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Baseball reigns on field and Top Story of 2008

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-12-31

Okinawa Shogaku High School captured its second National High School Baseball Invitational Championship, and Urasoe Sogyo nearly did the same in a summer tournament, propelling the teams and the sport into the Top Story of 2008.

Okinawa Shogaku won the 80th annual Spring tournament with a 9-0 win over Seibo Gakuen. It was the school’s fourth appearance in the national tournament, picking up the trophy to place alongside a matching piece from its 1999 victory.

Urasoe Sogyo tried to match its fellow Okinawa competitor in the Summer Tournament, but fell short after losing to Tokoha Gakuen Kikugawa 9-4 in the semi-final round. Osaka Toin High School drubbed Tokoha 17-0 to win the championship.

The role of Japanese soldiers in the mass suicides of Okinawans during the Battle of Okinawa resurrected the decades-old debate, leading to the second spot in the 2008 news rankings. Kenzaburo Oe wrote an essay, Okinawa Notes, charging the soldiers were complicit in the deaths of hundreds of Okinawans, leading two Japanese Army commanders on Zamami and Tokashiki Islands in 1945 to demand the book be banned, denying the military ever forced Okinawans to commit mass suicides.

Elderly Okinawan survivors recounted their stories for the court, which subsequently tossed out the suit, ruling “It can be said the military was deeply involved in the mass suicides.”

Another court ruling, this one against Okinawa Prefecture, made the Awase Tidelands Reclamation Project the year’s third biggest story. Naha District Court rejected the prefecture’s claim the work is essential to east coast development, backing more than 400 citizens who opposed the controversial project first started in 1984 on grounds it was environmentally unfriendly. The story is still unfolding as Governor Hirokazu Nakaima continues to argue the injunction. Okinawa City Mayor Mitsuko Tomon has agreed to allow construction to continue on an earlier approved part of the project, but citizens are demanding ¥2 billion already spent be returned to public coffers.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s defeat at the polls in June, handing control of the Prefecture Assembly to opposition parties was the year’s fourth ranked story. The opposition parties picked up 26 seats in the Assembly, while the LDP has 22, now challenging Governor Hirokazu Nakaima’s policies.

The Beijing Olympics scored fifth in 2008 news, with two Okinawans appearing and one winning a silver medal. Weightlifter Misaki Oshiro finished 8th, while in the Paralympics in Beijing Kamiyonabaru Kanwa picked up the silver prize.

Scandals surrounding the source of Okinawa products, and supermarkets deceiving consumers by altering expiration dates sent consumers scurrying to stores demanding their money back, making the issue the year’s sixth most important topic. Shoppers were upset, and supermarkets scrambled to apologize and promise changes to in-store practices and procedures to stop old products being relabeled as fresh.

Rising oil prices, the world economic crisis and America’s sub-prime loan problems combined to be the year’s 7th biggest story. Gasoline prices have soared, imports and exports have slowed, and businesses feeling the crunch have laid off or fired employees to cut costs.

Acts of misconduct by U.S. military personnel, civilians and dependents turned public opinion against them, collectively making the U.S.-Okinawa relationship the year’s number eight story. Allegations a 38-year-old Marine raped a 14-year-old girl in February led to protests by citizens and restrictions on the Americans by the senior three-star general on the island. The charges were later dropped by Okinawan authorities, but the military court martialed the gunnery sergeant on several charges.

Only days later, an Army sergeant was accused of raping a Filipina bar worker at an Okinawa City hotel. The Naha District Prosecutor ruled insufficient evidence to charge the soldier and dropped the case, but the Army picked it up. The soldier faces court martial next month. A series of taxi robberies and assaults, coupled with breaking and entering, and trespassing charges against military personnel added fervor to the anti-military sentiments. Another rape, this one against a sex worker by the dependent son of a military officer, further fueled demands the military better control its members.

The U.S. military was part of the 9th ranking story of the year, a court ruling that the Japanese government was responsible and liable in a law suit involving an explosion at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. The Naha District Court ordered the government to pay Ginowan City citizens ¥146.7 million as compensation for residents’ inability to sleep well, and to compensate for treatment of mental health issues.

The collision between a freighter and a fishing trawler that killed three fishermen was the number 10 story of 2008. The 9,000-ton container ship sliced a fishing trawler in half while moving through the channel between Minna Island and Sesoko Island in northwest Okinawa, near Motobu, killing the three men who were sent into the water by the collision. Three other crewmen were rescued. The trawler was from the Naha City Inshore Fishery Fishermen’s Association.

Although an investigation by the 11th maritime Safety Office of the Japan Coast Guard is investigating the collision, fishermen are charging safety shortcuts caused the accident. They say the channel is too small for large container ships, but that shipping companies are taking the shorter route along the coast because of rising fuel costs.

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