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Photo not meant to offend

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-06-13

Recently the Japan Update has received some comments about a photograph that was printed along with a story on campfires threatening the nesting sites of sea turtles. The photograph contained the remains of a campfire along with an AAFES bag and three Miller Lite beer bottles. The photograph has seemed to have generated some bad feelings over unfairness and "indirect blaming" of Americans for the problem.

First, I would like to thank those readers who sent in comments. Your opinions are respected and always welcome.

The photograph is of exactly what was found on the area of a beach in Maeda. Talking to locals living in the area, beach cleanup volunteer groups, and Onna Village Government officials will also verify that there are many beer bottles and bags that originate from on base that litter the beach. They will also be quick to tell you that most of the litter on Okinawa's beaches originates from local Okinawans. In the content of the article, which I hope everyone read, no reference to "Americans" was ever mentioned. The article was not about who is to blame, but that sea turtles are endangered, and that campfires do not help the problem.

Japan Update feels there is no biased reporting either. There are plenty of articles about the environment that show Okinawan trash and directly blame the Okinawan government for environmental problems. (Japan Update Oct. 2-8, 1997 p. 6; Dec. 11-17, 1997 p. 11; Feb. 19-25, 1998 p. 10;) and there are also many articles showing Americans working together with Okinawans protecting the environment. (Japan Update Dec. 11-17, 1997 cove r page; Mar. 5-11, 1998 p. 9; Apr. 23-29, 1998 p. 4). On the local news during the month of March, two special news programs on OTV and RBC showed Orion beer cans along with other Okinawan trash along the beach. It also showed American volunteers helping Okinawans clean up the area. So why should the photograph in question be censored? Do Mr. Diers and Mr. Mencshing feel trash originating from American bases is exempt from being photographed?

The point I am making is that it is all of our trash - everyone that lives here. The responses to the article however, brought to my attention a larger problem than litter. Comments that draw a line between "we" (Americans) and Okinawans let us know that on this island there are still some people who wish to put up barriers and discriminate. There is no contest going on between who creates more problems. We all share this island so we all are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Attitudes that put "us" against each other only make problems worse, and give fuel for extremsits to burn.

As one of the founders of the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club, I see the problem of litter almost everyday. Our members are made up of Americans, Okinawans, and other foreigners. No one ever blames each other. We work together to solve the problem. There are many other international groups on the island also working together to solve different problems.

I do not know if Mr. Diers and Mr. Mensching are a part of any of these international organizations. If not, I invite them to attend the International Coastal Cleanup along the Sunabe Sea wall on September 20, 1998. For anyone else that wishes to make a distinction between "we" (Americans) and "them" (Okinawans), join the "us" team and be a part of the solution. The only people pointing the finger is you!

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