Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Tokyo despite a heavy police presence during President Barack Obama‘s visit on Nov. 13, to demand an end to US bases under the banner “Break up the Japan-US summit.” Anti-nuclear activists held a separate rally as survivors of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took a letter to the US embassy demanding that Obama follow through on his pledge to work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. A Nov. 8 pre-summit protest drew more than 20,000 on the southern island of Okinawa, where more than half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan are stationed.
At the Nov. 8 rally in Okinawa’s Ginowan City, protesters demanded the immediate closure of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station and opposed the plan to relocate the base to Henoko, another site on the island. An overwhelming majority of Ginowan residents support returning the base site to the city so they can live free of sonic booms from US military aircraft. At the rally, Ginowan Mayor Iha Yoichi urged Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio to take a firm stand on the question in his meeting with Obama. “Okinawa’s future is for us, the Okinawan people to decide,” he told the crowd that spilled out of an open-air theater by the beach. “We cannot let America decide for us.”
Under a 2006 US-Japan agreement, the base in the center of Ginowan is set to be closed and replaced with a facility built partly on reclaimed land at Henoko, a remoter part of the island, by 2014. The deal is part of a wider plan to re-organize the US troop presence in Japan and reduce the burden on Okinawa by moving up to 8,000 Marines to Guam.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Japan to approve the plan ahead of Obama’s visit. Prime Minister Hatoyama of the center-left Democratic Party, who ended half a century of conservative rule in September, has promised to review the pending pact and suggested the new base at Henoko may be dropped. (Political Affairs, al-Alam, Nov. 13; The Telegraph, NYT, Nov. 11; Reuters, Nov. 8)