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Irabu Town reverses course on remaining independent

Date Posted: 2005-04-01

A tiny island in Miyako that only weeks ago rejected an plan to merge with its larger neighbor has had a change of heart after its citizens voiced opposition to having a military base nearby.

Irabu Town, which had agreed earlier in the year to merge with Miyako as a costs saving measure as a result of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Reform Plan which goes into effect tomorrow, several weeks ago decided it wanted to remain independent and solicit the Japanese Self Defense Force into establishing a base at Shimoji Jima.

Citizens went into an uproar, forcing the City Assembly to rethink its proposal. After listening to angry constituents, the Assembly cast a new vote reinstating plans to merge with Miyako. The Assembly members were surprised at the vocal opposition, thinking they’d made decisions their citizens wanted. Thirteen Assembly members voted against having a military base at Shimoji, while four others continue to support the plan.

An unprecedented town meeting led to reconsidering the merger plan. The Miyako Jima Union Committee, headed by Chairman Akira Ishimine, Hirara City Mayor, led the fight to get Irabu Town back into the fold. The emergency meeting was broadcast on radio and television to insure all Irabu Town residents knew what was happening.

Fukushima Masaharu, the local group chairman opposed to the base idea said “the town’s future must be decided by ourselves. We have to remember this island is to be protected by our hands.”

Uechi Kei, Vice Chairman at the Shimoji Jima Airport Facility Union Association warns it can still happen though. “Yes, the Assembly has voted not to bring the military base to Shimoji, but you never know about the Japanese government. It can still bring the base, so we have to fight with the government until it gives up.”

Reinstating the merger plan came only days before the March 31st deadline. Starting April 1st, the new Japan fiscal year, the central government is to cut subsidies and special treatment monies across Japan. With the merger, cost saving measures can be applied to the southern Okinawa islands.

For a brief period, the Irabu Town Assembly had thought it would be better off financially to support having a military base, and receiving the high revenues it would bring.

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