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Apologies, criticism at Battle of Okinawa 65th Anniversary Memorial

Date Posted: 2010-06-25

More than 5,500 Okinawans turned out at Memorial Peace Park Wednesday to pay homage to the tens of thousands who died in the bloody, 82-day Battle of Okinawa in Spring 1945, and to listen to the Prime Minister and the Governor of Okinawa speak out.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, making his first visit to the prefecture as Japan’s leader, told the throngs gathered at the solemn ceremony at Mabuni, Itoman City, that “I offer an apology as a representative of all Japanese people,” referring to his decision to stand by an agreement that will keep Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa despite objections by Okinawa citizens. His predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, spent months promising to rid the island of the controversial base, only to reverse himself and agree to keeping it in Okinawa, moving to the sparsely populated northern side of the island. Less than a week after making that decision, Hatoyama resigned.

Hirokazu Nakaima, the Okinawa Governor, minced no words as he read the peace declaration during the hour-long ceremony, underscoring the need to ease the burden of U.S. military bases on local citizens. He also called for eliminating potential dangers of having Futenma in Okinawa. Kan promised that his government “will make a further serious commitment to easing the burden of hosting the bases and removing dangers” that could be caused by their presence.

On a positive note, Kan thanked Okinawa, expressing his appreciation for the island prefecture and its contribution to help secure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. He said Okinawa, with the majority of American forces serving on bases that cover one-fifth of the main island, has done well and promised to work toward moving some bases elsewhere. Nakaima was quick to respond, “I would like the burden to be visibly reduced.” Kan stood his ground, denying that his government would implement the Futenma replacement airfield plan without bilateral studies and acceptance from Okinawa.

“I would like to make every effort to ease the burden while conforming with the Japan-U.S. agreement,” the Prime Minister said later in a meeting with Governor Nakaima, only to hear Nakaima tell him “the situation in Okinawa is tough.” The governor pressed his case that his constituents in Okinawa are becoming disgruntled over the central government’s Futenma position. He offered to “sincerely talk” with those who believe the agreement would be moved forward without support from Okinawans. Kan and Nakaima agreed to continued talks between the central and Okinawan governments.

A total of 80 new names were added to the park’s cenotaph, engraved for posterity. The shiny black walls now bear the names of 240,941 who died in the Typhoon of Steel, the most common nickname for the Battle of Okinawa. An estimated 94,000 civilians died during the three long months of fighting between Japanese and American troops April ~ June 1945.

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