Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2007
Special Reports


Shigeo Yamauchi

Director Department of Military Base Affairs Policy Ginowan City, Okinawa


My name is Yamauchi in charge of Base Affairs at the Ginowan City Government in central Okinawa.

Ginowan City hosts the U.S. Futenma Air Station and has been suffering from various problems caused by this U.S. military base. The Air Station wasn't originally there. It was first constructed as a stronghold for B29s to conduct air strikes against mainland Japan after U.S. Forces had landed Okinawa on April 1, 1945 during the Okinawa Battle, by detaining Okinawans in prison camps and depriving them of their lands during the subsequent U.S. occupation of Okinawa. So, people originally lived there and a Ginowan village hall, schools, and houses were there, too. Despite 62 years since the end of the war, the U.S. air base is still remains in our city.

Ginowan is a small city with about 20 square kilometers and the population of 90,000. The Futenma Air Station located right in the middle of the city makes up of one fourth of the city area. Thus, 90,000 residents are surrounding the base to live. Per square kilometer, 4,500 people live in the city, but if excluding the base area from the total city area, the density of population will be 6,700 per sq kilometer, which means 1,000 people more than that in Tokyo. You can see that the base is located in such a densely-populated area.

As for base functions, the base is mainly for the U.S. Marine Corps and hosts their helicopters with 3,700 troops and about 50 military aircraft. The base is equipped with a 2,800 meter-long runway. As for their military exercises, they carry out circular-flight over residential areas and touch-and-go exercises from early in the morning till late at night, irrespective of time. With one aircraft, it has a 5-minute interval, a 2.5-minute interval for two, and a 30-second interval for three aircraft. Such flight training lasts from one to three hours, making the entire city of Ginowan a training field.

This gives negative impacts on local people's lives. Citizens of Ginowan must tolerate living in danger of crash accidents and noise pollution. The city cannot set forth an appropriate town development planning, including proper allocation of public facilities, laying a sewage system and public transportation, because the base is located just in the middle of our city. In spite of a major crash three years ago in which a U.S. CH53 heavy-lift helicopter during its circular flight exercises crashed into a campus of Okinawa International University and caused great damage, nothing has been done to eliminate danger of such a crash from taking place again. Before the accident, many residents used to complain mainly about the noise pollution by phone to our city office, but now we receive their calls complaining of their anxieties about or fear of plane crashes.

Let me now share with you some of their complaints.

"A helicopter is flying as if it is falling at an angle. It looks very dangerous. The scene is as danger as the accident when the CH53 helicopter actually crashed into the university. It seems to crash at any time. You should stop it immediately!"

"It was flying so low that house pillars and windows brattled, and I was so scared that I couldn't sleep well. I was thinking where I could run away out in case of the crash."

"A helicopter was flying at 10:52 last night. Sometimes they fly at around one or three o'clock in the morning. I am afraid if I can ever run away in case of an accident, because they fly just over us while sleeping."

In addition, large CH53 helicopters (same type as the one that crashed three years ago) were redeployed on November 6 in Futenma after being heavily used in the Iraq War and becoming too old because of an average of 37 years from their production. Thus, residents are forced to live in fear, anxieties, and nightmare.

Next, I will touch upon the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Clause 3 of the SOFA Article III articulates, "Operations in the facilities and areas in use by the United States armed forces shall be carried out with due regard for the public safety." What do you think of this? In Futenma, the U.S. forces use an airspace over our residential area as their exercise field and do what they want to do. They conduct military exercises on a daily basis, continuing to threat the public safety. The Japanese government, however, does not say anything to the U.S. forces, neglecting to take measures to eliminate dangers.

The enlarged edition of "SOFA's way of thinking," foreign ministry's confidential documents that a local newspaper obtained three years ago, describes U.S. flight exercises. It says, "In order to achieve objectives of the U.S. forces, the SOFA premises general carrying out of activities belonging to functions, including flight exercises, as military troops."

"Simple flight exercises are not activities expected to take place only within original facilities or zones, but in accordance with the SOFA, within Japan's territorial airspace, they are activities not restricted to be carried out within the facilities or zones."

"It is thought to be unreasonable to assume that U.S. military flight exercises must be conducted only in the international airspace or in the air directly over those facilities or zones."

Judging from these provisions, U.S. forces can freely fly anywhere they want. The Ginowan city government cannot tolerate this situation.

The city of Ginowan has so far committed itself to various activities for return of the Futenma Air Station as early as possible.

In 1995, with the rape of a schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen as a start, anti-U.S. base struggles were greatly enhanced in Okinawa. To settle this growing momentum, both the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed in 1996 upon an overall return of the Futenma Air Station within five or seven years, but this has been left without setting a specific time limit. Calling for a return of the base in five years, Iha Yoichi was elected as the Ginowan City mayor in 2003 and drew up an action program in 2004 to get the Futenma base back. The action program lays out such activities as petitions, establishment a hotline for damage caused by the base, and the start of monitoring of the base by volunteers. We have repeatedly urged the Japanese government as well as the U.S. government for a return, but our demand has been left unsolved so far. Therefore, we visited the United States in 2004 and 2005 to directly request for the return.

During our stay in the U.S., we visited the Department of Defense, the Department of State, U.S. Congress, the Pacific Command in Hawaii, Oceanside City and San Diego City on the West Coast for petition and for their cooperation. Remarkably, the DoD told us that it does not want to have U.S. bases in places where local residents do not welcome them. In addition, the DoD in November submitted written testimonies of the Ginowan City to a committee within the Congress especially to review overseas bases. The PACOM answered to us that their aircraft would not fly over residential areas except for emergencies, but the fact is that flight exercises still take place every day over our heads. The mayor of Oceanside City said that he had never seen any helicopters flying over residential areas. In talking with him, we came to know that there is a military base near Oceanside City but with strict safety standards, as the base cannot exist if it causes troubles to local community. The city of Ginowan in 2006 declared that the Futenma Air Station failed to meet the safety standards, and sent this declaration out to the world.

Firmly observing the fundamental policy of the city, the Ginowan government will tenaciously call for an early closure and return of the Futenma Air Station within 2008 and elimination of dangers caused by the base, not a relocation of the base to other places within Okinawa. We cordially ask for your cooperation in our common effort. Thank you.