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Published:April 19th, 2010 09:21 EST
Tokunoshima Island Says "No" to Futenma Relocation

Tokunoshima Island Says "No" to Futenma Relocation

By Geoff Dean

 

 It is a small island in the Satsunan Chain which trails off from Kagoshima prefecture on Kyushu Island and extends to the Okinawan mainland. It is a tropical island, especially treasured by hikers, although hiking is officially discouraged due to the presence of "habu", a Japanese poisonous viper. It has pristine beaches, according to a friend who has visited there, not overdeveloped and overcrowded as so many Japanese beaches are. If you are into such things, you may spot a rare "black rabbit", a species indigenous to the island or you can take in a bullfight (bulls fight other bulls sumo style), a local tradition since ancient times.

 You are unlikely, however, to run into any US military personnel and the island wants to keep it that way.

 Following up on an earlier rally that drew 4,000, the mayors of the three cities that make up the island of Tokunoshima led a protest Sunday against the Hatoyama Administration`s potential plan to move all or part of the US Marine Corps Futenma bases services to the small island. They expected 10,000 people to protest but more than 11,000 actually did. Which is not a bad turnout since the island has a population of a little over 27,000 total.

 The Hatoyama Administration contends that the Tokunoshima proposal is still not official and the US has declared it a)unworkable due to the distance from other facilities that the US must use in tandem with the "new Futenma" and b)impossible in the light of local opposition and environmental concerns. Still, the three mayors and their citizens are not taking any chances.

 As Eri Nakaizumi, a 23 year old "office worker" at Tokunoshima City Hall put it, "we have no idea why the Prime Minister suddenly announced Tokunoshima was being considered as a possible location. We first learned of it in newspapers and on TV." She is concerned about potential environmental damage and an increase in crime but even more so, that the central government may just decide to act without even consulting the local officials.

 The mayor of Tokunoshima city, the largest on the island, Hideki Takaoka, promised to "fight against it until the end." He added that the US was "opposed to relocating to Tokunoshima" as well, contending it made no sense for either side.

 Still, a move to Tokunoshima, an island that few non-hiking afficianados had ever heard of, even in Japan (prior to the Futenma protests, at least), has a potential political benefit for Prime Minister Hatoyama in that he could move the base out of Okinawa prefecture (only slightly, mind you) but keep it within a few hundred miles of the remaining US bases on Okinawa. And Tokunoshima voters have little impact on the overall scheme of things. Kagoshima prefecture as a whole is a Liberal Democratic Party stronghold so the Democratic Party`s Prime Minister may decide that offending them carries little cost.

 The PM`s challenge is to survive long enough to move the Futenma base anywhere as his May deadline looms ever closer and his popularity ratings fall below 25% for the first time and his Democratic Party stumbles closer and closer to the ratings of the discredited Liberal Democratic Party. Some people in a small island in the Pacific are clearly hoping that he doesn`t last that long.