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Events That Made The News In Okinawa In Year 2000

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-12-29

Jan 1 - 2000 The millennium started with none of the fears about the much hyped Y2K bug coming to pass. Jetliners did not crash out of the sky. Mass deaths were not reported from hospitals whose computer controlled equipment suddenly failed to function. Bank accounts were not obliterated, ATM machines did not go haywire and the stock market did not go into free fall.

Jan 6 - Closer to home, Japan Update’s first issue of the new year reported three cases of vandalism, theft and mugging involving five Americans. Unusually they outnumbered reported crimes committed by locals. One Okinawan couple was picked up for theft, it was stated, that week. A week later a Marine Lance Corporal was arrested for sexually assaulting a Japanese woman on a dance floor. This was to be the year that transgressions by servicemen once again had a massive impact. It was often argued that the relatively small number of criminal cases involving base personnel were treated disproportionately unfairly. These scandals and those to come later in the year took on a symbolic significance way beyond their actual impact on the crime statistics.

Jan 23 – This was the year of Summit mania and it started early. Thousands of volunteers, led by politicians including the Vice-Governor, helped clean up Naha Airport, the Peace Park and Convention Center in preparation for the great event in the summer.

Feb 10 - An ANK airline pilot flying from Fukuoka to Ishigaki claimed an American FA-18 fighter flew alongside, only 60 meters from his wing. US military officials denied the claim, saying their fighters always kept a distance of at least 1000 meters from any civilian airliner.

Mar 9 – The largest ever stimulant drug seizure in Japan took place in Naha. A 218 kilo haul of the pills, originating in Southeast Asia and arriving via Miako was nabbed by police, along with five suspects.

Okinawa’s first goat auction was set up, involving 109 livestock farmers. It was hoped that the thrice yearly auctions would popularise goat products such as meat, sashimi, cheese and even goat flavored ice cream.

Mar 16 – Okinawa was described as “a drunk drivers’ paradise” after a study by Naha City police. They said they would get tough on the problem.

Mar 27 – A lawsuit was launched in Naha District Court against the Japanese and US governments over the noise caused by early morning and late night flights at Kadena airbase. The plaintiffs were 5,544 people living near the base.

Apr 3 – Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, with a history of heart problems, suffered a stroke and was sent to hospital. His condition was reported as serious.

Apr 20 – New Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori started out early on what would become a much criticized track record of making controversial remarks, on this occasion involving Okinawa. He was grilled by local media on remarks he made that the Okinawan press was hostile to the central government and that Okinawan schools should show more respect to the symbols of Japan.

May 4 - Three sets of bones belonging to black American soldiers were discovered in a cave in Nago. The find confirmed the truth of a long suppressed story that the three had been killed by locals in 1945, after a time spent terrorizing and raping villagers. Because of the closeness of the Summit, Nago officials were inundated with requests for interviews from all over the world about the story.

May 14 – Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi died, not emerging from a coma. The news shocked many in Okinawa, as Obuchi had pressed hard to hold the G-8 Summit here. His participation would have been one of the crowning events of his time in office.

May 23 – Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior docked in Okinawa for a five day stay. It was campaigning against toxic dumping and illegal logging.

May 31 – Twelve thousand applied for jobs on the bases, chasing less than 200 vacancies.

June 29 – On the 55th Anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, the Japan Self Dense Forces announced that 2,600 tons of explosives left over from World War 11 remain buried in Okinawa.

July 3 - With exquisitely bad timing, a 19 year old Marine was arrested for drunkenly entering the apartment of a local family, which he apparently mistook for his girlfriend’s. He entered a bedroom and fondled a junior high school girl there. The world’s media was just arriving in force to file Summit preparation stories. Their attention to the base issue was guaranteed by this incident and news of the arrest went around the world.

July 13 – Following an uproar about the arrest of the Marine, the military imposed a midnight curfew, banned sales of alcohol on bases and announced that troops would be confined to their bases until the end of the Summit.

July 20 – A demonstration of about 27,000 succeeded in encircling Kadena airbase. There were banners and the chanting of anti-base slogans, but the demonstration remained peaceful. A few weeks previously its organizers had considered calling off the event, doubting they would have enough support. The boost in numbers was attributed to the arrest of the Marine and a hit and run incident involving a Kadena airman. Television footage of the demonstration went around the world, relayed by press helicopters, some of which flew into Kadena air space.

July 21-23 – The long awaited Group of Eight Summit took place in Nago. The political leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the USA met. They dined amidst the pomp and splendor of Shuri Castle and were protected by 20,000 police from the mainland. The cost of the weekend conference was put at an unprecedented ¥80 billion, or 50 times the cost of the previous two summits put together, held in England and Germany.

Aug 7 – Typhoon Jelawat lashed Okinawa with 180 kph winds, causing over 100 flight cancellations and stranding thousands of passengers. There were power losses in 10,000 buildings but little damage and almost no injuries.

Aug 17 – The midnight curfew was lifted but places serving alcohol between midnight and 5 a.m. were declared off limits.

Sept 7 – Three man US military patrols began going out on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight, checking night spots. Not empowered to make arrests, they could report underage drinkers to MPs or Japanese police.

Sept 12 – Typhoon Saomi whipped the island with 240 kph winds, the strongest of the season. Buses, flights and ferries stopped operating, 8,000 houses lost power and 24 people had to seek shelter after their houses were damaged. The typhoon also caused extensive agricultural damage.

Sept 21 – A surfer was killed by a shark 30 meters off a beach on Miyako Island. His legs, one arm and a shoulder were bitten off in the attack.

Oct 10 – The Star Aquarius cruise liner made its last call at Naha. The ship, owned by a Singapore based company had brought 260,000 tourists from Taiwan in the past year. However it made losses, had complained about lack of suitable port facilities in Naha and was plagued with scandal. Robbery, blackmail and prostitution were said to have taken place on board.

Oct 22 – The rusting hulk of “floating city” Aquapolis, a 1978 Expo showpiece, was towed away from Okinawa. Bought by an American scrap metal company, it would be broken up in Shanghai.

Oct 30 – A woman was murdered after taking a shower at a beach on Taketomi Island. A man was later arrested for the killing.

Nov 12 – Naha got a new Mayor, Takeshi Onaga, who beat rival candidate Michiko Horikawa by 7,200 votes. It was the first time a conservative had taken over the post in 32 years of control by leftist parties.

Nov 23 – Traces of Dugong feeding grounds were found near the proposed site of the airbase in Nago to be relocated from Futenma. Local activists then went on the offensive about the relocation plans.

Dec 7 – Okinawa announced its latest unemployment figure of 56,000 or 8.8 per cent. The prefecture had the highest jobless total in Japan.

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