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Okinawans to get back airfield land

Date Posted: 2006-06-30

It has taken 61 years, but perseverance has paid off for Yomitan residents wanting their land back from the American military.

Much of the Marine Corps’ Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield located in the center of Yomitan Village is to be returned to Japanese control in July, ending a decades-long struggle led by former Yomitan Mayor Tokushin Yamauchi.

The land was originally taken from local residents by Japanese Army officials during World War II with a pledge it would be returned after the war. With Japan’s loss, American troops took over the former Imperial Japanese Army Airfield in the early 1950’s and used it as a training area for airborne troops.

Yamauchi, 78, was only a youngster of 10 when the Battle of Okinawa began with an invasion of his village in April 1945. Through years of hardship following the war, he and fellow residents resolved they wanted their land back. After Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, they thought they’d get justice, but didn’t.

By 1976, Yamauchi was Yomitan Village Mayor, and he still wanted the land, and joined forces with 68-year-old Eiyu Tamaki to regain control of their ancestral lands. The American military, meanwhile, was making plans to build a hugh communications antenna complex on the site, and that rankled Tamaki and Yamauchi. They staged a 40-day protest sit-in to block the construction, and one elderly man even lay down in a two-meter hole to block concrete from being poured.

Yamauchi appealed directly to U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1977, asking his intervention to block the construction. The move worked, and the project was abandoned.

“I was scolded by the central government,” Yamauchi recalls, “because it said “diplomacy is a matter for the central government.” The government called Yamauchi’s actions “outrageous for a village mayor to make a direct appeal to President Carter”, but he says “I called it local government diplomacy.

The 191-hectare Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield is expected to be turned back early next month. Residents say they’ll turn the land into farmland,”a base for crop production and employment.”

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