Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2007
Special Reports


Masatsugu Isa

Takae residents' association against helipads, Okinawa Prefecture


Report from Takae district of Higashi Village

Takae district of Higashi Village where I live is located in the east side in northern part of Okinawa's main island. It takes about three hours from Naha by car. We have the rich forest called "Yambaru." Takae is the smallest district in the village with only 150 residents.
Okinawa is recognized as the island of bases, and its mountainous area called Yambaru is no exception. The biggest U.S. training field in Okinawa is located there, and local people are living right next to it. Their residential area is right across the street from the base. Unlike the Kadena Base, the Futenma Base, or other U.S. bases in Okinawa, the training field in our area does not have fences. Sometimes U.S. military personnel walk along the community roads. In the past, U.S. troops even conducted drills outside the training field, illegally dumped garbage in the government-owned land, trampled sugarcane fields under foot, and held shooting exercises. They are doing whatever they want.

The vast forest is the habitat of a wide variety of species. Its natural environment and ecosystem are internationally recognized as so rare that it has been recommended to be designated as a World Natural Heritage site.

In the 1996 agreement of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), the U.S. forces promised to return more than half of the Northern Training Area site. But at the same time U.S. announced that it would relocate helipads currently located in the area it promised to return to other training sites. Takae district adopted a resolution twice in opposition to the relocation plan. Already suffering enough from the noise pollution, six more helipads are unbearable for the local people.

After hearing the report that the construction would begin in July, we launched a sit-in on July 2. Most of the Takae residents have never been involved in protests. Some families have moved from Naha to Takae hoping to be able to raise their children in a quiet environment in the mountainous area . Other families have finally found the environment suitable for farming in Takae. Our area also attracts those who want to be craft artists as well as young people. We have come to a conclusion that even sacrificing our lives at a certain degree, we will do whatever we can to protect the environment for our kids and the next generations. Otherwise, we will regret for the rest of our life. That is why we have taken up the fight against the national and prefectural governments.

On July 3, at five o'clock in the morning, some construction vehicles came and took only an hour to set up a new gate. Without providing local people with enough explanation, they quietly set it up before we began our sit-in. We felt quite upset about their stopgap attitude. When we started our sit-in, we put away our tents and left early evening because we thought they could not work lat night. But one day, around 7:30 at night, some of our members saw several large vehicles passing by. They felt something was wrong and turned around to go after them. Then they saw that the gate had been opened and two trucks loaded with heavy machine and construction equipment were entering there. Right before the third truck passed through the gate, two young members stood in front of it to block its entrance, while calling their friends on cell-phone. With some more people joining them, they managed to send the vehicles away. They later said that their bodies were shaking at that time.

Since that night we have set a watch on the construction site all through the night. Construction workers are also becoming desperate. One day a large truck came over around three o'clock in the morning. They had not expected that we were sitting there even throughout the night, and they left immediately.

There have been some confrontations between us and construction workers and the officials sent from the Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau, but since September we have not seen any major movement on their side.

Our nonviolent sit-in protest has been preventing the construction works. This cannot be achieved without the cooperation from within and out of Okinawa. We have also received large donations. I'd like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation. Thank you very much.