Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky

For decades, the United States and Japan have continually engaged in obfuscation, subterfuge, and outright lying to maintain Okinawa’s subordination to the priorities of their alliance and to deny the people of Okinawa their self-determination in regard to the U.S. base presence. In order to make plain the depth of the two governments’ deceit, this page will collect their tricks and prevarications in one place. On occasion, the contributions of their surrogates in academia, think tanks, and the media will be featured as well. Entries will be added at most once a day, so if you don’t see your favorite whopper, please be patient.

1. In a Facebook post on June 23, 2016, US Forces Japan misrepresented the US base presence in Okinawa as 39% of its bases in Japan, when in terms of area the actual percentage was 74%. Details here.

2. When Okinawa Governor Ota Masahide opposed plans for a U.S. airbase at Henoko, “the government in Tokyo decided that Ota would have to be removed from office and began a concerted campaign, culminating in a major, illegal appropriation of funds that was successful in ousting him in the elections of December 1998.” Source: Gavan McCormack and Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Resistant Islands : Okinawa confronts Japan and the United States, p. 96.

3. Three days before the Nago City mayoral election in January 2014, with polls showing the LDP-backed candidate trailing anti-base Mayor Inamine, then-LDP Secretary-General Ishiba promised voters Tokyo would set up a 50 billion yen economic revitalization fund. When Inamine won anyway, it turned out “that Ishiba had not in fact been referring to any ‘new’ fund but to the possibility that Okinawa might create one itself out of its existing and promised monies.”

4. Early in June 2016, the Japanese government pledged “to bolster patrols in Okinawa Prefecture as it works to allay ongoing fears about crimes by U.S. military personnel, following the alleged rape and murder of a local woman by an ex-marine.” Only in late July was it learned that Defense Ministry employees supposedly sent for that purpose were in fact working “as guards to the helipad construction site in Higashi Village, Takae.” That is, instead of protecting Okinawan citizens from U.S. military personnel, they were protecting U.S. military facilities from Okinawan citizens.

5. Defenders of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa cite statistics lumping together all crimes to present service members and contractors as more law-abiding than Okinawans, but statistics on heinous crimes lead to the opposite conclusion. Details here.

6. In 1969, Prime Minister Satō and President Nixon secretly agreed that after the return of Okinawa to Japanese control, the U.S. would retain the right to introduce nuclear weapons into Okinawa “in time of great emergency”. When he signed the agreement, “Satō had not only broken his oft-stated promise of a post-reversion Okinawa without nuclear weapons (kaku-nuki), but he had violated his own proclamation in 1967 of ‘The Three Non-Nuclear Principles’,” writes Steve Rabson.

7. Officers and civilian officials of the U.S. military in Okinawa have repeatedly maligned Okinawan protesters: accusing them of faking injuries, of being “paid by the Communist Party”, and to top it off, charging them with hate speech.

8. In 2009, when a new administration came to power in Japan pledging to close the Futenma base and move it outside Okinawa, if not outside Japan, senior officials undermined their own government, urging their U.S. contacts to hold firm and “refrain from demonstrating flexibility.” If U.S. officials similarly betrayed their county’s elected leadership, their actions would certainly be deemed treasonous.

9. On December 9, 2009, three months after coming to power pledging that the Futenma base would be moved outside of Okinawa, the Hatoyama administration informed the United States that it would ultimately accept the Futenma relocation to Henoko. The government kept this from the Japanese people, instead, as Gavan McCormack puts it, maintaining “the public façade of searching for a relocation site outside Okinawa (in accordance with his and the Party’s electoral pledge) for six more months.”

10. On May 4, 2010, Prime Minister Hatoyama explained why he was abandoning his pledge to move the Futenma base outside of Okinawa: “In terms of the role of the Marine Corps in the totality of all US forces in Okinawa, the more I learned, the more I have come to realize their interoperability. I have come to believe that it was the [only] way to maintain deterrence.” Nine months later, he admitted that this was just a pretext, “a rationale to justify” his failure.

11. On July 22, 2016, the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau removed tents belonging to protesters against construction of U.S. military helipads near the Takae district of Higashi village. Asked about this by the Okinawa Times, the Okinawa Roads Management Section replied: “The Defense Bureau cannot remove tents on the basis of the Roads Law. We don’t know what legal authority they had for removing them.” The Defense Bureau provided none either.

12. On August 13, 2004, a US Marine helicopter crashed inside Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the Futenma airbase. Marines immediately occupied the university – a civilian area – ejecting journalists, local police and firefighters, and the mayor. Though the Okinawa Lawyers Association protested “It is clear that illegal police powers were invoked in violation of the sovereign rights of our country,” the Japanese government raised no objection.

13. With the exception of bases designated as “United Nations Forces installations”, the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty does not authorize the training of third-country troops on U.S. bases in Japan. Starting in January 2015, however, British troops trained at U.S. bases in Okinawa not so designated. Tokyo’s views on the legality of such training seem to have undergone a sudden shift:
1971: would not be allowed after the reversion of Okinawa to Japan
July 19, 2016: not allowed under the Security Treaty
August 8, 2016: would be decided depending on the circumstances

14. In June 2013, Kadena Air Base leaked 55,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Hija River. As Jon Mitchell reports, “The base took 27 hours to notify local authorities, but its subsequent press release stated, ‘The health and safety of our service members and our friends in local community is our top priority.’ Follow-up emails exchanged among USAF officials include the comment, ‘We received little media coverage. So that’s good news.’

15. In April 2010, the U.S. informed Japan that no proposals for alternatives to Henoko as a site for relocating Futenma units would be considered unless Tokyo first won local residents’ consent. As McCormack and Norimatsu suggest in Resistant Islands (p. 124), this “newfound sensitivity” made sense only as a way to induce Prime Minister Hatoyama’s unconditional surrender to the Henoko plan. The local consent requirement, far from applying to the people of Nago City, was a stratagem to ensure they were ignored.

16. In July 2014, it was learned that the Futenma “relocation” to Henoko would involve not just coastal facilities, but over 30 inland facilities as well. As Kyodo reported, Tokyo had been hiding this from the Japanese public for years.

17. In July 2014, Kyodo reported that “leading up to the deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Futenma in 2012, the [Japanese] government denied the U.S. Marine Corps’ deployment plan for more than 10 years, fearful of fueling anger among local residents, despite Washington requesting that Tokyo make the details public.”

18. When briefing students of anthropologist David Vine in December 2010, the chief of the State Department’s Japan desk described Okinawans as “lazy” and as masters of extortion with an “island mentality” contributing to various social vices. When the students went public with Kevin Maher’s comments, he had to resign his post. But such was the U.S. government’s tolerance for anti-Okinawan bigotry that it rehired him following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster as U.S. coordinator of “Operation Tomodachi” – the Pentagon’s spectacularly successful PR campaign.

19. In 1968, while still under U.S. administration, Okinawa held its first election to select its Chief Executive. Washington and Tokyo conspired to aid the LDP candidate by making it appear that he deserved credit for Okinawans gaining the right to vote in national elections. But the voters weren’t fooled; they elected the progressive Yara Chobyo, who called for the unconditional return of the U.S. bases.

20. Steve Rabson recounts that during the 1968 election campaign for Chief Executive, “U.S. authorities spread the word that if opposition-party candidate and anti-base movement leader Chobyo Yara won, there would be massive layoffs of Okinawan civilians working on the bases.” Yara won anyway, and the U.S. carried out its threat.

21. When Okinawa elects anti-base leaders, Tokyo responds by refusing to meet with them. Gavan McCormack relates that Governor Ota was “frozen out of all contacts with the national government from February to December 1998”. Similarly, Governor Onaga travelled to Tokyo twice after taking office in December 2014, but was denied an audience with either the Prime Minister or Chief Cabinet Secretary until April of the next year. At such times, Tokyo does more than spurn a politician; it scorns the democratically expressed will of the Okinawan people.

22. Contrary to regulations allowing the testing of depleted uranium shells only at specific firing ranges in the U.S., the U.S. military fired approximately 1520 such shells into the island of Torishima from December 1995 to January 1996. The Pentagon then waited over a year to notify Japan of its violation, and when it did so, Prime Minister Hashimoto did nothing about it. Source: Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, pp. 49-50.

23. After the test firing of depleted uranium (DU) munitions on Torishima (see #22) was exposed in 1997, the U.S. embassy declared that all of the Marines’ DU ammunition had been removed from Japan. But in May 2000, a Kadena Air Base commander revealed that DU shells were being stored at the armory there. Then came the news that years earlier, the U.S. military had sold hundreds of used DU shell cartridges to a scrap-metal dealer in nearby Nishihara.

24. In October 2015 we learned that of the thirteen members of a government panel set up to study the environmental impact of landfill and construction work for the Henoko base, three – including the chairman – received “research assistance donations” from contractors involved in that work. A fourth member received a salary as a director at an NGO headed by the president of a consulting firm also involved in the project.

25. In 1956, Okinawa’s capital city of Naha elected Senaga Kamejiro of the Okinawa People’s Party. Chalmers Johnson writes: “The Americans thereupon rescinded the law under which the mayor had been elected, stripped him of office, and used the Central Intelligence Agency to funnel money to his conservative opponents.” Blowback, p. 52.

26. In February 2009, the U.S. and Japan concluded a “Guam International Agreement” regarding the Henoko base plan. Then, in May, it was adopted – on the Japanese side only – as a treaty. With fall elections threatening the LDP’s hold on power, Gavan McCormack explains that this extraordinary step was taken “to bind the prospective DPJ government then waiting in the wings, knowing full well the opposition DPJ’s stance – that no new base should be built within Okinawa and Futenma should be returned tout court.” That is, it was a device to circumvent the will of Japanese voters.

27. In December 1945, the Diet revoked the right of people in Japan’s former colonies Korea and Taiwan to vote in Japanese elections. However, it did likewise for the people of Okinawa. Thus, writes Herbert Bix, “when the Ninetieth Imperial Diet … met in 1946 to accept the new ‘peace’ constitution, not a single representative from Okinawa was present.” Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, p. 627.

28. On June 27, 1947, General Douglas MacArthur, who essentially ruled Japan as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, told a group of American editors and publishers that “the Ryukyus are our natural frontier,” adding that “the Japanese will not be opposed to America keeping Okinawa because the Okinawans are not Japanese.” Three months later, MacArthur’s assessment proved correct in the case of one Japanese: Emperor Hirohito asked the U.S. to occupy Okinawa for ninety-nine years. Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, pp. 625-627.

29. In 1996, charges Chalmers Johnson, Ambassador Walter Mondale “helped engineer a deceitful scheme in which the American government publicly promised to give back the Marine Corps air station at Futenma to the Okinawans but privately required that Japan provide the United States with an equivalent base elsewhere in Okinawa”. Mondale then declared that “we have tried in a very intensive way to be good neighbors to our friends in Okinawa.” Blowback, p. 40.

30. Futenma (see #29) was not the only instance of the U.S. demanding a quid pro quo for returning Okinawan land. The same pattern is evident in the agreement to return part of Camp Gonsalves, but only if the Marines get six new helipads near Higashi village’s Takae district. But for utter shamelessness it’s hard to top the Marines’ refusal to part with a 47-acre golf course unless provided with a replacement “18-hole, par-72 course with a 241-yard driving range, a putting green, a two-story clubhouse, a pro shop and other facilities”.

31. John Dower, writing about American-imposed censorship during the occupation of Japan from 1945 until 1952: “Throughout the occupation, and indeed until 1955, no news reports or commentaries about Okinawa were published in the press”. Depriving mainland Japanese of news about Okinawa may have contributed to an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that persists today. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, p. 434.

32. In December 2006, the Vice Defense Minister assured Okinawan leaders that surveys for the Henoko base’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would be conducted only after the scoping phase. “But,” writes former Okinawa University president Sakurai Kunitoshi, “no sooner were the words out of his mouth than the waters off of Henoko were churned up for the status survey, probably chasing the dugong away… As a result, when the survey was made after the scoping process, dugongs were not observed in the Henoko waters, and thus the preliminary and final EIA statements concluded that there would be little impact on the dugong if a base were built and operated in those waters.”

33. On November 28, 2011, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Bureau was asked when the final impact statement for the Henoko base’s Environmental Impact Assessment (see #32) would be delivered. He replied “Would you give a prior warning when you are about to rape someone?” One month later, after two attempts had been thwarted by protesters, the EIA was delivered to the Okinawa prefecture office at 4:00 in the morning.

34. According to former Okinawa University president Sakurai Kunitoshi, the Henoko base EIA (see #32 and #33) “is the most unlawful of its kind ever”. Though the deployment of Osprey aircraft had been secretly planned for years (see #17), it was not added to the EIA until the final statement. Because citizens may comment only at earlier stages, they were denied any input into the assessment pertaining to Osprey deployment.

35. Evidence that the U.S. military stored Vietnam War defoliants on Okinawa includes military documents, photographs, testimonies from hundreds of American veterans, the discovery at a former military dumpsite in Okinawa City of all key components of Agent Orange, and a 2009 Veterans Administration ruling stating that “the records pertaining to Operation Red Hat show herbicide agents were stored and then later disposed in Okinawa from August 1969 to March 1972.” Nevertheless, the Pentagon insists there is no proof defoliants were ever present on Okinawa.

36. In 1956, seven students at the University of the Ryukyus took part in protests against the Price Report, which rationalized the long-term holding of Okinawan land by the U.S. military. The university intended to simply caution the students, but U.S. occupation authorities made threats regarding the university’s future, and six students were expelled. Resistant Islands, p. 81.

37. Since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, Japan has taken the lead in suppressing Okinawan dissent. But sometimes, it seems, the Americans can’t resist joining in. On December 22, 2010, Japan resumed construction of U.S. Marine helipads near Higashi Village’s Takae district. On the night of the 23rd, the protesters’ sit-in tent was blown down by a U.S. military helicopter hovering 15 meters overhead. And on February 22, 2015, Camp Schwab detained two activists for four hours before turning them over to the police. No charges were filed, and they were released the next day.

38. When Okinawa’s leaders travel to Washington, U.S. officials invariably tell them that the Henoko base is an issue between Okinawa and the government of Japan. This half-truth portrays the U.S. as an innocent bystander with no voice in the siting of its bases in Japan. “You must take your concerns to your own officials in Tokyo,” they suggest, knowing full well that is futile. In this way, Washington masks its central role in the subordination of Okinawa to U.S. security priorities, and gives Okinawan leaders the runaround.

39. In the late 1960s, Japan insisted that the U.S. hold on to its bases after the reversion of Okinawa, thus betraying the hopes of the Okinawan people. Sensing weakness on Japan’s part, Washington demanded $650 million in exchange. Tokyo paid up, but concealed all but $320 million of that amount from the public, and claimed that $70 million was for the removal of nuclear weapons. Decades later, Japan’s chief negotiator revealed that this figure was concocted “to be able to say ‘Since Japan paid so much, the nuclear weapons were removed.’ We did it to cope with opposition parties in the Diet.”

40. In 1974, Okinawa Governor Yara expressed concerns about the risk of leaks in the U.S. military’s old oil pipelines. Privately, the U.S. Consulate reacted with sarcasm: “PIPELINE HAS NOW BEEN ADDED TO LEFTIST CATALOGUE OF EVILS OF U.S. BASE SYSTEM.” Besides, “PATROLMEN WERE CHECKING THE PIPELINE TWICE A DAY AND HAD ALWAYS MADE REPAIRS WHEN NECESSARY.” Sixteen months later, these measures proved inadequate when, as Jon Mitchell notes, one of the pipelines spilled 14,000 gallons of diesel into a river. If anyone was swayed by ideological biases, it was the U.S. Consulate, not Yara.

41. In a 2009 pact (see #26), Japan and the U.S. agreed that upon completion of the Henoko base, 8000 Marines and 9000 dependents would be transferred to Guam. In a secret cable, the U.S. embassy reported that “the two sides knew that these numbers differed significantly from actual Marines and dependents assigned to units in Okinawa,” but had been “deliberately maximized to optimize political value in Japan” – i.e. to exaggerate the extent to which the burden of the U.S. military presence on Okinawa would be reduced. The cable also revealed that a provision under which the U.S. would pay for a $1 billion road in Guam was also intended as a trick for selling the deal in Japan. As Gavan McCormack notes, “its inclusion reduced the Japanese proportion of the $10.1 billion overall cost from 66 per cent to 59 per cent, making it seem slightly less unequal. The road was neither necessary nor likely ever to be built.”

42. In October 2015, seeking to put cracks in Nago City’s opposition to the Henoko base, Tokyo invited the heads of three of the city’s sub-districts to a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, and promised 13 million yen for each sub-district. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga then announced that all three now agreed – with conditions – to base construction. The three sub-district heads, however, insisted that Suga had misunderstood, with the head of Toyohara declaring that “absolutely no-one in Toyohara” wanted the base.

43. The January 2016 election for mayor of Ginowan, site of the Futenma airbase, was a contest between Mr. Sakima, who favored relocation to Henoko, and Mr. Shimura, who wanted the base removed from Okinawa entirely. Somehow, the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau obtained a union letter of support for Shimura, as well as detailed information about rallies. Officials emailed this information to colleagues in Tokyo. We know this because the bureau was required by law to provide the emails in response to the Asahi Shimbun’s request. Officials deny engaging in illegal political activities, but “while the e-mail messages related to Sakima were released in their entirety, those related to Shimura had large portions blacked out. Bureau officials explained that the messages were censored because full disclosure could negatively impact on the work of the bureau.” Yes, because full disclosure would likely reveal that “the work of the bureau” involved opposing Shimura – an undeniably political activity.

44. On June 26, 2014, a U.S. Marine MV-22B Osprey flew from Iwakuni air base in Yamaguchi Prefecture to Futenma airbase in Okinawa, and at some point was struck by lightning, causing failures to onboard systems and $286,627 in damage. Responding to press inquiries, U.S. military authorities stated that:

  1. The Osprey was struck while parked on Futenma’s runway.
  2. There was no sign of any lightning strike during the flight.
  3. No thunderstorms had been predicted.

However, an accident report obtained by Jon Mitchell via the Freedom of Information Act stated that:

  1. The Osprey was struck as it flew over Kobayashi city in Miyazaki Prefecture.
  2. The crew experienced the strike as “a bright flash with varying levels of turbulence.”
  3. Both Iwakuni air base and Kagoshima Airport had warned of a thunderstorm.

Thus, all three public pronouncements were false, and the fact that they consistently minimized the incident’s seriousness and the U.S. military’s responsibility for it suggests that that was precisely their purpose.

45. On May 2, 2018, Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert Neller tried to shift the blame for incidents and accidents involving Futenma-based aircraft by stating that while the base was built on land where no one lived, “now the cities around Futenma are right up to the fence.” In fact, the US military seized the land from local residents in 1945 while holding many of them in internment camps.

46. On January 6, 2019, three weeks after starting landfill for the Henoko base, Prime Minister Abe appeared on NHK, assuring viewers that “Coral reefs were transplanted before the sand and dirt were dumped in.” This was one fiction laid upon another. First, a few coral colonies had been moved from other areas, but not from the current landfill site. Second, a coral expert warns that “Even if the coral is relocated, the survival rate is low, and furthermore it does not make for good environmental conservation policy.” Thus, even where it was actually happening, transplanting the Henoko coral was just for show – putting lipstick on the pig of ecocide.

47. Prior to establishing a Ground SDF garrison on Miyako-jima in March, 2019, the Defense Ministry had assured locals that though the base would store small arms, there would be no munitions depot. In early April, Defense Minister Iwaya admitted that in fact, medium-range multipurpose guided missiles and 81-mm mortar shells were stored there. A farmer commented, “We could never imagine guided missiles and mortar shells from such words as firearms and rifles. I cannot help question whether the government is simply pushing forward projects without properly informing the public. I am full of distrust.” And well he might, for deceit regarding military deployments is standard operating procedure for the Japanese government, one example being the deployment of Osprey to Futenma in 2012 (see #17).

48. In 1992, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit held its first drill on Okinawa. It did so in secret. Why? As the exercise plan explains, “our goals are to ensure long-term access to Okinawa bases” and “information concerning this exercise should not be disclosed” because “the details of this exercise is politically sensitive to the Okinawan people.” In other words, the Marines concealed their actions in Okinawa from the Okinawan people out of the fear that opposition would threaten their “long-term access to Okinawa bases.” Though US officials would have us believe the Marines are “good neighbors” to Okinawa (see #29), this story shows them to be cunning and deceitful “neighbors”.

49. On April 3, 2019, under cover of night, US Marines entered an encampment in Takae used by protesters against construction of Osprey helipads and removed a tent, chair(s), and messages sent from all over Japan. As Jon Mitchell tweeted, “Very rare for US military to take direct action against Okinawan demonstrators – usually such work is left to Japanese police.” True, but this is not the first time the Marines – acting as if Okinawans are trespassers on Marine territory, and not the reverse – have interfered with peaceful protest against the US base presence in Okinawa (see #37).


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