Asia Rights

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Posted in Japan, News on August 10th, 2011

Ainu Elder Ogawa Ryukichi and others outside the Hokkaido University ossuary


Ainu People Seek Redress

On 10 June 2011, about one hundred people gathered at a symposium in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture, to demand the return of Ainu remains held by Hokkaido University and other Japanese institutions. The Ainu are the indigenous people of northern Japan and surrounding islands (see text box below).

One of the participants in the symposium, Ms.Yuri Jonoguchi, now in her seventies, recalled how her grandfather’s grave had been excavated and his remains removed by Dr. Sakuzaemon Kodama, an anthropologist belonging to Hokkaido University’s Medical Faculty, in 1935. “My mother, who is now dead, told me how sad she was that she had never managed to recover grandfather’s remains,” said Ms. Jonoguchi, “Now I am old like my mother, but if I go to heaven without recovering his remains, I feel that mother and grandmother will be angry with me.”

Tetsuya Ueki, professor of philosophy at Tomakomai Komazawa University said “in using their authority to gather Ainu remains, anthropologists inflicted great violence on the indigenous minority. The university must investigate the issue of historical responsibility, take proper steps to identify the relatives, return remains and grave goods to them, and apologize to them.”

The Removal of Ainu Remains by Anthropologists

The story goes back to the 1880s, when some anthropologists and scholars of anatomy began to gather Ainu skeletal remains by digging up the graveyards of Ainu communities. The practice continued until the 1960s. The main motive for these acts of desecration was to conduct anthropometric research in order to define the “typical characteristics” of Ainu people. Many academic papers based on this “research” were published. Graves of close relatives of the living were sometimes excavated without consent, and in some cases valuable grave goods (tamasai) were also removed.

The key figures in this research were Dr. Kodama (1895-1970) from Hokkaido University, Dr. Masakiyo Koganei (1858-1944) from Tokyo Imperial University and Dr. Kenji Kiyono (1885-1955) from Kyoto University. In the 1980s, one of the bereaved families asked the University of Hokkaido for the return of the remains of their relative, which had been held in the Medical Faculty’s Animal Research Center (sic) for years. The relatives and the Ainu Association delivered letters of protest to the University, and as a result, the remains of relatives were returned to thirty-five families. The university built an ossuary next to the university hospital to hold other remains; but the remains of 929 people still lie in numbered boxes in the ossuary.

The university has never apologized to the indigenous people, and nobody knows the whereabouts of the grave goods taken from the tombs. In 2008, Ainu Ekashi [Elder] Ogawa Ryukchi used Japan’s Freedom of Information Law to request the university to release all their papers, reports, letters, notes and other documentation related to this anthropometric research. The university has provided him with 35 pieces of information.

Among the recently released material are lists of excavated Ainu bones, prepared by the university’s Second Department of Anatomy (date unknown). The Research Group on Materials Released by Hokkaido University [Hokudai Kaiji Monjo Kenkyukai], a support group working with Mr. Ogawa, has found certain conflicts between the content of the documents and the material items held by the university. Ogawa Ekashi and the research Group continue to battle for the full release of materials and return of Ainu remains.

Ainu inau (ritual staffs) erected to honour the dead at the Hokkaido University ossuary


The “Ainu Policy Promotion Council” [Ainu Seisaku Suishin Kaigi], created by the government in December 2009, has made the following recommendations to the government:

3-(4) Actions to Respect Ainu Spiritual Culture

  • In relation to Ainu remains held by universities etc.: where it is possible to return remains to relatives etc., each university should return the remains in its possession; where the aim of returning remains to relatives cannot be fulfilled, remains should be collectively placed in a symbolic site under state guidance, and care should be taken to provide the possibility for conducting ceremonies to respect the dead.
  • Where remains are held collectively, steps should be taken, in collaboration with the relevant universities etc., to obtain information on the conditions surrounding the safekeeping of Ainu remains, in order to be able to consider ways to advance the return or collective safekeeping of remains.
  • Where remains are kept collectively, attention should be paid to the holding places established by the relevant institutions, and efforts should be made to obtain the understanding of the local community. With the understanding of Ainu people, the possibility should be provided for collectively held remains to contribute to research that enhances understanding of Ainu history.

However, the Research Group on Hokkaido University Materials argues that this recommendation is too vague, does not give sufficiently strong guidance on the return of remains, does allow for appropriate input from Ainu communities into the control of collectively held remains, and does not sufficiently emphasize the need for dialogue between the institutions and the Ainu community about this issue.

The UN International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, endorsed by Japan in 2007, clearly states:

  • Article 11
    1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.
    2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
  • Article 12
    1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.
    2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.
    (emphasis added)


At the conclusion of the June Symposium, the audience and members of the Research Group on Materials released by Hokkaido University joined in reading a demand addressed to the government, national parliament and university. This states “you must start earnest and careful dialogue with all Ainu people, with a view to returning the remains to the families”


For further information see:

Ainu: The Indigenous People of Hokkaido and Neighbouring Islands

Japan has four major islands and many smaller surrounding islands. Hokkaido is one of the major islands, and is the northernmost and second largest one. It is 78,000km²: a little smaller than Ireland and a little larger than Sri Lanka.

In Hokkaido and some neighbouring subarctic islands, humans have lived for over 22,000 years, relying on the rich natural forest and marine resources. The presence of abundant archaeological remains demonstrates that there has been continuous human habitation throughout this time. Following various ethno-cultural changes, the Satsumon people, who are considered to be ancestors of the present-day Ainu people, became conspicuous around the end of the 12th century CE. Between the 13th and 19th centuries, cultural developments led to the flowering of Ainu culture, based on hunting, fishing, plant gathering and trading valuables with other peoples including the Japanese.

In 1869, the Japanese government in Tokyo established a Development Bureau [Kaitakushi] in Sapporo, Hokkaido. The Bureau began large scale development and colonization of the island. Many settlers (including “soldier-settlers) came to Hokkaido from other Japanese islands. In this process of colonization, the Development Bureau never acknowledged the rights of the “natives”. Ainu people were prohibited from maintaining their own way of life. They were forced to speak the Japanese language, go to Japanese schools, adopt Japanese names and wear Japanese dress. They were deprived of their traditional lands and forced to move from traditional settlements. They lost the right to hunt and fish, and were forced to till the land the land, seek wage employment and perform military service.

Despite the democratization that followed Japan’s defeat in World War II, the government failed to recognize the right of Ainu people to self-determination. It was only in 2007 that the Japanese government endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and also also finally acknowledged the indigenous status of the Ainu people.

The officially recognized Ainu population of Hokkaido is around 24,000.  Some Ainu people also now live in other parts of Japan including Tokyo. Japan has a total population of about 120 million.

The Fukushima Crisis

Posted in Japan, News on July 13th, 2011




Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Australian National University

Not Yet “After”

We call it “3/11”, but it is important to be clear about one thing: Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident were not a triple disaster that happened on 11 March 2011. This was a disaster that began on 11 March 2011, and is still unfolding. No one yet knows when it will end. “After” is still somewhere in the uncertain future.

The official figures tell us that around 15,000 people were killed by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, and around 8,000 people are still missing. Of those, the great majority will probably never be accounted for. For the families and friends of these people above all, this disaster is still happening. Relatives of the missing still search the rubble for anything to hold on to, or (like one man interviewed a little while ago on Japanese TV) find it impossible to resist the impulse still, day after day, to ring the cell-phone number of a missing daughter, only to hear over and over and over again: “The cell phone you have called is switched off or out of range. You are being connected to an automated voice mail system. Please leave a message…”

Even the official statistics are full of uncertainties. Some people from the tsunami-affected areas say that the figures of missing simply do not add up, and that the real number is higher than 8,000. [i] Conversely, confusion and evacuations mean that figures of missing people from some areas may be exaggerated.[ii] Until the next nationwide census is held, we will probably not even know for sure the number of victims of the quake and tsunami. Meanwhile, 90,000 tsunami displaced people are still living in evacuation centers or makeshift temporary housing – many are elderly, and they are experiencing all the physical and mental health effects that go with such displacement and trauma.[iii] Japan has fewer than 20 experts specializing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress.[iv]

The most pressing human need at present is to address the ongoing sufferings of those who lost homes, families and friends in the earthquake and tsunami. In a broader sense, I believe that the disaster will also have a very significant impact both on the Japanese economy and on national politics. Here, however, I shall focus primarily on the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident, because this has enormously compounded the gravity of the crisis, and because there are steps that should be being taken now to address this aspect of the crisis, but that are being dangerously neglected or delayed.

The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant accident is still happening, and will (according to the relatively optimistic scenario spelled out by the plant’s operators Tokyo Electric Power Co – Tepco) continue at least until January next year – and that’s if all goes to plan. Only then will the plant management have things sufficiently under control to begin to lower the temperature of the fuel rods in the damaged reactors below 100 degrees: a process that is in turn a preliminary step to the immensely expensive, difficult and uncertain process of safely decommissioning the reactors.

The plan, however, depends on the successful operation of a complex and experimental system for purifying and recycling the approximately 110,000 tons of highly radioactive waste water that has accumulated under the reactors. This water contains about the same amount of radioactive material as was released during the initial explosions between 11 and 16 March.[v] After several false starts, operation of the system finally got underway at the end of June, narrowly averting a further disaster: the rapidly accumulating waste water would have started flooding out of the reactors had the start been delayed by a few more days. As a Tepco spokesperson has acknowledged, maintaining the four kilometres of hoses that connect the system involves substantial risks.[vi] Repeated breakdowns have occurred since the system started operating on 27 June.[vii]

The Uncertainty Principle

Meanwhile, so far, nine workers at the Fukushima plant are known to have been exposed to over 250 millisieverts of radiation.[viii] Like most people in Japan, before 11 March 2011 I had never even heard of a millisievert. Now (like many people in Japan) I know enough about them to realize that over 250 millisieverts is a serious matter: more than five times the annual upper exposure limit for nuclear workers imposed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and more than 12 times the upper limit for imposed in Germany. Among the nine most severely affected workers, at least two have been exposed to doses more than 30 times the upper annual limit allowed for German workers.[ix] What has happened to the health of these workers, and how they feel about their plight, has not been reported.

In a disaster of this magnitude, the irradiation of nine workers, though sad, might seem a relatively small social cost. But the truly alarming fact is that we know that these workers have been exposed to that level of radiation only because their radiation levels have been properly monitored. As of mid-June there were (according to the Japanese national broadcaster NHK) some 1,400 workers who had been employed at the plant after 11 March and whose radiation levels have not been properly monitored, so no-one knows for sure what levels of radiation they have been exposed to.[x] Even more extraordinarily, more than 60 workers who were brought in to help with the post-3/11 clean-up have apparently since left and can no longer be contacted for follow-up checks, because their addresses were never registered by Tepco nor by the labour contractors who supplied them to the power company.[xi] This reflects the fact that many workers have been recruited through contracting companies which draw their labour from the poorest and most marginalized Japanese communities. They are, in short, the latest generation in a long line of Japan’s “nuclear gypsies” who (as reported in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists more than 25 years ago) “do not have work records and do not qualify for workmen’s benefits… [but] are hired for each job by one contractor or another, dismissed when the job is completed, and then lost track of when they return to the pool of irregularly employed labourers.”[xii]

80,000 people have been evacuated from the 20 kilometre Danger Zone [Keikai Kuiki] around the Fukushima nuclear plant, and have no idea when or if they will be able to return to their homes, jobs and communities. Voluntary evacuations of those living in radiation hot-spots further away from the plant (in an area known as the “Planned Evacuation Zone” – Keikakuteki Hinan Kuiki) are now underway, and some suggest that as many as 70,000 more people will ultimately need to be evacuated. The first detailed survey of radiation levels in Namie-Machi, one of several communities straddling the Danger Zone, was conducted some three months after the accident began. This survey highlighted a fact well-known from other nuclear accidents: that radiation does not spread out in smooth rings from the site of the accident, but spreads unevenly across the landscape, depending on topography, prevailing winds etc. One primary school only 6 kilometres away from Fukushima No. 1 plant showed radiation levels little over normal background radiation (just 0.27 microsieverts per hour), while Tsushima campus of Namie Prefectural High School, 27 kilometres from the plant, showed radiation levels more than sixty times as high (17.2 microsieverts per hour).[xiii]

Another part of Namie-Machi, the mountain village of Akôgi, lies 31 kilometres from the stricken Fukushima plant. Between 23 March and 4 July 2011, residents of the village were exposed to over 48 millisieverts of radiation: more than twice the limit allowed for nuclear power workers in Germany, and a dangerously high level for children. This figure does not include the doses received immediately following the reactor explosions. Japan’s Ministry of Education and Science was aware within days of the accident that radiation doses in the village were at exceptionally high levels, but, although they released statistics of the radiation level, they did not reveal the name of the village where the reading had be taken, so the residents were not aware of the problem until 11 April, almost one month later.[xiv]

What does all this mean for the people who live in places like Namie-Machi?

No-one knows.

That, in a sense, is the most disturbing fact to emerge from this nuclear accident: human beings have the ability to release the enormous power of atomic fission, and use it for many purposes, but do not yet have the scientific capacity to determine the effects on human health or the natural environment of long-term exposure to low-to-medium levels of radiation. The effects of radiation are immensely complex – depending on the nature of the radioactive isotopes, the environment in which they exist, the way in which they are absorbed by the human body, the age, gender and genetic predispositions of the individual exposed to radiation etc. – and because everyone is already exposed to varying low doses of natural background radiation.

Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl disaster, therefore, no-one knows how many people died, or are likely to die in the future, as a result of that accident. Plausible estimates range from a low of around 9,000 people to a high of around 90,000 people, with all kinds of possible gradations in between.[xv] The lower figure comes from the 2005 report of the United Nations’ Chernobyl Forum, established under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) with input from other groups including the World Health Organization (WHO).[xvi] However, serious questions have been raised both about the content of the report and (particularly) about the way in which its findings were reported in the media.[xvii]  Some environmental groups have come up with much higher estimates of almost a million people, though most scientists treat these with skepticism.[xviii]

Of course, the amount of radiation released from the Fukushima plant in the period immediately following the explosion is believed to have been only about 14% of the amount released in the Chernobyl accident.[xix] A very crude extrapolation of the lower Chernobyl estimates would therefore suggest a possible death toll in Japan of about 1,200 people – though a wide range of factors such as population density, the effectiveness of evacuation programs, differences in the nature of the explosions, improvements in cancer treatment etc. would need to be taken into account to produce any genuinely meaningful projection (and, of course, no-one knows whether the 9,000 figure for Chernobyl is realistic or not).

Needless to say, many more people have suffered physical and mental health effects from the Chernobyl disaster, both from radiation and more widely from the social impact of evacuation and disruption to their lives. An equally profound problem, though, is our perception of deaths and health problems caused by a disaster like Chernobyl. With a few exceptions (such as cases of death from thyroid cancer) it is virtually impossible to determine which particular deaths are results of exposure to radiation caused by the disaster, rather than being results of the many other factors which can cause precisely similar cancers. So we can never put names and faces to these deaths. Even if “only” 9,000 people, or “only” half or a quarter of that number, die as a result of the Chernobyl accident, that is a terrible toll that would produce massive and dramatic media coverage if all these people died simultaneously in a fire or explosion. But instead, they die separately, one-by-one, dispersed and un-recordable. They are hypothetical statistics, not human beings. They are the bodiless dead, the invisible dead. They suffer and die just as much as they would if killed by single explosion, but they are very much easier to wipe from public consciousness.

It is true, as many nuclear experts point out, that the levels if ambient radiation being measured in Tokyo are only minimally above background radiation level, and that some of the fears being expressed by Tokyo residents about the dangers of radiation are exaggerated (though serious questions about food and water safety etc. remain). But for people living closer to the stricken plant, it is another matter. To put it in practical terms, if you live in Akôgi (or other similar radiation hot spots outside the official evacuation zone), you may go to the experts and say, “what should I do? Should I abandon my house and my job and the community where I have always lived, and move myself to another town and my children to another school?” (and I won’t, of course, be able to sell my house because there are no buyers; and I may not be able to find another job; and my children may by shunned by classmates if they go to another school because they are feared for being “radioactive”). But the answer you will receive from the experts is “Search us. We really don’t know. It’s up to you.”

Radioactivity does not just disappear or wash away in the rain. It enters into the environment and some cases remains there for hundreds of years. Consider one small example: Sewage plants all over northeastern Japan – from Shizuoka southwest of Tokyo to Aomori Prefecture, have been contaminated by radioactive cesium 137 by the accident. Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years. The sewage sludge that is normally used in land reclamation and building is therefore now accumulating at the plants because no-one knows what the effects might be of elevated levels of radioactive cesium in reclamation of building materials, and no-one can work out what else to do with it.[xx]

The Japanese government has not yet even begun systematic checking of food for radiation, though small-scale checks that have been carried out have found radioactive iodine and cesium in food samples from eight prefectures – a wide area of Japan extending as far as Kanagawa and Shizuoka to the southwest of Tokyo.[xxi] Radiation absorbed from food or from contaminated building materials etc is, of course, additional to radiation absorbed from the air and soil.


Institutional Fault-Lines


Meanwhile, two-thirds of Japan’s fifty-five nuclear power reactors, which were either undergoing routine checks at the time of the 3/11 earthquake or were shut down for additional checks thereafter, and still out of operation.[xxii] Reopening them involves the consent of Prefectural as well as national government, and given local concerns, this has not been readily forthcoming. The central government has introduced new requirements for Japanese nuclear reactors to undergo stress tests of the type currently being conducted throughout the European Union countries, a process which will further delay the re-opening of these power stations.[xxiii] Energy shortages, together with the massive costs responding to the disaster, are placing great strains on Japan’s already overblown national debt.

The nationwide, political “stress test” created by the crisis is, indeed, casting a new and harsh light on flaws in Japan’s system of government. When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took the reins of power in 2009, after more than half a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), there were high hopes that this would mark a shift in Japan to a genuine two-party system resembling that of European and North American democracies, in place of the one-and-a-half party system that had for so long prevailed. Since 3/11, though, the vision of an emerging two-party system has taken a battering.

The response to the disasters has revealed both the DPJ government’s inability to gain the trust and cooperation of important sections of the public service, and the LDP’s unwillingness to recognize the right of any party other than itself to govern Japan.  Remarkably, the LDP leadership has repeatedly refused to cooperate in passing the emergency supplementary budgets needed to deal with the crisis, seeking instead to use government problems in handing the disaster as an opportunity to force the Prime Minister to resign. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s opponents within the DPJ have become increasingly critical of handling of the natural and nuclear disasters, and long-standing divisions within the party have widened into rifts that are almost certainly beyond repair. Rather than a period of stable two-party rule, Japan is now facing a likely split in the ruling DPJ, a further phase of fissions, fusions and shifts of political forces, and ever-deepening public cynicism about parliamentary politics amongst an electorate who are repelled by the sight of politicians squabbling while disaster victims continue to suffer.

The institutional problems exposed by the crisis go beyond Japan’s shores: they have global ramifications. In the final week of May, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international body responsible for monitoring the safety of nuclear power plants, somewhat belatedly sent a fact-finding mission to Japan. The resulting report criticized Tepco’s lack of preparedness for a tsunami, though it praised some other aspects of the company’s and the government’s response to the crisis. However, the IEAE’s own response to the crisis has also come under increasing critical scrutiny from (amongst others) the Agency’s former Deputy Director General, Olli Heinonen, who noted that the IAEA’s initial response to the accident was to issue “scant and at times contradictory information from Japanese sources”. Heinonen defined the problem as arising from the Agency’s weakness in relation to national governments, and argued that “Fukushima should be a wake-up call to re-evaluate and strengthen the role of the IAEA in boosting nuclear safety, including its response mechanism.”[xxiv] But the Fukushima crisis draws attention to a further issue at the core of the working of the IAEA itself. The organization’s overarching mission is to promote and expand the peaceful use of nuclear power. Although that brief of course encompasses promoting the safe use of nuclear power, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there may be a potential structural conflict of interest in a system that entrusts the global monitoring of the safety of nuclear power to a body whose central mission is to “accelerate and enlarge” the non-military use of nuclear energy.[xxv]

These global issues are further complicated by the fact that in 1959 the IAEA and World Health Organization entered into an agreement (UN Accord WHA 12-40) under which the two bodies agreed to “act in close co-operation with each other and will consult each other regularly in regard to matters of common interest.”[xxvi] This has raised concerns among some groups that the WHO lacks the independent capacity to research and monitor the effects of radiation on human health. Indeed, since 2006, a group of politicians, health professionals, environmentalists and others (largely based in France) have been energetically lobbying for a review of the 1959 agreement and the creation of a truly independent WHO.[xxvii] The World Health Organization itself, however, has publicly insisted that the 1959 agreement “does not affect the impartial and independent exercise by WHO of its statutory responsibilities, nor does it place WHO in a situation of subordination to IAEA”. As of 2001, the Organization stated that it was “in the process of developing a comprehensive Global Program on Radiation with a clear strategy and priorities to safeguard public health concerns in the use of nuclear techniques”.[xxviii] But ten years on, the program appears to have made limited progress, while the WHO/IAEA relationship has clearly weakened public confidence in the findings of the 2005 Chernobyl Forum report. 


Out of the Zone of Alienation


The evacuation zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant was known, after the 1986 accident, as Zona Vidchuzhennya, which translates into English as “the Zone of Alienation”.[xxix] The Belarus inhabitants evacuated from that zone are thought to have been exposed on average to about 31 millisieverts of radiation, somewhat less than the exposure to date of residents who have remained in the village of Akôgi and in similar Japanese hot-spots.[xxx]

The term “Zone of Alienation” seems to me an extraordinarily evocative one. People in Japan affected by this disaster have found themselves suddenly transported to a “zone of alienation”, not just in the literal sense that over 80,000 people have been uprooted from their homes and communities around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but in a wider and more metaphorical, or even metaphysical, sense. The ground beneath their feet has fallen away. The environment that they took for granted now seems to threaten them, but no-one can tell them exactly what the threats are or where they lie. The scientific and technological experts whom they trusted to come up with answers (and however much they may mistrust their politicians, most Japanese people do trust their scientist) turn out not only to have confusing answers, but to have no answers at all to the most pressing questions.

Many affected individuals and communities are responding to this alienation with remarkable resilience and determination, by falling back on their own resources. While the national political system is failing its own stress test, local governments, community institutions and NGOs have generally held together and continued to battle daily through the enormous challenges of the ongoing crisis. You have only to look at the web-pages of the towns and villages in the affected areas to get some sense of scale of the problem. Often working from temporary premises (having themselves been evacuated from the exclusion or voluntary evacuation zone) local officials deal simultaneously with everything from relocating local morgues and organizing the DNA testing of the remains of tsunami victims, to relieving the psychological stress of evacuee children and disseminating information on local radiation levels, to solving the problems of people who have lost their tax documents and driving licenses in the disaster and evacuation. Their courage and determination contain seeds of hope for recovery – for transition to a true “post-3/11” society.

But where is the national and global support that is needed to help these seeds to grow? An obvious and pressing need is for global bodies like the World Health Organization to conduct large-scale projects which monitor the health of people in the worst affected areas, and collect high quality epidemiological information on the health effects of this crisis. The Japanese government has been making efforts to collect radiation information, as well as information on the movements of people in Fukushima Prefecture, which would help in assessing individual levels of exposure to radiation, but the task is a massive one, and issue is not simply Japan’s problem but a global problem. Prompt action by the global medical and scientific research community would both help to ensure prompt health care for those who need it, and (in the long run) help to resolve some of the scientific uncertainties surrounding the effects of low-to-medium level radiation exposure. Given the controversies that surrounded the Chernobyl Forum report, and to avoid any perceptions of possible conflicts of interest, such studies should be carried out independently from the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Surely this is the moment for the WHO to give substance to its promise of “impartiality and independence”, and prove to the world its capacity to help human beings to understand and protect themselves from the negative health effects of radiation. The earlier this work starts, the more complete and reliable the information will be. So far, though, the WHO’s actions seem to have been limited to issuing, jointly with the IAEA, a few bland “Q and A” sheets on radiation effects[xxxi], and to publishing a generalized and uninformative statement about the Organization’s role in nuclear emergencies.[xxxii]

The main finding of the Chernobyl Forum report was that, however uncertain the direct health effects of the disaster may be, the social effects have been profound. Evacuees from around the Chernobyl plant (like those from Fukushima) have experienced loss of homes and jobs, and often developed a sense that “they are without place in society and have little control over their own lives”.[xxxiii] Older people in Chernobyl were particularly severely affected. The area around the Fukushima plant has a disproportionately high proportion of elderly people in its population. The major recommendation of the 2005 Chernobyl report was that governments and NGOs should focus on the “social and economic restoration” of the affected areas to help overcome these effects.[xxxiv] But the debates inspired by the Report have focused more on its controversial predictions of mortality statistics than on ways to take these recommendations forward.

In search of a future for Fukushima, it is important to think not just about the lessons of Chernobyl, but also about the lessons of a disaster nearer home: Minamata. The mass mercury poisoning of residents of the Minamata area in the 1950s by pollution from a local chemicals factory raised a number of issues with powerful resonances for Fukushima: issues of identifying health effects, demanding compensation from the company causing pollution, and addressing the social and economic losses and sense of alienation and powerlessness that affects communities damaged by severe pollution. Like the people of Fukushima, the people of Minamata found that the very name of their place of origin had been turned into a synonym for suffering and disaster. In the case of Minamata, after prolonged and exhausting legal battles with the polluting company, Chisso, some residents increasingly turned their attention to projects that would rebuild their community and help them reclaim a sense of agency in their own lives. The process involved a complex and painful confrontation with “victimhood” and its consequences, and with the powerlessness induced not only by the perpetrators of pollution but also, at times, by the well-intentioned but patronizing efforts of outsiders to “help the victims”. But the result was a wide range of creative skills and projects for overcoming the social and psychological as well as the physical legacies of Minamata Disease.[xxxv]

For many people in the immediate surrounds of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the challenges of dealing with the unfolding accident consume all their energies, and rebuilding remains in the future. But those not directly affected by this disaster can and should already be looking at lessons drawn from the disasters of the past, including Minamata, developing a fund of ideas that Fukushima citizens, and those who want to support them, can draw on as they embark on the long road to a world post 3/11. 


[i] Christopher Johnson, “Japan Death-Toll Numbers Don’t Add Up, Tsunami Survivors Say”, Washington Times, 15 June 2011,

[ii]  Go Terada, Masanori Yamashita and Yasushi Kaneko, “No. of Missing Still Uncertain”, Daily Yomiuri Online, 29 June 2011.

[iii] These effects include a sharp rise in suicide rates in disaster affected areas: “Suicide Rates are Increasing in Japanese Regions Most Affected by the Tsunami and Nuclear Disasters”, The Australian, 17 June 2011, ;

[iv] Mark Willacy, “Stress Takes its Toll on Japan’s Tsunami Survivors”, ABC News Online, 17 June 2011,

[v] New York Times, 17 June 2011.

[vi] Kazuaki Nagata, “Water Treatment, Cooling Systems Finally Working”, Japan Times, 8 July 2011.

[vii] The most recent breakdown at the time of writing was on 10 July 2011; NHK 7pm new 11 July 2011.

[viii] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011; NHK 7pm news 20 June 2011.

[ix] “N-Worker’s Mask Left no Room for Glasses”, Daily Yomiuri Online, 19 June 2011. One worker received a dose of 678 millisieverts, and another a dose of 643 millisieverts

[x] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xi] Kevin Krolicki and Chisa Fujioka, “Japan’s ‘Throwaway’ Nuclear Workers”, Reuters / Swissinfo, 24 June 2011, ; NHK 7pm news 2011.

[xii] John W. Powell, “Nuclear Power in Japan, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May 1983, pp. 33-39, quotation from p. 37.

[xiii] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xiv] Tokyo Shimbun, 6 July 2011; Tokyo Shimbun, 7 July 2011.

[xv] Jim Green, “Do we know the Chernobyl Death Toll?” New Matilda, 7 April 2011.

[xvi] See The Chernobyl Forum, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environment and Socio-Economic Impacts, and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, (2nd revised edition), Geneva, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005.

[xvii] Mark Peplow, “Counting the Dead”, Nature, vol. 440, 20 April 2006, pp. 982-983. The Forum report predicted that around 4,000 of the 600,000 people most directly exposed to Chernobyl radiation would probably have died or die as a result, and that a further 5,000 people might be expected to die Europe-wide. The initial summary of the report released to the media, however, included only the 4,000 figure, resulting in misleading media reports. 

[xviii] Green, “Do we know the Chernobyl Death Toll?” op. cit.

[xix] On 6 July, the Japanese government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency  [Genshiryoku Anzen Hoan In], a branch of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – METI) reported that the total emission of radiation from the Fukushima plant in the first week after March 11 was believed to 770,000 terabecquerels, an estimate revised upward from its earlier estimate of 370,000 terabecquerels, and the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission’s earlier estimate of 630,000 terabecquerels; see “Higashi Nihon Daishinsai: Hôshasei Busshitsu 77-man Terabekereru, Hoanin Sôhôshutsuryô o Jôhô Shussei”, Mainichi Shimbun, 6 June 2011; see also Hiroko Tabuchi, “Radiation Understated after Quake, Japan Says”, New York Times, 6 June 2011. The Chernobyl accident is widely believed to have released about 5.2 million terabecquerels of radiation.

[xx] NHK 7pm news, 17 June 2011.

[xxi] Aya Takada and Yasumasa Song, “Food Safety Fears Grow in Japan on Skepticism at Food Testing Regime”, Bloomberg, 16 June 2011,

[xxii] 35 nuclear plants were affected as of 16 June. NHK 7pm news 26 June 2011.

[xxiii] “Sutoresu Tesuto no Tôitsu Kenkai, ‘Shûake ni Hôkôsei Kenkai’, Shushô”, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 9 July 2011.

[xxiv] Olli Heinonen, “The IAEA and the Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima”, Power and Policy (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University), 22 March 2011,

[xxvi] For the full text of the accord, see “Agreement Between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization”,

[xxviii] “Interpretation of the World Health Organization’s Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency”, Statement WHO/6, 21 February 2001.

[xxix] Mary Mycio, Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl, Washington DC, Joseph Henry Press, 2005, p. 28

[xxx] On the exposure of Belarus evacuees, see From Peter Wehrwein, “Radiation Risk in Japan: Understanding Radiation Measurements and Putting them in Perspective”, Harvard Health Blog, 16 March 2011 ( ).

[xxxii] The statement on the WHO’s response to the Japan earthquake reads, in full: “What is WHO’s role in nuclear emergencies? In accordance with its Constitution and the International Health Regulations, WHO is mandated to assess public health risks and provide technical consultation and assistance in association with public health events, including those associated with radiation events. In doing so, WHO is working with independent experts and other UN agencies. WHO’s work is supported by a global network comprising more than 40 specialized institutions in radiation emergency medicine. The network, the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN), provides technical assistance for radiation emergency preparedness and response.”  The statement contains no specific reference to Japan, or to any actions that the WHO intends to take to assist or monitor those in Japan exposed to increased levels of radiation.

[xxxiii] Chernobyl Forum, Chernolbyl’s Legacy, op. cit., p. 35.

[xxxiv] Chernobyl Forum, Chernobyl’s Legacy, op. cit., p. 8.

[xxxv] See Kurihara Akira, “Minamatabyô to iu Shintai: Fûkei no Zawameki no Seijigaku”, in Kurihara Akira, Komori Yôichi, Satô Manabu and Yoshimi Shunya eds., Naiha suru Chi: Shintai, Kotoba: Kenryoku o Aminaosu, Tokyo, Sanyôsha, 2000, pp. 17-81.

Deception and Diplomacy: The US, Japan, and Okinawa

Posted in Articles, Japan on May 30th, 2011

By Gavan McCormack. Originally published in the Asia-Pacific Journal, Japan Focus.

The Asahi Shimbun and The Ryukyu Shimpo have both introduced a small selection of Wikileaks documents on Japan, Okinawa, and the US-Japan-Okinawa relationship. But this is the first text in any language to make extensive use of the treasure trove of documents whose release has begun, setting them in the frame of four decades of chicanery. Apart from the diplomatic cables that have been published by Wikileaks, this paper also discusses the so-called “mitsuyaku” or secret diplomacy between the two countries that has gradually come to light in the past two years without any help from Wiki, the “confession” of former Prime Minister Hatoyama, the strange case of the “Maher Affair,” and the shock waves of recent shifts in thinking about the Okinawa problem in Washington. APJ

1. Zokkoku Blues

For the student of contemporary Japan, these are sad times, and it is not just because of the catastrophe that struck the country in March and the Chernobyl-like horrors that have continued since then to spread across the Northeast, though it has been impossible to observe these without shock and grief. But it is sad above all because of the growing sense that Japan lacks a truly responsible democratic government to address these issues, and because its people deserve better.

It seems only yesterday that the Japanese people, tired and disgusted with a half century of corrupt and collusive LDP rule, voted to end it. How quickly since September 2009 their efforts were reversed, renewal and reform blocked, and a compliant US-oriented regime reinstated whose irresponsibility is matched only by its incompetence. This is true whether considering the response to the nuclear crisis, marked by evasion, manipulation and collusion (of bureaucrats, politicians, the media, and the nuclear industry), or of the handling of the Okinawa base issue, which is central to the country’s most important relationship, that with the United States. The argument of my book published in 2006 was that Japan is a US “Client State,” or zokkoku, structurally designed to attach priority to US over Japanese interests. Much fresh evidence to support that thesis has come to light since I wrote, exposing the relationship as marked by the sort of humiliation that used to be characteristic of relations between centre and periphery in the old Soviet empire. Between the world’s two most powerful capitalist economies and supposed flag-bearers of democracy it is deeply incongruous.

Especially since the September 2009 advent of the Hatoyama government, which came to office promising a new regional order in the Asia-Pacific, there have been successive revelations of the truncated character of the Japanese state. Created and cultivated under US auspices in the wake of war nearly seven decades ago, that state maintains to this day a submissive orientation towards its distant founding fathers. Here I focus on five recent events or sets of materials that between 2009 and 2011 help illuminate it: the mitsuyaku or secret agreements, the “confession” of Prime Minister Hatoyama, the Wiki-leaks revelations, the “Maher affair,” and something still in train as these words are being written (May 2011) that may, provisionally, be called the “Levin-Webb-McCain shock.”  Seen as a whole, they compel the sad conclusion that the notion of democratic responsibility on the part of the Japanese state is illusory. Independence for Japan is not something to be protected, but something still to be won.

2. Mitsuyaku: Okinawan “Reversion” and Secret Diplomacy, 1969-2009

The frame of US-Japan relations of the late 20th and early 21st century was set in a series of secret agreements negotiated in the late 1960s and early 1970s and known by the Japanese word mitsuyaku. The mitsuyaku were subject to an investigation by a formal inquiry set up under the DPJ government in 2009-10, and continued by further revelations from Japanese archival sources under freedom of information, in part pursuant to a Japanese court order. The key secret agreements covered Japanese covert cooperation in US nuclear war strategy on the one hand and the reversion of Okinawa to Japan that took place in 1972 on the other. Deviousness and deception were the keynotes.

The Okinawan “reversion,” trumpeted as kakunuki hondonami (no nuclear weapons and equality in terms of base burden between Okinawa and mainland) and therefore a triumph of Japanese diplomacy and an end to the postwar, was in fact enmeshed in secret agreements that essentially negated it. By including a provision that the US could reintroduce nuclear weapons without prior consultation if or whenever it deemed it necessary,3 the parties negated both the publicly proclaimed kakunukiand the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” Prime Minister Sato had announced in 1967 and for which he was awarded the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize. In other words, the Japanese (and US) governments lied to the Japanese and Okinawan people, setting the stage for the reversion, and till 2009 successive Prime Ministers and governments repeated the lie, denying even directly contradictory documents from the US archives acknowledging the nuclear deal. Only when four successive former Vice-Ministers confessed, and the government changed, in 2009, was the truth admitted.

The fresh light that recently opened materials cast on the secret protocols surrounding the Okinawa Reversion agreement reached between Sato and Richard Nixon in November 1969 allows us to see much more clearly the nature of the deal.

Firstly, from the commencement of the negotiations, the Government of Japan insisted that, although it sought “reversion,” it actually meant retention; i.e., that the US must not think of closing down its bases following administrative reversion of the islands to Japan. To the Sato government, the bases were an essential deterrent, even though their principal function at the time was as instrument of aggression in the daily bombing of Vietnam.

Secondly, the US side insisted that for this peculiar deal, Japan should pay; setting the terms for future base arrangements; in other words, the “reversion” was a buy-back. The US government insisted on the enormous sum of $650 million, used the term “price-tag” to apply to it, and insisted that most be in the form of a “lump sum” payment. In the event, $650 million was more than double the officially announced $320 million, nominally for return of US assets, and even that $320 million was deceptive. It included the item of $70 million, supposedly to remove nuclear weapons, but 40 years later the then chief Japanese negotiator revealed that they had decided on that figure “in order 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.” The Okinawan “reversion” was a “buyback” in which Japan insisted the asset it was buying remain in US hands, an arrangement that doubly violated the Japanese constitution both because it was premised on a lie and because it violated Article 9 in the most blatant way possible. Japan paid the US while insisting the US not return what it was paying for. It created two separate accounts, a secret one with the real figure entered and a public one, which referred to about half the real sum, and even that public figure was substantially false.

By insisting the US retain its military assets, with full freedom in their use, returning only the unnecessary responsibility for local Okinawan administration, and paying a huge sum to sweeten the deal, Japan ensured that the island’s principle raison d’être would continue to be war, making a mockery of the Okinawan people’s revulsion for war and their desire for the peace principle at the centre of the constitution.

Two decades later, the Cold War ended. Okinawans anticipated that, after long delay, at last the peace constitution would be extended to them and the burden of the US bases reduced, but again, however, that did not happen. A Governor who declared his determination to work towards return of the bases and demilitarization of the islands was arraigned before the Supreme Court and ordered to sign compulsory orders renewing the lease of Okinawan land to the US forces.

In 1995, the rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by three American servicemen stirred the prefecture to waves of protest that profoundly threatened the base presence (and therefore the “alliance.” The two state parties felt obliged to make concessions designed to restore their interests and characteristically they did so in the form of a deception. They agreed that Futenma Marine Air Station, in the middle of densely populated Ginowan city and dubbed by Donald Rumsfeld the world’s most dangerous base, would be returned to Japan. It is impossible to forget being astonished at this announcement. The deception of this “reversion” was in the small print. Where in 1972 “reversion” (of Okinawa) had meant “retention,” in 1996 “reversion” (of Futenma) meant substitution: the construction of a new, enlarged, technically sophisticated multi-service facility to replace the inconvenient, dangerous and obsolescent Futenma. Fifteen years on, that agreement remains unfulfilled.

Okinawans rejected the deal from the start. The history of the subsequent 15 years has been the history of that Okinawan refusal to allow the Futenma replacement to proceed in the face of US and Japanese pressures to consummate the deal. When Governor Ota Masahide declared in February 1998 that he would not allow the project to go ahead, Tokyo froze all dealings with him and mobilized (illegally and unconstitutionally), spending large sums of secret funds in the campaign and successfully unseating him later in the year. The details of that intervention too, were revealed only in 2010.

With a compliant governor installed, and with substantial national funds poured in to buy off the opposition in the north to the Henoko project, Prime Minister Koizumi from 2001 attempted to push the construction of the Futenma replacement facility (FRF) at Henoko. In 2004, when survey work commenced in the adjacent sea, the opposition began a protest sit-in (seven years on, that too continues). The movement gathered broad prefecture-wide sympathy and support and became so effective that in 2005 Koizumi conceded defeat and canceled that (offshore) plan. A year later he revived it, in a different, land-based, design. The intent, as always, was to evade popular will, since shifting the project within the bounds of the existing camp Schwab meant it would be more difficult for opponents to block construction. The opposition held firm, however, and by late 2008 nation-wide anger at the corruption and incompetence of the Liberal Democratic Party’s five decade long one party rule threatened the relocation plan. The opposition Democratic Party gathered national and particularly Okinawan support around the proposition that there would be no Futenma replacement in Okinawa.

In the first days of the Obama government and the last days of LDP government in Japan (early 2009), therefore, the managers of the “alliance” in Tokyo and Washington again sought a way to avoid the outcome sought by the Okinawan public and their representatives. The US embassy in Tokyo reported to Washington that the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs wanted the 2006 “Reorganization” agreement to be endorsed and reinforced as a treaty, i.e., to elevate the agreement into a “Treaty-level (on the Japanese side)” agreement that would be “legally binding on the current and future Japanese cabinets.”

The Guam International Agreement that followed was a remarkable diplomatic agreement both as to its content and its form. Japan was to pay both an unspecified sum (common estimates in the $10 billion range) for construction of a new base to substitute for Futenma at Henoko and $6.1 billion for the construction of US military residential and other facilities in Guam, so that “8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents” could be transferred from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 (leaving a smaller Marine contingent on Okinawa). As a treaty, the agreement had binding legal status. The Japanese (LDP) government, its credibility rapidly collapsing, pulled out all stops to make sure it could pay $336 million dollars to the US Treasury by May 2009, with $2.8 billion in cash and the rest in credits toward the total of $6.1 billion. The core concern was not national security – which does not appear even to have been discussed – but the determination to prolong the US occupation of Okinawa (and provide whatever service might be possible for the US’s Afghan and Iraq wars), regardless of cost.

Signed in Tokyo by Hillary Clinton in February 2009, and ratified in the Diet in May, this first initiative of the new Obama government towards Japan was plainly an unequal treaty in the sense that it imposed binding obligation on one side only. It was a design by the two governments to circumvent the democratic will of the Japanese people. The rush to sign the deal reflected the fact that the LDP was on the verge of collapsing at the polls. As I wrote then, the Guam International Agreement (Treaty) “is likely to be studied by future generations as something crystallizing the defining moment of a relationship, when both parties went too far, the US in demanding (hastily, well aware that time was running out to cut a deal with the LDP) and Japan in submitting to something not only unequal but also unconstitutional, illegal, colonial, and deceitful. Excess on both sides was likely to generate resentment and in the long run to make the relationship more difficult to sustain.”

That is indeed what happened. For the distinguished Tokyo University political scientist, Shinohara Hajime, the 28 May agreement was Japan’s “second defeat,” i.e. tantamount to August 1945.

3. DPJ:  From Hatoyama to Kan (2009- )

In 2009, Japan elected a new government, ending a half-century of one party, heavily US-supported rule. Hatoyama, like Obama in the US the previous year, was elected because he had a vision for Japan and tapped a mood of desire for change. Among the components of his grand design was his pledge to take back government from the bureaucrats and open it to the people through their elected representatives; to re-orient Japan away from US-centred unipolarism towards a multi-polar world in which Japan would re-negotiate its relationship with the US on the basis of equality and become a central member of an East Asian community. The most concrete pledge was to close the Futenma base, at the very least to move it somewhere outside Okinawa.

The US was deeply suspicious of Hatoyama’s Asian community agenda. Moreover, never contemplating the possibility of an “equal” relationship with any state, it found particularly absurd that a compliant Japan should propose one. Above all, Washington resolved to block Hatoyama on the Futenma issue. Because Hatoyama challenged the deeply embedded structures of the “Client State” system, projecting a democratic and an independent and Asia-centered vision, Washington saw him as a threat, to be neutralized or crushed.
President Obama refused to meet Hatoyama or discuss his agenda or his vision. The Departments of State and Defense delivered ultimatum after ultimatum, beating out a crescendo of warnings and intimidation demanding he obey and build the new (“Futenma substitute”) Marine base at Henoko. No other major ally – and perhaps no enemy either – had ever been subjected to the sort of abuse and intimidation that Hatoyama faced during those late 2009 months.

But that was not all. The documents released courtesy of Wikileaks in May 2011 reveal the extent to which Hatoyama was betrayed by his own government. If ever there was a trahison des clercs, this was it. From the earliest days of the Hatoyama government, his senior officials had clandestine, one can fairly say conspiratorial, links with US officials, advising the Obama administration to stand firm, to understand that Hatoyama was a Prime Minister “with personality shortcomings,” he was “weak when speaking with strong individuals” and “usually voiced his opinion based on the last strong comments he had heard;” his government was “still in the process of organizing itself,”10 it was “inexperienced” and “stupid,” and its policy process “chaotic.” Hatoyama’s senior state officials, both politicians and bureaucrats, like their predecessors in the LDP for over half a century, were loyal to Washington rather than to him or to the Japanese electorate.

The constant refrain from these Tokyo officials was to reassure Washington that provided it stand firm, and “refrain from demonstrating flexibility,” they could turn the government around and see to it that the base agreement be implemented. The head of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke of his Department’s focus as being “finding a quick way to back away from the DPJ’s campaign pledge to reopen the realignment pledge,” i.e. to subvert his government. Okinawans could basically be ignored, because, as DPJ Diet Affairs chief Yamaoka Kenji put it, “in Okinawa “it’s all about opposing for its own sake … If Okinawa’s will is respected, nothing will ever happen.” For that matter the Japanese people were not much better because, according to Yamaoka, they were “spoiled” and took US protection for granted. Not only that, but as Fukahori Ryo (a former division deputy director at Ministry of Foreign Affairs) put it, “the vast majority of the Japanese public did not understand security issues.” And indeed the Prime Minister too seemed to fit into this category of hopeless ignorance, such that Vice-Foreign Minister Yabunaka Mitoji, over lunch with American ambassador Roos, helpfully suggested that “it would be beneficial for the US to go through the basic fundamentals of security issues with the Prime Minister,” i.e., explain to him the (political) facts of life.18

To better pull the wool over the eyes of the Japanese and especially the Okinawan people and enforce the base deal, the bureaucrats on both sides manipulated the figures on the Guam troop transfer and on the proportion of costs that would be met by Japan.The Roadmap (2006) and Guam and Tokyo agreements of 2009 and 2010 on relocation of US forces in Japan included provision for 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to be relocated from Okinawa to facilities which Japan would pay $6.1 billion to construct on Guam, thereby “reducing the burden” on Okinawa. For Japan to pay such a huge sum for construction of facilities (including medical clinic, bachelor enlisted quarters, fire station, etc) on American soil was unprecedented, although “omoiyari” or “sympathy” payments to help the US maintain its forces in Japan had become an established budgetary item, commencing in 1978. However, as the Embassy despatch put it, “both the 8,000 and the 9,000 numbers were deliberately maximized to optimize political value in Japan.” There were at the time only “on the order of 13,000” Marines, and the total number of dependents was “less than 9,000.” The US side “regularly briefed” the Japanese government on these numbers, so when government ministers repeatedly used the figures of an Okinawa Marine force of 18,000 to be reduced to 10,000 following the transfer of 8,000 to the newly built facilities in Guam, there is no doubt that they did so in bad faith; i.e., they lied. The cost too was inflated by inclusion of an item of $1 billion for construction of a military road on Guam. This item was nominally to be met by the US but the “billion dollar road” was simply “a way to increase the overall cost estimate and thereby reduce the share of total costs borne by Japan.” 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.

Surrounded by such faithless – if not treasonous – bureaucrats, torn between the pressures of Washington on the one hand and Okinawa on the other, and lacking the courage or clarity of purpose to confront them, Hatoyama’s resolve and his political position crumbled. The pressure peaked in October with an overtly intimidatory visit to Tokyo by Defense secretary Gates and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell’s blunt warning to Hatoyama that “U.S. patience would wear thin if the DPJ government continued to make multiple suggestions to review and adjust extant alliance arrangements.” On 8 December 2009, the government, through DPJ Diet Affairs Chief Yamaoka Kenji, assured the US embassy that, although it would have to be patient, “a decision had already been made” and “the government would implement the deal,” though “managing the Diet” made it difficult to do so immediately and it might take until the summer of 2010.23

The following day, Maehara Seiji, who among other things was then State Minister for Okinawa, delivered the same message to Ambassador Roos: The GOJ [Government of Japan] would explore “alternative options” but “if no alternative options are accepted, then SDP and PNP [coalition minority parties Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party] would agree to accept the Henoko option.” In other words, “if the US did not agree to any alternative” (the likelihood of finding any being “virtually zero”) then the existing plan would go ahead. With these secret understandings in place, Hatoyama and his government maintained 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. What was enacted on the Tokyo political and media stage over those months was essentially an elaborate charade.

In May 2010, Hatoyama declared that at last he had come to understand the importance of the Marine presence in Okinawa for “deterrence” purposes, and on that ground he had decided to accept that the Henoko relocation plan should go ahead. Having signed a deal to that effect on 28 May, he immediately resigned.

Half a year later, Hatoyama confessed that he had simply made that up. Deterrence was just a pretext, hoben, to justify submission to irresistible bureaucratic and diplomatic pressure.25 Officials in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence had “scornfully dismissed” (he said) his ideas till, eventually, he reached the point where “… anything else was futile, I could go no further and I came to doubt my own strength.” There is a clear contradiction between this recollection and the documentary evidence that his government made its decision at latest by early December the preceding year. Whichever be the case, the government was deeply engaged in the politics of deception.

The parties quibbled, but they lent themselves without qualm to a massive confidence trick on the Japanese public. The process by which “numbers were deliberately maximised to optimize political value in Japan” was, as the Asahi put it, “an unpardonable betrayal of the people.” To the Okinawa taimusu, it was another mitsuyaku or secret treaty, and to the Ryukyu Shimpo the Wiki revelations showed that, “although Japan was supposedly a democratic country, its officials, bowing and scraping before a foreign country and making no effort to carry out the will of the people, lacked any qualification for diplomatic negotiation” and Japan was destined “to go down in history as in practice America’s client state.”

Such sources as the Hatoyama confession and the Wikileaks documents, however unorthodox and even if in part contradictory, help fill out the picture of this tragic Hatoyama government. In the 50th year of the Ampo relationship, it became clear that in a “mature” alliance a Japanese government could not survive loss of Washington’s confidence, and that bureaucrats in Tokyo gave absolute priority to serving the US, taking it as beyond question that Okinawa should continue to serve US military purposes above all else and at whatever cost. When Hatoyama handed the reins of government to Kan Naoto, Kan’s task was described throughout the national media as to heal the “wounds” that Hatoyama had caused to the alliance, restore Washington’s trust and confidence in Japan, and resolve the Okinawa problem by “persuading” Okinawa to accept the new base.

If the Hatoyama government thus abandoned a core policy objective after nine (or, as now seems more likely, just three) months, it did, nevertheless, leave one positive – if unintended – accomplishment: it stirred the Okinawan people from the widespread but often fragmented opposition into a prefecture-wide mass movement of resistance, without precedent in modern Japanese history. Through 2010, by every conceivable democratic means, Okinawans made their views known:

January: the election of a Nago City mayor who was determinedly anti-base;
February: the adoption of a unanimous resolution opposing construction of any new base in the prefecture by the regional parliament, the Prefectural Assembly;
April: “All-Okinawa” mass meeting to oppose base construction;
July: a second unanimous Prefectural Assembly resolution, this time also  declaring the US-Japan Agreement of 28 May (Hatoyama’s “surrender”) a “violent, democracy-trampling act” that “treated Okinawans as stupid;”
September: election of a majority of anti-base candidates to the Nago City Assembly;
November: the election of a Governor who said he would demand the base be relocated elsewhere than in Okinawa.

Despite the clarity of the message, and the democratic and non-violent ways in which it was articulated at the polls and in direct action, neither Tokyo nor Washington was moved.

By May 2011, Kan Naoto had been in office for 11 months, just a little longer than Hatoyama. He and his government use honeyed words, apologize, express deep regret to Okinawa; but they continue to strive to coopt, divide, persuade or crush the resistance and they insist that the many bilateral agreements all centering on the Futenma replacement facility (Henoko) be fulfilled.

Kan has reassured the US government of his determination to press ahead with the base construction at Henoko (and the helipads for the Marines at Takae and in the surrounding Yambaru forest). Late in 2010, he launched steps to compel Nago City’s mayor to allow survey work to commence in the Henoko area and at about the same time, far from public or media scrutiny, he moved to crush the resistance to construction of the heliports. Foreign Minister Maehara even suggested that if the schools and hospitals of Ginowan City were troubled by the Marine base next door, they could all be moved out of the base’s way.” Visiting Okinawa in December 2010, Kan expressed his “unbearable shame as a Japanese” over the way it had been treated by successive governments. But he went on to say that, while relocating Futenma to Henoko “may not be the best choice for the people of Okinawa, in practical terms it is the better choice.” Okinawans were outraged and the Governor responded sharply that any relocation within the prefecture would be “bad.”  Cabinet Secretary Sengoku told Okinawans they would have to “grin and bear” (kanju) their burden. Months later, in April 2011 the Kan government informed Washington that it had yielded on what seemed the last point of dispute: it would accept the “V”-shaped dual runway design at Henoko that the Marine Corps preferred. Ironically, however, even as Kan and his government moved towards implementation, Washington (as discussed below) was inclining towards abandonment and re-negotiation.

(Henoko sit-in site, December 2010, day 2,434. Author left with activists. Photograph Norimatsu Satoko.)

4. The Department of State

Early in December 2010 came an event that was unexpected but pregnant with significance. The Department of State’s senior Japan specialist and therefore adviser to Hillary Clinton, Kevin Maher, met to brief a group of American University students on the eve of their visit to Japan. In relaxed mood, Maher set aside diplomatic niceties and spoke his mind. He described Okinawans as lazy (too lazy even to grow goya, the Okinawan staple bitter melon), immoral (there were too many out-of-wedlock children and they drank too much strong liquor), and as “masters of manipulation and deception” who had irresponsibly allowed schools and housing to be built to the perimeter of Futenma. They also had “darker skin,” were “shorter” and had an “accent” like Puerto Ricans. Because Okinawans were extortionists, the base relocation could easily be accomplished, he said, if only the national government would tell the Governor of Okinawa, “If you want money, sign it.”

These insults pointed to the frustration that must have been felt in Washington that Okinawa, the insignificant client state of their Japanese client state, should have the temerity to resist them both with such extraordinary tenacity. Okinawa saw his words as ignorant, abusive, and racist, and exploded in indignation. The Okinawa Times commented editorially that “those responsible for the Futenma base transfers seem, deep in their hearts to despise Okinawa and make light of the base problem.” It added two days later, “The more one understands Okinawa’s post-war history and the circumstances surrounding the base problem, the more one understands that the Henoko base construction plan is impossible and outrageous. The Japanese and US governments have exhausted all and every means to get an impossible project endorsed locally by dangling money in front of people.”

Okinawan anger at the insult would not be assuaged by perfunctory expressions from Washington of “Sorry.”

Ryukyu Shimpo agreed. Maher had given, “unintentionally, a revelation of real US thinking,” adding, days later, “At the heart of the Okinawa base problem is the structure of confrontation between the Okinawan people who are always protesting over the US-Japan security treaty and the US bases, and the governments of Japan and the US that are always striving to maintain and reinforce them. Throughout the post-war era the two governments have cleverly used policies of carrot and stick to divide Okinawan society and people and accomplish ‘free use of the bases’ whatever the cost.”

Maher was removed from his post, but the apologies (by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in Tokyo and by Ambassador Roos in Okinawa) did indeed seem perfunctory. Maher’s defence, not mounted till some weeks later, was blanket denial.  He simply accused the students of lying, and in an interview, (in Japanese with The Wall St Journal on 14 April) of fabricating their evidence “in an attempt to damage the bilateral relationship.”

Maher was not dismissed, however, but merely retired, apparently with full honours. His retirement was postponed from the day after it was submitted to allow him to accept appointment, immediately following the Fukushima earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis, to coordinate US government disaster relief operations with Japanese and other governments and agencies. Maher’s appointment to head the US end of the biggest joint US-Japan operation in history (commonly known through the Pentagon’s role as “Operation Tomodachi,” Tomodachi meaning friend) made clear that official Washington found nothing untoward in his remarks. Maher’s colleague, Michael Green, former special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration, defended him, saying “Maher is a veteran Japan hand who knows the politics of Okinawa better than just about anyone.”

Upon his eventual, delayed retirement (6 April) from government, Maher immediately transferred, in the fashion that Japanese would describe as amakudari– floating down on a silken parachute from the public sector to a lucrative post in the private sector- becoming a senior adviser and consultant (specialist on Japan) to a high-powered international consortium, with responsibility in particular for resolving the problem of disposal of the radioactive wastes from the Fukushima reactors.

One month into his new job, in this capacity he was welcomed at the Prime Minister’s residence for a 90- minute meeting, a rare event for any private business person, particularly for one who had been declared persona non grata just two months earlier, and for whose behaviour the US government has issued high level apologies, surely unprecedented. For the governments of the US and Japan to pass over the abuse Maher had heaped on Japan, especially Okinawa, and the apologies that had been proffered and accepted for them in this way, was to expose the depths of contempt for Japan in official Washington and the corresponding depths of self-abnegation in official Tokyo.

5. The Levin-Webb-McCain shock

But while the Kan government girded its loins for a renewed assault on Henoko and Takae (the base complex and the helipads), official Washington confronted a soaring deficit, two (by some counts three or even four) failed, deadlocked, and prodigiously expensive wars, a rising China, and spreading social and economic crisis and political gridlock over the budget and social programs. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, stated that “the biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt.” A non-partisan Congressional committee was set up in May 2010 to identify defence sending cuts. It was headed by Democrat Barney Frank and Republican Ron Paul. Frank had unambiguously stated, “We don’t need Marines in Okinawa. They’re a hangover from a war that ended 65 years ago,” and he and Paul agreed that military spending had to be drastically cut and one way to do it was by reducing US forces based overseas. In these circumstances, a high-level Congressional “razor gang” examined commitments and sought areas in which to rein in expenditure, paying special attention to the overseas basing structure, and within that to the Futenma return/replacement pledge that had been made no advance since 1996, and to the Guam International Agreement.

In April 2011, the senate team of Karl Levin (Chair of the Armed Services Committee) and Jim Webb (former secretary of the Navy and current chair of the Foreign Relations sub-committee on East Asia and the Pacific) visited Tokyo and Okinawa (and Korea) to study the situation. In Tokyo, Kan’s government assured them that the project, despite delays, would go ahead. In Okinawa, however, the message they received was very different. The Governor told them it would be “extremely difficult” (read: impossible) to proceed, and the Okinawan daily Ryukyu Shimpoaddressed them (and through them the US Senate) with an “Open Letter” asking that the facilities at Futenma be removed “altogether” from Okinawa and expressing hope and anxiety as to how “American democracy handles this test.”

“Do we want a situation in which every time the United States sneezes, Japan follows; in which if the United States orders Japan to turn to the right that is exactly what happens? Or do we want a situation in which both parties respect each other’s opinions and do not hesitate to state their position on matters, however difficult that may be. Which kind of U.S.-Japan relations would you prefer?

… Okinawa faced many trials and tribulations during the reign of the U.S. military government, which took control of Okinawan people’s land at the point of a bayonet and used bulldozers to build military bases. They blatantly violated the basic human rights of the local people with outrageous behavior and placed limitations on Okinawa’s autonomy.

… In April 1996, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed that the United States would return the land used by Futenma Air Station, which is located in a densely populated area, to Okinawa on the basis that the facilities would be moved to an alternative location within the prefecture. However, local Okinawans have consistently opposed the construction of such replacement facilities.

The Governor of Okinawa Hirokazu Nakaima and all the heads of the various municipalities of Okinawa are opposed to the agreement reached by the Japanese and U.S. governments by which the U.S. military would relocate the Futenma Air Station facilities to a coastal area of Nago City. Okinawa’s prefectural assembly passed a resolution calling for the Futenma Air Station to be relocated out of the prefecture or out of Japan altogether, and in the national election, all politicians who accepted the option of relocation of the air station within the prefecture lost their seats.

… The U.S. government … should feel guilty for neglecting what is clearly a dangerous situation.

… Okinawan people feel that they were sacrificed in the name of defense of the main islands of Japan during the Battle of Okinawa and that the same occurred after the war in the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. …

… We consider that the closure and removal of the facilities at Futenma is necessary to rebuild good neighborly relations between the U.S. and Okinawa and we hope that you sense and accept the sincerity of the “spirit of Okinawa.”

To respect the will of the people of Okinawa, please show us the true worth of American democracy…”

The Asia-Pacific Journal (so far as we know) was the sole place outside Okinawa that reproduced this document. But Senators Levin and Webb undoubtedly read it, and when, weeks later, they issued their report, it was a bombshell. Senators Levin and Webb, joined for the occasion by former Republican presidential candidate and ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, John McCain, issued a joint statement declaring the realignment plans “unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable.”
It was, as Webb put it in his longer statement of their thinking, “a massive, multi-billion dollar undertaking, requiring extensive landfill, destruction and relocation of many existing facilities, and in a best-case scenario, several years of effort – some estimate that the process could take as long as ten years.”

Collectively, the three proposed that the Pentagon set about “Revising the Marine Corps force realignment implementation plan for Guam to consist of a presence with a permanently-assigned headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are home-based elsewhere, and consideration of off-island training sites. Examining the feasibility of moving Marine Corps assets at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab – while dispersing a part of Air Force assets now at Kadena to Andersen Air Base in Guam and/or other locations in Japan.”

The proposals, they insisted, would save billions in taxpayer dollars, keep U.S. military forces in the region, reduce the timing of sensitive political issues surrounding Futemna, and reduce the American footprint on Okinawa. These views were supported in broad outline by other high-level Washington insiders, most prominently Marine Corps General James Jones, who, till October 2010 had been Obama’s national security adviser. In one respect, Jones went even further, saying that “it really did not matter where the Marines were,” thus utterly negating the widely repeated view that Okinawa was crucial to their functioning in the regional and global frame of deterrence.

The Kan government was profoundly shocked that such views should be adopted by some at the highest levels of power in Washington. Prime Minister Kan and cabinet secretary Edano insisted, rather forlornly, that Levin and his colleagues were not the American government and that what counted were government to government agreements. The fact was, however, that the Levin group concentrated enormous power and its recommendations will be hard to resist given constrained budget circumstances. The government of Japan will simply have to wait on Washington to decide what it would do. The trump card Japan has played from time to time over four decades to ensure that the Marines not leave Okinawa – the payment of substantial sums of money – is more difficult to play now because Japan itself is broke, bowed under the heaviest debt burden of all OECD countries, and facing huge reconstruction costs for its devastated northeast. All that can be said for sure is that its bureaucrats, following their past record, will pull out all stops to try to put together a sufficiently attractive package to entice Senators Webb, Levin and McCain (and General Jones) back to the Henoko proposal. And that the Webb-Levin-McCain vision cannot but strengthen Okinawan resistance to moving ahead to block the Henoko base plan.

6. Conclusion

The US-Japan relationship appears strong. Academic and public figures constantly affirm it to be so. Most would agree with the influential scholar Gerald Curtis, who said early in 2011 “The Obama administration has learned from its mistakes and in my view has gotten its Japan policy just about right.” Pundits generally agree that adjustments that have to be made are to be made essentially by Japan, to make the alliance “mature” in line with the recommendations of the various reports that have been issued from Washington over the years. It is Japan that needs to make legislative and if necessary constitutional changes to better serve US strategic ends. There is an alternative view, but it is very much a minority one:

“For the more that Japan defaults to ready dependence on the United States in security and foreign policy, the more it will simply compound Japanese concerns over the risks of entrapment and abandonment by its ally over issues such as North Korea and the East China Sea, and the more that this will frustrate Japanese ambitions as a major power and engender mutual suspicions within the alliance and thus weaken its basis.”

This most peculiar of state relationships is shown by evidence such as that discussed in this paper to be characterized by the match between servility on one side and condescension and contempt on the other. For want of a better word, I have called it a “Client State” one. On the American side, the conviction that Japan is, after all, an American creation and its government a kind of branch office, rooted in the experiences of war and occupation, combines with the pragmatic attraction of the billions of dollars that can be extracted each year in subsidies from the Japanese government. Kevin Maher alluded to this when he concluded his remarks to the American students by saying, “We’ve got a very good deal with Japan.” But on the Japanese side it is more difficult to understand how servility should be the unquestioned choice of men and women of intelligence and presumed personal integrity. Those in its grip appear to be convinced that Japan’s national interest is best served by it. The best outcome of the recent spate of revelations would be if it were to awaken the Japanese people in general to the harsh and unequal reality of the relationship.

The gradual exposure of the secret deals that surrounded Okinawan reversion and US nuclear strategy and more recently of the multiple layers of deception and deceit shown by the secret and confidential despatches released in May 2011 have thus far had no apparent effect on general public and media perceptions. Of the overall Wiki cache of 251,000 diplomatic documents, by mid-May 2011 only 12,648, less than 5 per cent had been released. Their authenticity has thus far not been seriously challenged. The Asahi shimbun says that it gained access to “nearly 7,000” documents related to US-Japan negotiations in January 2011, of which in May it released a mere 54. What it released, though a tiny fraction of the whole cache, opened a devastating window on the inner workings of the relationship. When, or if, it will see fit to release the remainder is unknown.

The Government of Japan has studiously avoided comment on the authenticity or significance of the materials and the national media, including the Asahi that initially published them, has paid little serious attention to them. No public figure has yet demanded a public or parliamentary inquiry. To date, the most serious analysis has been that published in the Okinawan daily, Ryukyu Shimpo. To take just three of those who contributed essays to it:

Magosaki Ukeru, former Director General of the Intelligence and Analysis Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“The Democratic Party government elected in 2009 planned to revise relations with the US, including concerning the Futenma problem. When the US issued warnings, leading figures in the departments of Foreign Affairs and Defense acted contrary to the intent of the Prime Minister. What they did was contrary to the principles of democracy. What has become of the country, Japan?  It has lapsed into a chronic ailment of lack of self-hood.”

Amaki Naoto, former Japanese ambassador to Lebanon:

“The crime of the authorities is so serious that, if the US has tricked the Government of Japan then the Japanese people must accuse it of deception, and if the Government of Japan has lent a helping hand to the US to deceive the people of Japan and has improperly and unnecessarily handed over the Japanese people’s hard-earned tax monies, then the Japanese people must [likewise] accuse it of betrayal.”

Arasaki Moriteru, Okinawa University emeritus professor and distinguished historian of Okinawa:

“What is exposed, all too vividly and in concrete detail, in the [Wiki] diplomatic cables is just how pathetic and decadent are Japan’s political and elite bureaucratic circles. We have seen what we did not want to see: the behaviour of politicians and elite bureaucrats who, while talking all the time of ‘national interest’ and spouting chauvinistic nationalism, were serving the United States and had assimilated to the American ‘national interest’.”

The sensitivity to the Wiki revelations, as before that to the mitsuyaku, the Hatoyama “confession,” the Maher affair and the Levin-Webb-McCain shock, is naturally strongest in Okinawa, since the fault lines of the national and regional system run beneath its islands. For the past 15 years, the Okinawan people and their elected representatives have committed themselves to resist a system that prefers US military and strategic ends to democratic and constitutional principle, and that subjects Okinawa to permanently bearing the disproportionate burden of the US military presence. Despite the inequality of the contest, the astonishing outcome is that Okinawa has, in effect, seized the advantage over Tokyo and Washington in defying plans for the new base at Henoko.

By its mass, non-violent resistance, Okinawa’s citizenry has for 15 years held at bay the combined forces of the two most powerful countries on earth. They have yet to overthrow a government, but they successfully blocked one Prime Minister (Koizumi) between 2001 and 2005, forced the resignation of another (Hatoyama) in 2010, and now stand firm against another, and against US-Japan plans for a new Okinawan base.

Although 2010 was the “50th Anniversary” of the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty, the long-awaited bilateral statement to signify the “deepening” of the relationship has had to be repeatedly postponed. Both the planned June meeting of US and Japanese Foreign and Defense Ministers (the “2+2”) and the Kan visit to Washington that was to follow it have been put on hold. With no sign of implementation of the agreements of 1996, 2006, 2009, or 2010, the prospect of the US and Japan agreeing on a statement of vision for the future is not high.

In a dictatorship, the Henoko “replacement” project could still proceed, with citizens who stood in the way being arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. What the Kan government seems still unable to recognize, but Washington (or at least Senators Levin, Webb, and McCain and General Jones) has begun to concede, is that, at least so long as democratic institutions survive, there is no way to persuade or even to compel the submission of determined opponents, and therefore no way the Henoko project will proceed. After 15 years of struggle, the Okinawa movement has accomplished a signal victory. It has saved Oura Bay. It may be only one step in a struggle that seems to know no end, but it is a hugely significant one.

In December 2010, the State Department’s Kevin Maher referred contemptuously to Okinawa and Okinawans as mendacious and duplicitous: “masters of deception.” Those, however, are precisely the terms that have to be applied, strictly speaking, to describe the treatment that the governments of Japan and the US have meted out to the Okinawan people for four decades.

For footnotes and photographs, please read the original at The Asia-Pacific Journal. Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal, author of many studies previously posted at this site on aspects of US-Japan relations and Okinawa, and emeritus professor at Australian National University in Canberra. He is the author, most recently, of “Client State: Japan in the American Embrace” (New York, 2007, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing 2008) and “Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe” (New York, 2004, Tokyo and Seoul 2006).

Japanese Government raise threshold for ‘safe’ radiation for children

Posted in Japan, News on May 30th, 2011

Child checked for radiation in Japan

As radiation continues to leak from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 power plant, Japan’s Ministry of Education has responded… by raising the threshold of radiation deemed “safe” for schoolchildren in the surrounding areas to a level far above that recognised by international agencies. The response is a rapidly growing protest movement spearheaded by mothers in the affected areas, who are outraged that the Ministry is authorising their children to be exposed to radiation doses around 8 times the level of natural background radiation. In place of this policy, which will protect the power company from future claims of damage to children’s health, they call on the government to establish relocation schemes or plans to remove radioactive topsoil from school grounds.
A campaign has been set up called ‘Moms to Save Children from Radiation’. To learn more about and support this campaign, see:

Peace Boat

Posted in Japan, News on March 27th, 2011

The Peace Boat


Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. Peace Boat seeks to create awareness and action based on effecting positive social and political change in the world. We pursue this through the organization of global educational programmes, responsible travel, cooperative projects and advocacy activities. These activities are carried out on a partnership basis with other civil society organizations and communities in Japan, Northeast Asia, and around the world. Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that we visit. Activities based in Japan and Northeast Asia are carried out from our seven Peace Centers in Japan.



Peace Boat is now conducting emergency relief efforts for those suffering as a result of this disaster. See below for reports and information about how to donate both money and material goods, and how to volunteer. We thank you kindly for your cooperation.

Activity so far:

Peace Boat sent two advance teams to the affected areas from March 16 to collect information about the damage and needs, and deliver aid including 100 blankets, food including rice and noodles, masks etc. These items were brought directly to evacuation centres in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, upon consultation with local authorities. Since then, staff members have been assisting with distribution of goods in the affected areas, particularly between smaller evacuation centres. The team has also delivered meals to Nisshin Hospital and Saito Hospital, where patients had run out of food. Peace Boat is now also conducting assessments of the needs and current situation in each evacuation centre in the area, as well as coordinating requests from other organisations willing to help provide meals and other aid in Ishinomaki.


IMAGINE: An Okinawa without Military Bases

Posted in Japan, News on April 11th, 2010

Okinawa dugong photo

It is spring in Tokyo, and the crowd outside the Japanese parliament building has a festival air – their hand-painted banners are multicoloured, and large yellow balloons shaped like the endangered dugong float beneath the cherry trees. (see video) But the messages on the banners are profoundly serious. This is a demonstration about an issue which will determine the future of the southern Japanese archipelago of Okinawa and profoundly influence the future of East Asia.

The government of Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichiro is about to announce a decision on the future of the Futenma Airbase on the main Okinawan island, home to some 2000 US Marines. Futenma has a long and troubled history. Located in the very heart of a densely populated area of the main Okinawan island, its giant aircraft pass fly day and night over residential areas, causing noise pollution severe enough to disrupt school classes (see video), and creating fears of major accidents affecting civilians (see video of helicopter crash on university campus). Futenma is just one of series of bases that dot Okinawa, occupying over 18% of land on the main island, where some 55,000 residents suffer from base-related noise pollution.

Ever since the US occupied Okinawa following the Pacific War and separated the archipelago from the rest of Japan, to which it was only returned in 1972, bases have been a focus of conflict and protest. Issues came to a head in 1995, when a twelve-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was raped by three off-duty US servicemen. The ensuing wave of mass protests eventually led to a 2006 agreement between the US and Japan’s then Liberal Democratic Party government to move some 8,000 Marines to Guam.

But the deal also involved a plan to relocate the Futenma base to a new spot further from the main population centers: an spot off shore from Camp Schwab on Okinawa’s east coast. The new base, according to this plan, would be constructed on top the coral reef of one of the main islands few remaining pristine stretches of coast, in the middle of the most northerly habitat visited by the endangered dugong (see video). A case brought in US courts by the NGO EarthJustice resulted in a 2008 finding that the US Department of Defense (DoD) was in violation of the law, and requiring the DoD to consider the impact of the base on the local dugong population. Despite this, the off-shore base remains the US preferred option.

Meanwhile a new government has come to power in Japan, promising to look afresh at the Okinawan base issue. So far however, the Hatoyama government has failed to present a clear plan on the future of the bases, and the US continues to insist that the 2006 deal must be honoured. The Japanese government has promised a decision by the end of May, but no resolution of the issue is yet in sight.

Behind the Futenma issue lies the larger question of the ongoing presence of US bases in East Asia. Okinawa is home to 74% of US bases in Japan, and the island’s entire economy and society has become distorted by its reliance on the US military presence: unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa has virtually no local industrial production, relying instead on tourism, bases and construction. Proclaimed by supporters as essential to the defense of Japan, and substantially funded by the Japanese taxpayer, the Okinawan bases for decades have in fact primarily been a launching pad for US military action in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Japan contributed $5.2 billion to the cost of US bases on its soil in 2009, and has also agreed to pay $6 billion to transfer US troops from Okinawa to Guam.More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, growing numbers of Okinawans and other Japanese are saying “enough”.

More demonstrations are planned nation-wide, and the Japanese government’s May decision could decide not only the fate of Okinawa but also the fate of the Hatoyama government itself.

Tessa Morris-Suzuki

See Also


– Henoko Dugong, by Suehiro Nitta (for video footage, click HERE)

– To learn more about Diego Garcia, click HERE

– Okinawan residents and supporters demonstrate outside Japanese parliament – for video, click HERE. For photos click HERE. See article: “Imagine: An Okinawa without Military Bases”

Okinawa bases demo – Photographs

Posted in Japan, News on April 6th, 2010

Demo 1

"Don't Treat the People of Okinawa with Contempt!"

Demo 2

A Message from the Powerless to those in Power

Demo 3



Demo 4

A Message for the Prime Minister