More than 70% of US bases in Japan are crammed into the small island prefecture of Okinawa, which comprises only 0.6% of Japan’s landmass. Formerly an independent kingdom, Okinawa has now become a de facto military colony of Japan and the United States, with the former acting mainly as police enforcer, and the latter as military occupier.

Just prior to the imposition of the first (Japanese) military base on our land in the 1870s, a delegation of Okinawan officials traveled to Tokyo to plead with the government not to send troops to the island. The delegation contended that “a military garrison would expose Okinawa to the hostile attention of countries with which our people have no conflict, and with which we enjoy peaceful relations.”

Tragically, this prescient message was ignored, and in the last land battle of WWII, Okinawans learned the hard way that military bases imperil the local population, making the island a target instead of defending it.

During the battle, Okinawa was incinerated by both U.S. and Japanese military forces, in which a quarter of the civilian population (over 120,000 people) lost their lives. Most of the survivors were those who managed to keep a distance from the military. Since then, Okinawans have been subjected to over 72 years of military occupation—through peaceful protests and voting at the ballot box, we have been unequivocal in our refusal to let Okinawa become host to yet another American base.

No New Base

However, in spite of all we have learned through decades of war, torment and military occupation, the U.S. and Japanese governments are planning to construct a new military facility to replace the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Base.

While the Futenma base is particularly dangerous because of its location in the center of Ginowan City, we believe that given Okinawa’s size, population (1.4m) and delicate ecosystem, any new base would add an intolerable burden on the island and its people. Along with other military construction projects in and around the subtropical forests and coastal ecosystems in northern Okinawa, the new base is clearly intended to bolster and modernize US military capabilities. The planned base would also lead to catastrophic environmental destruction, dumping 21 million cubic meters of gravel and sand—equivalent to 3.5 million 10-ton trucks—into the pristine seas off the coast of Cape Henoko in Nago city, where US Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab is located. The beautiful white-sand beaches fenced inside Camp Schwab extend into seagrass beds in the shallow waters of Oura Bay. Henoko is also well-known as a treasure trove of marine life and the primary habitat of the critically endangered Okinawa dugong, a manatee-like marine mammal. The bay, which lies adjacent to Cape Henoko and is also slated for land reclamation for the new base, is similarly rich in marine flora and fauna, and home to more than 5,300 species, including unique varieties of coral and more than 260 endangered species. But while the Japanese and American governments have been pushing the new base construction for the last 20 years, Henoko has also been the site of an ongoing
non-violent sit-in aimed at halting the construction.

On August 21st, 2017, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit brought against the US Secretary of Defense by the Center for Biological Diversity. The plaintiffs argue that the base construction violates the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, which bans any U.S. government projects, including those overseas, that could harm properties of historical and cultural significance. Dugongs are listed as a “natural monument” in the Japanese Register of Cultural Properties, and Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties prohibits any disturbance of their habitat.

The plaintiffs also point out that ongoing base construction is destroying sea grass beds vital for the animals’ survival.

Although construction work for the new base has already begun, the court held that the construction is not urgent. Thus, we demand that the Defense Department halt the construction immediately.

Meanwhile, in Okinawa, the protests continue. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began promoting the construction of the new base three years ago, his administration has repeatedly ignored the will of the Okinawan people. In response, 100 to 300 people have staged sit-ins every day, with the total number of protesters reaching over 100,000 in the span of three years. Over a million Okinawans have also expressed their opposition to the scheme in prefecture-wide protests and at the ballot box.

Nevertheless, the Japanese government continues to steamroll the relocation project. In the summer of 2014, engineers began conducting drilling surveys of the seafloor. In opposition to the reclamation of Henoko, citizens began staging sit-ins in front of the gate of the adjoining military base at Camp Schwab, as well as protesting at sea.

Popular Protest vs the Japanese Riot Police

As a result of the people’s resistance, the construction has not seen much progress.
“We’ll never give up until we stop the construction of the new base here,” says Fumiko Shimabukuro, an 88 year-old WWII survivor who comes to the sit-ins every day. Many senior citizens are taking part in the sit-ins, even as riot police use brute force against civilians at the daily protests. As a result, many seniors, some of whom are also WWII survivors, have collapsed and been hospitalized after long-periods of police detention under Okinawa’s scorching sun. Shimabukuro, who had been participating in the protests on a wheelchair, was also subjected to brutality by the riot police, badly injuring her arm.

Last October, anti-base activist Hiroji Yamashiro was arrested on a minor charge and detained for five months. The police not only prohibited family visits, but also access to a doctor despite the fact that Yamashiro suffered from malignant lymphoma.

Yamashiro was only released after Amnesty International and other human rights groups launched a major campaign, and has since addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he garnered support to end oppression and human rights violations against those opposed to further militarization of Okinawa.

The MV-22 “Widow-Maker” and the Destruction of the Yanbaru Forest

In conjunction with the new base in Henoko, the Japanese and American governments also plan to construct six new helipads for MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft training in the Yanbaru forest of northern Okinawa. This will not only result in the permanent destruction of the unique primary forest and its endangered animals, but also erode the quality of life for residents in nearby Takae.

To stop the project, Takae residents have staged non-violent sit-ins for ten years—however, the Japanese government enforced construction last year, dispatching hundreds of riot police from mainland Japan to break up the peaceful protests. Flight training has begun despite ongoing resistance to the helipads.


The US military demands the construction of six new helipads in zones N1, N4, G, H, areas in which the protection of endangered species is required under the US Defense Department’s Japan Environmental Governing Standards (JEGS). In zones G and H, 27 nesting trees of the nationally protected Okinawa woodpecker were found, making the area a vital habitat.

The 24 MV-22 Ospreys, once called the “widow maker” by US military personnel, were initially deployed in Okinawa in 2012 and 2013. Since then, Ospreys have caused tremendous suffering to local communities with their unbearable noise and low frequency vibration.

In December 2016, one Okinawa-based Osprey crashed off the coast of Henoko. A few months later, on August 5th, another Okinawa-based Osprey crashed in Australia, killing three US Marines. And yet another was forced to make an emergency landing due to engine trouble and caught fire.

Even after such incidents, training exercises involving Ospreys have resumed almost immediately and continue to put Okinawan civilians at risk.

In the Name of Democracy, Justice and the Environment

After two decades of resisting the Henoko plan and decisive elections in 2014 that in any genuine democracy would be respected, the people of Okinawa have made their views clear to Washington and Tokyo. In January, Mayor Susumu Inamine, a forthright opponent of the Henoko plan, was re-elected by a wide margin in Nago, the municipality which includes Henoko. In the gubernatorial race in November, Okinawans overwhelmingly voted for former Naha City Mayor and base opponent Takeshi Onaga over incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima, who had succumbed to pressure from the Tokyo government to accept the project.

The elections amounted to an Okinawa-wide referendum over the Henoko-Futenma issue, in which even the long-suffering residents of Ginowan voted for Onaga in historically large numbers.

Finally, in December, all four Okinawan constituencies elected anti-base construction candidates to the Lower House of the Japanese Diet. Various polls show that between 65-80% of Okinawans are opposed to the construction of a new base.

These elections reflect the will of the Okinawan people. However, both the U.S. and Japanese governments continue to pressure Okinawans to accept the bilateral agreement to build the new base in Henoko. Forcing this plan on Okinawans only provokes more anger and backlash. If the two governments continue their efforts to impose the new base on Okinawans, the anger that boils inside the people like magma will surely erupt with even more potent force demanding democracy and justice.

Yet the U.S. and Japanese governments continue imposing the plan, while using the force of riot police over peaceful protesters. The citizens’ anger has now lead to ever louder demands for the elimination of the other 31 U.S. bases in Okinawa, with escalating protests against Kadena Air Base.
In other words, what another U.S. base will do for Okinawa is only to further add to the sense of danger and burning injustice on the island, while trampling on democracy and the environment.

With this in mind, in the name of democracy, justice and the environment, Okinawans call on the U.S. and Japanese governments to abandon this disastrous project in their own interests, as well as those of the island and its people.

What You Can Do

We also urge readers to take action by e-mailing members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees asking them to respect explain their continued refusal to respect the will of the Okinawan people, live up to their own environmental responsibilities, and to act in their country’s best interests, as well as its proudest traditions.

Finally, among the many serious problems associated with the bases are the crimes committed by U.S. military and civilian personnel, beginning just after the war and continues today. Such crimes include sexual violence, and near-weekly residential break-ins, taxi robberies, drunk and otherwise dangerous driving incidents that have resulted in fatalities.

Last year a twenty year-old woman was raped and killed by an ex-Marine working as a U.S. civilian employee. She was abducted on her walk home—three weeks later, her body was found abandoned in an area far from home. On June 19th, 2016, the Okinawan Prefectural Citizens’ Protest Rally saw more than 65,000 citizens demand the U.S. military scale back its presence in Okinawa.

Issues of US Military Bases and Relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to Henoko, Nago City [PDF]

The US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Base violates U.S. flight safety standards, which stipulate that “airfield clear zones” must be established on either side of a military runway. The Pentagon has claimed such areas exist around the Futenma base—in reality, there are 3,600 residents and schools located in the surrounding areas that would be considered too dangerous for human habitation under U.S. law.

APALA adopts resolution against military expansion
in Okinawa at 2017 Anaheim convention(Aug. 19, 2017)



Whereas the people of Okinawa have suffered the horrors of war and are a peace loving people;

Whereas 15% of the island of Okinawa is already occupied by U.S. military bases, and more than 30% of the land of many municipalities in the central region of Okinawa is used by the U.S. military;

Whereas the vast majority of the people of Okinawa oppose the expansion of U.S. military bases, and have repeatedly exercised their democratic rights and voted in large numbers to oppose U.S. military expansion;

Whereas the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance has supported labor and peace activists from Okinawa, and are deeply committed to solidarity with the people of Okinawa;

Therefore be it resolved that the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance reaffirms our opposition to U.S. military expansion in Okinawa including the building of new bases at Henoko and Takae;

Be it further resolved that we are calling on all of our members to encourage their unions, central labor councils, state federations, the national AFL-CIO, and our community partners to pass resolutions to oppose the U.S. military expansion in Okinawa;

Be it further resolved that we are calling on the U.S. Congress to withhold support for the U.S. military expansion on Okinawa and to respect the democratic wishes of the people of Okinawa.

APALA adopts resolution against military expansion in Okinawa at 2017 Anaheim convention

660,000 members of Asian-American Labor Group add their voices to the calls opposing the Henoko Base construction

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