Okinawa furious over defense official's rape remark

November 30, 2011

NAHA--Okinawan politicians and citizens expressed outrage over a remark about rape from a senior defense bureaucrat, widening the rift over the long-stalled relocation of a U.S. military base.

"I don't feel like making any comment," a grimaced Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told reporters on Nov. 29, hours before Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, was dismissed over his remark. "My mouth would become tainted (if I made a comment)."

During a drinking session on Nov. 28, Tanaka reportedly asked, "Would you say, 'I will rape you,' before you rape someone?" He was responding to a question about why the government has not made clear when it will submit an environment assessment report on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture.

Okinawans said Tanaka's remark symbolizes how the central government has discriminated against Okinawa, which hosts about 70 percent of U.S. military installations in Japan.

"This is what central government officials think as opposed to what they say. It reveals the quintessence of the relationship between Yamato (mainland Japan) and Okinawa," said Suzuyo Takazato, 71, co-chair of the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, a group formed after a girl was raped in Okinawa by three U.S. servicemen in 1995.

"The central government cajoles Okinawa with rhetoric and money and eventually dominates it with force. It is nothing but the logic of violence. In the remark, discriminations against women masterfully overlap discriminations against Okinawa."

In announcing Tanaka's dismissal on the night of Nov. 29, Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa reiterated that the government plans to submit an environment assessment report to the Okinawa prefectural government by the end of the year.

But even Defense Ministry officials acknowledged it would be difficult.

"The first thing we need to do is to put out this fire," a senior ministry official said, referring to growing anger among Okinawans. "The new director-general will have to make a pilgrimage to offer apologies."

A senior official at the Okinawa Defense Bureau also said: "It will be impossible to submit an environment assessment report by the end of the year. It will be delayed for months."

An environment assessment report is required for the government's plan to relocate the Futenma facility in Ginowan to Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture, in accordance with a Japan-U.S. agreement.

Nakaima has been opposed to the government plan. He was re-elected in November 2010 by promising to relocate the U.S. military base outside the prefecture.

"Our confidence in the government has been shaken once again," said Susumu Matayoshi, who heads the governor's executive office in the prefectural government.

At an extraordinary session on Nov. 14, the Okinawa prefectural assembly unanimously adopted a statement calling on the central government to abandon any notion of submitting an environment assessment report.

"The remark came from the standpoint of the occupier, which forcibly carries out whatever it declares, ignoring the feelings and opinions of Okinawan residents," said Mio Nakamura, a prefectural assembly member from the Social Democratic Party. "There is no way for Okinawa to accept an environment assessment report."

The Nago city assembly also passed a similar statement with a majority vote on Nov. 29.

Women were angered by Tanaka's insensitivity because sexual violence by U.S. servicemen was a serious problem even before Okinawa was reverted to Japan's sovereignty in 1972.

"Okinawa has always been made light of by the government and taken as someone that can be raped," said a 50-year-old company employee in Nago.

Nakaima will have to state his opinion within 90 days after the prefectural government receives an environment assessment report.

Still, the relocation will not move ahead unless he approves the Defense Ministry's application for reclaiming Nago's coastal area.

Many Okinawans said the government has given priority to the Japan-U.S. alliance at the sacrifice of Okinawa.

In a meeting in Honolulu on Nov. 12, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told U.S. President Barack Obama that Japan is preparing to submit an environment assessment report by the end of the year.

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Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is so disgusted at Naha Airport on Nov. 29 that he cannot comment on Satoshi Tanaka's remark. (Satoshi Okumura)

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is so disgusted at Naha Airport on Nov. 29 that he cannot comment on Satoshi Tanaka's remark. (Satoshi Okumura)

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  • Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is so disgusted at Naha Airport on Nov. 29 that he cannot comment on Satoshi Tanaka's remark. (Satoshi Okumura)
  • Satoshi Tanaka, director-general of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, heads for the Defense Ministry on Nov. 29 after arriving at Haneda Airport. (Minako Yoshimoto)

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