My name is Gentatsu Ashimine from Takae in Higashi Village, Okinawa.
I love nature. I wanted to raise my children to have a spiritually rich life in the Yambaru forest of northern Okinawa. We spent three years looking for a place to live, then finally found land in Takae. We bought the land, built a house by ourselves, and started our life in the Yambaru forest. My family is myself, my wife, and our six children. Our children have been growing up freely and healthily in the rich forest. Playing and running with barefoot every day, they have gotten to know the many species of plants and animals and have learned the importance of life. The forest is an irreplaceable and precious place for us.
We wanted to share with as many people as possible how relaxing and comfortable it is to live in the forest, so we started building a lodge for visitors. We wanted to continue to live in Takae.
However, in 2007, we found out in the newspaper that the Japanese and U.S. governments had agreed to construct six U.S. military helipads which will surround the Takae residential area as a condition for the return of part of the U.S. Northern Jungle Warfare Training Center in the Yambaru forest. Since then, we have asked the Japanese government and the Defense Ministry over and over how often the six helipads will be used by what kind of military aircraft and which route they will take around the helipads, but we have not been able to receive any reasonable answer.
The construction of the first two helipads were completed by 2014. Before the promised return of the part of the Northern Jungle Warfare Training Center area, the two helipads were provided for the U.S. forces without any notification to us. Soon after, Osprey aircraft began using them in 2015.
In June 2016, Osprey aircraft flew at very low altitude above our house every day and night for over three weeks. As many as three aircraft came together and flew over Takae many times as late as 11 pm. The noise was indescribably loud. We could not go to sleep. My children could not wake up the morning after the flight training. Even after waking up they looked absent-minded and could not go to school.
The Osprey has caused many accidents and a great deal of trouble. Flying directly above us, they threaten our lives. We felt that we could not live in our place any longer. In order to protect our children, we moved with them to a nearby village for two months. On the morning after our move, one of my children said to me, “I never realized I could have such a sound sleep without Osprey flying.” Hearing that, I felt heartbroken.
I immediately went to the village office and the local education board to explain the situation. Village officers came to our house, and they were surprised to hear how terrible the noise is. The local municipality requested the Defense Bureau to tell the U.S. forces to change the flight route. However, no answer has been made to the request. Although less frequently, Osprey aircraft continue to fly above our house and the Takae residential area at very low altitude. The situation never changes no matter how many times we insist.
Amid the suffering, in July last year more than 800 riot police were sent to Takae from inside and outside Okinawa. In order to promote the helipads construction, they forcibly removed those of us who were protesting against the construction and demanding a reasonable explanation from the authorities. We tried talking to the police, but they ignored us and avoided looking us in the eye. It was very frustrating and heartbreaking. I used to believe that the government and police were working to protect our peaceful life, but such belief was completely destroyed. The riot police were working for the construction of the helipads which will threaten our lives. They were removing us and hurting us while protecting construction vehicles and U.S. military vehicles without caring to have any dialogue with us. It was difficult to accept that such things were actually happening. It was like a nightmare.
All six helipads have been completed. The Osprey will use them 4,690 times a year. Our family cannot live in Takae anymore. Now, we live in a nearby village. We cannot live in our home.
Okinawa has been occupied by U.S. forces since the end of WW II. It is hosting 75% of U.S. military facilities located in Japan. Crimes and accidents by the U.S. forces occur almost every day in Okinawa. Last year, a 20-year-old woman was abducted during jogging, raped and killed by a former U.S. servicemen. Okinawans’ sufferings have reached their limits. The Japanese government is now trying to add more base burdens on us. This should not be tolerated.
This is not just a problem for Okinawa. U.S. military forces are creating havoc all over the world.
We must join forces and make efforts to stop this and create a bright future. Let us work together for our children.