Amid protests on land and sea, the U.S. military began offloading 12 MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture on July 23.
As the Green Ridge, a commercial cargo vessel carrying the aircraft, arrived, more than 100 people shouted, “Osprey, go home,” at a seaside rally near the U.S. air base.
A couple of dozen protesters also took to the water aboard a fishing boat and six rubber boats, hoisting banners declaring: “We do not want the Ospreys” and other slogans.
The aircraft will be stationed in Iwakuni before being flown to Okinawa Prefecture for deployment at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from early October.
The Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed that the aircraft will not fly until safety is reconfirmed after detailed investigations into crashes in Morocco in April and Florida in June.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said July 23 the Japanese government will make efforts to confirm flight safety and assuage public concerns.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Japan also said the same day the Ospreys are extremely important in the defense of Japan and that they will help maintain peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda told reporters July 23: “I called on the government not to allow (the cargo carrier) to enter port unless safety is assured. I feel helpless.”
Yamaguchi Governor Sekinari Nii also said, “I'm really angry because priority has been given to (the U.S. military’s) scheduling in bringing in the aircraft."
Fukuda and Nii will visit Tokyo as early as July 25 to lodge a protest with the central government.
Bunmei Harada, a painter who lives in Iwakuni, likened the Ospreys’ deployment to restarts of nuclear power reactors.
“If we allow the Ospreys into Iwakuni, they will start flying around the country,” said Harada, 61, who was at the rally with his wife, Joko. “It’s the same as reactivation of one reactor will lead to restarts throughout the country.”
Harada said he was taking part in a demonstration for the first time.
Low-altitude training routes have been set up for the Ospreys in many parts of Japan.
Hiroshi Ashitomi, who co-heads a group opposed to a helicopter base in Okinawa Prefecture, said: “Nothing will change if we leave things to the government. People must understand by now that the government will not budge unless residents stand up to it.”
“We want to block the Ospreys at Iwakuni because so many people from around the country joined our protest,” said Iwakuni assembly member Jungen Tamura, 66.
Tamura, who is a member of Rimpeace, a group monitoring the U.S. military in Japan, added, “We intend to continue to raise our voices so that they will be heard by the Japanese and U.S. governments.”
The U.S. government is expected to present reports on the crash in Morocco at the end of July and on the incident in Florida in August.
The government plans to send a team of experts from the Self-Defense Forces, the transport ministry and other organizations to the United States this weekend to reconfirm the safety of the aircraft.
The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off and land vertically, and after rotating its props forward, it can fly like a turboprop aircraft.
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