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Iriomote residents up in arms against resort project

Date Posted: 2002-12-14

Iriomote Island located about 240 miles southwest of Naha is said to be the last wilderness in all Japan. Most of the island is national park with very little development. Its population is only just over 2,000 and a large percentage of them make living out of various eco-tourism ventures.

Now a large Tokyo-based resort development company has set its sights to this island and is well on its way with plans to build a large resort on the island. The company has enlisted the help of Taketomi Mayor Gen Nane - Iriomote is a part of Taketomi Town - in its quest to build the resort, but local residents are furious. They don’t want Iriomote to become a resort area. “This is the last paradise on earth and we don’t want to lose it,” Iriomote Residents’ Association Chairman Kinsei Ishigaki says.

Earlier, the town constructed an eco-tourism center on the island, and subsequently gave the management of the facility to the association. Now the mayor threatens to play hardball with the association, and tries to force it to return the facility to the town unless the association cancels its opposition to the resort project. This infuriates Ishigaki who says “The mayor tries to force us into accepting the resort. He doesn’t even discuss with us about the matter, just orders,” Ishigaki says.

The mayor sees things differently. “It’s my duty to ensure that all residents make a living and the resort would go far towards that. It’s only a few daydreamers who control the association that oppose the project,” Nane says. He also accuses the association of cheap tactics. “The association chairman has sent e-mails to everyone who has a computer urging residents to oppose any resort development without explaining the merits of the project. That disappoints me greatly.”

He also says that the opposition proves that the association is not capable of managing a tourist facility, and that’s the reason he plans to return the management of the center to the town. Members of the Residents Association wow to continue the fight. “We will never allow any Tokyo company to build a resort hotel here,” Ishigaki declares.

It may be a long fight as people in that part of Okinawa are known to be stubborn. They have proven that by delaying the construction of a new airport on the near-by Ishigaki Island for nearly 30 years, and that fight still continues.

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