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Futenma’s future tops 2005 Okinawa news stories

Date Posted: 2005-12-29

The controversy surrounding where to move Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, and a host of military-realignment issues besides, topped the Okinawa news scene for 2005.

An October decision by U.S. and Japanese authorities to relocate the sprawling Marine airfield to a northern Okinawa site at Camp Schwab seemed ideal at that moment, but has become a beehive of angry opposition in the two months since. Futenma now sits atop a hill in densely populated Ginowan City, which wants it gone. A helicopter crash 17 months ago just outside the base didn’t kill anyone, but renewed the protests it be moved. The 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa had agreed to move Futenma, but only after a new airbase was built.

The approved location was Henoko, near Nago on the island’s north side. That plan went awry because of environmental concerns, sending planners back to the drafting board. The new plan calls for a 2,000 meters long runway to be constructed at the existing Marine Corps base Camp Schwab.

Okinawa’s governor, Keiichi Inamine, is but one of many loud voices protesting the plan. Cities, towns, villages and political parties are lining up to denounce the move. Some argue Okinawans weren’t consulted sufficiently about issues pertaining to their future.

Miyazato

A local golfer from a small northern Okinawa village vaulted into the international sports spotlight this year, capturing a half dozen championships enroute to becoming the number two Okinawa story of the year.

Ai Miyazato began her meteoric rise to fame early in her teen years, a mere four years ago. Tiny Higashi Village was thrilled; her father and three brothers all were strong golfers, and having a girl making headlines was great. Miyazato won six major championships, beginning with a World Championship in South Africa in February. She made Olympic headlines before setting her teen goals on being a professional. Aside from the tour victories, the 20-year-old Miyazato this fall earned her professional card on the U.S. Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.

Another local golfer, Shinobu Moromizato, also earned top honors with a ticket to LPGA Tour. Okinawa’s lady golfers are on target for a strong 2006 against the likes of world leaders Annika Sorenstam, Grace Park and Birdie Kim, and Paula Creamer.

World War II Anniversary

The Battle of Okinawa brought World War II to a close sixty years ago, and Okinawans paused to reflect this past June.

The 60th Anniversary of the battle, which claimed tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands in the casualties columns on American and Japanese forces, as well as the Okinawa citizens, came in June. The three-month battle for supremacy in the Pacific Theater led Japan to capitulate and surrender a few weeks after the battle ended in June.

Cities, towns and villages each had their own symposiums, movies, lectures and memorial services. “No more War! Never again!” was the theme, as peace groups rallied in Okinawa and across mainland Japan, resurfacing the stories of the horrors of war. Books were published, targeted to young people being encouraged to never allow war to come again.

School tours from mainland Japan migrated to Okinawa to see firsthand the devastation of 60 years ago, and to study the peaceful rebuilding of Okinawa. “Oh my,” said one student, “It’s terrible boring.” She and others say they didn’t like studying about war, or listening to the explanations offered by the older generation.

Older citizens say that’s a shame, because they worry youngsters won’t understand the terrible tolls of war, and will not resist future conflicts strongly.

City Mergers

The program driving the changes was Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Reform Plan.
Simply stated, the time had come for government to downsize, and local communities to assume responsibilities for many of their own costs and programs. Budget cutback were to affect every corner of Japanese society.

On Okinawa, cities consolidated, forced to merge to achieve economies of scale. Uruma City was born, a consolidation of Gushikawa, Ishikawa, Katsuren and Yonashiro. In the far south, Miyakojima City was created, bringing together Hirara, Gusukube, Ueno, Shimoji and Irabu to a single governmental unit.

Budgets have been slashed, and the central government has handed the tasks of collecting tax money to the local and prefecture governments. The combination of events has forced reductions to many social programs, and outright elimination of others.

Uruma City is today drawing fire because of its reluctance to scale back expenses. The new city still has the same number of assembly members, 88, as the old group of towns did combined. Costs consultants say the new city needs only 38. The politicians are refusing to even consider an election, and are looking past plans to reduce other governmental services. At the same time, they’re not able to answer questions about how they’ll stay financially afloat. Miyakojima City has similar financial problems, and are being forced to privatize city services. Turning kindergartens private has been a first line move, and one that angers citizens with small children. They say the private schools won’t have be the same caliber, or offer the same teaching services.

Election Victories

Voters went to the polls September 11th, and cast ballots for a surprising lot of candidates to the House of Representatives.

Mikio Shimoji, a Naha politician who’d been unceremoniously ousted from his Liberal Democratic Party a year earlier, rolled to victory with the Minshu-tou Party. His return to the political limelight reflected citizens’ concerns with the flat, old fashioned directions and answers offered by old line politicians.

Kantoku Teruya won a seat on the Socialist Party ticket, while Seiken Akamine picked up one with the Communist Party. The other four seats were captured by the Liberal Democratic Party, sending Chiken Kakazu, Kousaburo Nishime, Seiji Nakamura and Osamu Ashitomi to the statehouse.

In the world of power brokering, it means some changes. The Koumeitou had lost to the Minshutou, making it appear the LDP and Koumeitou partnership will be broken up. Without the Koumeitou’s help, the LDP might find it difficult to win important races coming up.

Those races? Okinawa City’s mayoral election is upcoming, as is the quest for a new Okinawa Prefecture Governor to replace incumbent Keiichi Inamine.

High School Teams Win

Konan High School’s handball team earned the Grand Champion title this year in the nationwide tournament. The Okinawa school three times has swept the top championship medals.

The team earlier won in March, in a Limited Handball Tournament, followed by the Nationwide High School General Sports Tournament in August. The third victory round came in October, sweeping the Okayama Prefecture National Games. No school has ever captured all three Gold Medals before.

Naha Nishi High School was second in the Nationwide Soccer Tournament this year, and Yaeyama Commercial High School was selected to the Nationwide High School Baseball Tournament.
The wins all came at the hands of the boys, but girls’ teams are hoping they’ll have a spot in the sunshine come 2006.

Range 4

Another new military facility came on line in 2005, and the controversy surrounding it makes it the number seven story of the year.

An urban battle training facility at Camp Hansen’s Range 4 is designed to prepare soldiers to deal with real-world situations. Local residents do not like the new facility, claiming it is too dangerous for their neighborhoods.

Emergency protest demonstrations began July 19th as the new facility came on line. Organized by Kin Town, the Kin Town Assembly, Igei area residents and Prefecture Assembly members, more than 10,000 showed up to show solidarity. “Stop the Training!” they shouted, demanding the military “Remove the Facility.”

Protests were followed with representatives of the four areas visiting Diet members to formally protest the U.S. training.

Financial Programs

Okinawa gets to keep its special promotional finance programs from the central government.
The Japanese government in Tokyo decided to reorganize its financial engines, and prefecture leaders thought the changes would strip away Okinawa’s special Promotional Financial Facility.

That’s not happening for now, and Okinawa is still developing areas previously agreed upon. The program will continue until 2011.

The government position stated “Okinawa should decide to take care of itself, and should design its own self supporting functions.” It urged Okinawa to support nationwide reform by consolidating its programs into the national program.

Island Beauty

The Ramsar Treaty put into effect in early November supports the pristine status of Okinawa’s isolated islands in the Kerama Archipelago, as well as ocean beaches and Ishigaki City in the Yaeyama Island group.

The Ramsar Treaty directs actions to keep development away from the designated areas. The protection was originally authorized for the areas by a 1999 directive to protect the mangroves along the banks of Kokuba River in Manko Park in Naha City. This is the third decision to protect Okinawa areas. Tokashiki and Zamami Village officers and Ishigaki City officials say “we would like to keep and preserve our lands for the future. Okinawa has to protect its natural environmental resources.

Typhoons

Typhoons across Okinawa rounds out the year’s top ten news stories, as many found their way across the region, although the main island was largely spared

Eight typhoons approached Okinawa this year, with seven attacking the southwest archipelago. Miyako and Yaeyama areas were pummeled this year, leaving one dead, five with serious injuries and another 22 with moderate injuries.

Damages were heavy across the region, wreaking havoc on crops. Fruits, vegetables and sugar cane crops were destroyed, while mango fruit growers report harvesting only half the normal amount of fruit.

Government officials say the typhoon season was normal, and that the number of storms striking the region was about the same as every year. They note Okinawans have been living with typhoons for centuries, and everyone knows how to protect their lives, their homes and their lifestyles.

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