GINOWAN, Okinawa Prefecture—The deafening roar of U.S. military aircraft and the constant fear of one crashing into her home and restaurant are part of everyday life for Chiyo Nakasone.
Her family opened the Anzu Shokudo restaurant 30 years ago, just beyond the boundary of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and has never been allowed to forget Okinawa’s role as the main base for U.S. forces in Japan.
A U.S. military helicopter crashed into the campus of Okinawa International University, just 500 meters from the restaurant, in 2004.
“I’m always afraid that another aircraft might crash,” Nakasone, 88, said.
She helps prepare the restaurant’s dishes, including Anzu Shokudo’s Okinawan noodles and stewed pig trotters specialty, and lives in the family home next door. When U.S. aircraft fly over, orders from customers and the sound of the TV are drowned out.
Nakasone joined a lawsuit seeking to stop the U.S. military flights this year ahead of the 40th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese sovereignty on May 15.
“The sound reminds me of the misery of war,” she said.
In May 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, Nakasone was forced to hide in a dark horizontal cave in a well for more than a month. All she had for sustenance was water and brown sugar.
“When you are really frightened, you don’t even feel sleepy,” Nakasone said.
Her two younger brothers died in battle, which raged in southern Okinawa.
“Tears come when I remember them in the futon,” Nakasone said.
Okinawa came under U.S. military administration after the war, and the land on which the Nakasones had lived before the conflict was confiscated by the U.S. military. It still lies within the Futenma air base.
Local officials and residents had high expectations following Okinawa’s reversion to Japan’s sovereignty in 1972.
The governor at the time, Chobyo Yara, said: “We will do all we can to build a new prefecture, ending the history in which Okinawa was always used as a means.”
Nakasone said she was also optimistic, thinking the U.S. military would leave and Okinawan life would return to normal after the reversion.
But Okinawa continues to shoulder a disproportionate burden, hosting 74 percent of U.S. military installations in Japan.
In 1996, the United States reached an agreement with Japan to return the Futenma air base after relocating its functions to a different part of Okinawa Prefecture, but U.S. military aircraft continue to fly over the family restaurant.
Asked how she feels about Japan, Nakasone said simply: “It has brought war and bases to our small island. I hate it.”
“Futenma,” a play exploring the issue of the U.S. bases in Okinawa due to be staged in Okinawa Prefecture at the end of the year, features an elderly female character modeled on Nakasone.
In the last scene, the woman says in Okinawan dialect: “We can sleep even if we are hurt by other people, but we cannot sleep if we hurt other people.” The comment echoes Nakasone’s own words: “Whatever it is, it is no good to do something to others if you don’t want it to be done to you.”
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima were among 1,200 people attending a ceremony in Ginowan on May 15 to mark the 40th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan.
"Today must be the day when we pay tribute (to victims of war) and renew our commitment to peace," Noda said in a speech. "It is also the day when all fellow citizens reaffirm their determination to stand by Okinawa."
Nakaima will present Noda with a 10-year Okinawa promotion plan focused on building Okinawa’s self-reliance the same day. The prefecture’s dependence on central government spending rose from 23.5 percent in fiscal 1972 to 39.2 percent in fiscal 2009 after a series of four development programs.
The unemployment rate has increased from 3 percent when Okinawa returned to Japan to 7.1 percent in 2011.
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