. 250 performing artists
from 15 countries are coming to Okinawa with their
sophisticated art including workshop for Ballet star
such as the extraordinary Dominique Genevois.

Okinawa's Mayor Toumon more than ever stated her
desire to lead Okinawa and youth's lives with ideals
of peace and "nurture individuals and sensitivity".
Are they all ready to face challenges? One roof is
certainly the vitality of the environmental appeal for
the protection of Okinawa's nature to the point of
close confrontation.

Mayor Toumon is helped in this Festa by the famous producer
Shimoyama Hisashi and Okinawa history specialist, the
excellent academic and author Ooshiro Masayasu. (Pen
name Shima Tsuyoshi)

Today, the Oceanic culture of Okinawa, a crossroad
between Asian seas and the Pacific ocean, an Umi no
Kuni, developed a strong commitment to natural
"resistance and identity" as the author Shima
Tsuyoshi wrote. Indeed it is necessary to come and
see the pearl of southern waters to understand what
these words mean to the proud and gentle islanders.

This pic shows how many military bases the United
States has on Okinawa. With these multitudes of
military bases which are present on the Ryukyu Islands, the
Okinawans do not enjoy the military presence. In the
spring of 1996, three United States serviceman were
found guilty in the rape of a 12 year old Okinawan
girl. Since then, more actions have been made to
reduce the amount of space the military bases take up.

The United States military bases have taken up 20
percent of the best Okinawan beaches. The beaches in
Okinawa are a large attraction to tourists. In July
2000 another U.S. serviceman was found guilty of
breaking into a 14 year old girl's room and molesting
her. Time to reflect on the people's needs, with realism.
Okinawans say.

Culture of Okinawa:

To understand the personality of Okinawans:
Two main religions are dominating Okinawa. Animism
and Shamanism have both been influenced by other
religions brought during the influence of Japan and

Animism is the belief that spirits can be found
everywhere in the world. The ancestral spirits, heart
spirit, well spirit, spring spirit, house spirit, tree
spirit, and rock spirit are known as kami. People
involved with Animism believe that relgious rituals
and making the gods happy will keep the bad away and
bring blessings. The most beloved worship sites are
utake, a sacred grove, and the uganju, an honorable
praying place.

Shamanism has two major spirits, the kaminchu and
yuta. Both positions are held by women. The kaminchu
performs relgious rites and the position is passed
down hereditarily. The yuta, a figure between the
spirit world and living world, has supernatural powers
of seeing and hearing. She makes suggestions of what
actions to take. A role held by men is the sanjinso,
fortuneteller. This role has lesser importance than
the kaminchu or yuta. The fortunes are told using the
lunar almanac, I Ching, and some other sources. The
hinukan, fire god, is used as a messenger to the gods.
Many Okinawans use a ceramic censer, kouro, to pray to
hinukan. Many Okinawans also have ancestral shirnes
in the house.


Total Population: 1.3 million
Exact Location: 24'' 02' N to 27'' 51' N
Number of Islands: 42 inhabited and 16 uninhabited
Total Land Area: 2,267.48 sq. km
Land Area of Okinawa Island only: 1,199 sq. km

Life style:
Small villages with red tile-roofed houses are the
main housing for Okinawans. Rice and pork are the
main foods eaten. Farming and fishing are a major
occupation. Only the cities have become somewhat
westernized with heavy traffic and Western clothing.
The University of the Ryukyus is located in Naha and
is Okinawa's major higher education system.