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2001: A year like no other, a year like every other

Date Posted: 2001-12-27

Another year has flown right by. It’s hard to believe how fast time can fly when you’re not paying attention. This year saw a lot of dark days, but it also had some very positive aspects as well. By far the darkest day for many of us was Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks on the United States, the home of the free, took place. Though devastating for all, many of us have adapted our lives to the changes brought on by these horrendous acts, and through the pain and sorrow of losing loved ones or seeing those who have, we have come together as one. Perhaps one of the brightest moments of the year has been witnessing the number of people around the world who have united together for peace and the well-being of all people everywhere.

2001 was a very memorable year on Okinawa for sure. The year started with one of the largest New Year’s events Okinawa has ever seen: “Randez Vous in Space” had a record crowd of 110,000 in attendance at Tropical Beach in Ginowan City as musicians Namie Amuro, Tetsuya Komuro, Derrick May and a number of others entertained the audience. What a party!

Yonaguni Island, Japan’s southernmost tip, also had its own big festival featuring a local junior high school brass band, a laser show and fireworks. All of Japan was celebrating the approaching New Year.

But shortly after the celebrations were over, new incidents renewed some of the protests many of us had previously seen. In early January a 22-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Hansen was arrested for allegedly lifting the skirt of a 16-year-old high school girl and snapping a picture of her underpants with a digital camera. Also during that week a sailor and a civilian both working for the U.S. military got into a drunken brawl at a bar and injured the bar’s proprietor when she tried to break them up and force them to leave.

During that same month, the Japanese police apprehended a Marine stationed at Camp Hansen who was suspected of setting fire to a bar and restaurant in the Kitamae area on Jan. 15 and five other bars and restaurants five days later on Jan. 20.

Then, in February, Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston found himself in the midst of an unwelcome controversy after a copy of an internal Marine Corps e-mail that Hailston had sent to his commanders was leaked to several local newspapers, including Japan Update. In his message he urged his commanders to enforce strict discipline among the troops in order to avoid incidents that the media tend to look at under a magnifying glass. However, commenting on the case of the skirt-lifting Marine, Hailston called several prefectural officials, including Gov. Keiichi Inamine, “nuts and a bunch of wimps.” This led to an uproar around the entire island.

After negative incidents involving U.S. service members were published in every Japanese newspaper and broadcast on every Japanese news show, many Americans complained that the Japanese media were biased and unfair in their portrayal of crime by military members and other foreigners. On the other hand, some people felt that it was the criminals’ fault and not the media’s that the events were given so much press, saying that the media wasn’t biased.

In a letter we received in January, one reader stated: “It seems like every American thinks the local media is biased and anti-American because they broadcast or publish articles about some crime that takes place on the island involving an American. Well, it’s their job to publish information to the public. If these crimes were not committed, there would be no story. I think most Americans are just restating the old statement about the local biased media they heard from someone else. Most of you do not know if the local media is biased or not. How many of you actually watch the Japanese news or can read Japanese newspapers? Understanding the scenario that the Okinawan media faces each day is simple: This is a small, boring island with relatively few news events that interest the public.”

Regardless of whether the local press is biased or not, criminal activity committed by the military does get a lot of media attention, but so does criminal activity perpetrated by locals. You just have to know how to read the Japanese papers to find out about it.

More time passed, and a service member was accused of raping a local national in late June. The press was once again all over the case, and headlines blazed across the front pages of newspapers and on television. The U.S. and Japanese governments were in an uproar over who should have custody of the accused. Finally, the military handed him over to the Japanese authorities. The case is still undecided, but the defendant claims he is not guilty.

During the summer months, Okinawa was rocked by two typhoons, one right after the other. And then after that came the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. What a year -- how bad could it possibly get? Would we ever get a break?

Well, finally, a few months later, things have started to settle down and get back to normal. A curfew was placed on those stationed on Kadena Air Base and other bases around the island immediately after the attacks for fear of more terrorist activity, but as of now all bases except Kadena have dropped their curfew and allow their service members to roam the island freely. Most of us still cringe when rumors of more terrorist activity hit the newswires, but we have all grown together through the criminals’ abortive attempts to crush and humiliate us. As far as we Americans are concerned, pride and love of our country has peaked, and we have united in a way unseen for many years. In much the same way, the majority of the world has joined together in an effort to promote peace. Even in the world’s darkest hours a light shines through in the end, and good comes from it all.

It certainly has been a dark year for many of us, but not every day has been so somber. We have still gone out and had fun with our friends. Many of us have taken advantage of the beautiful culture here by attending festivals and other events. Many divers still regularly cruise by Okinawa’s spectacular coral reefs. The fishermen are all out fishing. We’re all getting ready for the New Year’s celebrations. We work our regular 9-to-5. Life, in many ways, is still the same. Though a dark year in many ways, it was a year with many good memories as well for most of us.

We at Japan Update wish our readers a Happy New Year. We hope you will enjoy the holiday season and check in with us frequently for the best in local news and entertainment.

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