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Senaga Island may see new tourist development

Date Posted: 2009-07-09

A tiny island located only several hundred meters from Naha International Airport may soon be transformed from an undeveloped piece of land in the shadows of lumbering jetliners to a relaxing hot springs and spa.

Senaga Island, originally a tiny village before World War II but an American ammunition depot until five years after Okinawa’s return to Japan in 1972, has seen different enterprises start, but then stop amidst political murmurings surrounding the island’s sacred status. The most recent to fail were plans to encompass the 1.5 kilometer circumference island as part of a Naha International Airport expansion project.

The airport wanted to build a second runway for the airport, locating it some 200 meters from the existing runway. The plan was nixed because Tomigusuku City and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly members said it wasn’t a good idea because citizens couldn’t support it.

Now, though, Tomigusuku City has found a way to transform Senaga Island into a luxury spa and hot springs resort as part of its tourism development program. The hot springs would mesh with the current sports and entertainment facility on the island, and would not interfere with tourists who flock to the island to watch planes taking off and landing from Naha International Airport.

Tomigusuku City is ramrodding the spa project, which would bring lodging facilities and the spa to the island. The city struck the hot springs during February drilling exploration. Even as Tomigusuku City was exploring, the Prefecture and the central government abandoned plans for the 210-meter distant runway plan after citizens complained, opting instead to build the new runway 1,310 meters away from the current runway and far from Senaga Island.

The sacred place on Senaga Island has been rebuilt since the U.S. military handed back the land in 1977, and a board of education member says citizens frequently visit the island from all over Okinawa to worship. An elderly Tomigusuku resident whose parents lived on Senaga Island says he welcomes the city’s development plan, adding he hopes not only for the hot springs resort, but also for the city to reinstate the sacred ground.

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