Photo/IllutrationA coalition of civil groups opposed to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago published the results of a survey answered by 37 prefectural governors at a news conference in Tokyo on Aug. 10. (Tsukasa Kimura)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Twelve prefectural governors consider Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. military bases as excessive, while three expressed support for the late Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga's efforts to halt the construction of a new base in his prefecture.

The opinions were expressed in a questionnaire sent to governors of all prefectures apart from Okinawa by a coalition of nine civil groups across Japan that advocates prefectures share the burden of hosting U.S. bases.

The results of the survey were released Aug. 10.

The coalition mailed the questionnaires to the governors’ offices of 46 prefectures in July after the government finalized in June its plan to start pouring gravel from August into the waters off the Henoko district in Nago. The land reclamation work is a step to relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko site.

Responses were received from 37 governors as of Aug. 8, the day that Onaga died of pancreatic cancer at age 67.

Four prefectures could not respond as their governors were tasked with dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and other issues. In addition, governors of Osaka, Yamanashi, Saga, Shimane and Tokyo, did not respond to the survey.

In the questionnaire, all the governors who responded did not indicate whether they support or disagree with the government’s plan to reclaim the land in Henoko. However, some expressed the belief that further discussion is necessary.

“It is an issue that should be decided after holding a nationwide discussion over options, including cancellation of the reclamation permit, and through negotiations between the government and Okinawa Prefecture,” the Tottori governor wrote.

“It is important to gain understanding from the Okinawan residents by fully explaining (the need for the base project),” said the Oita governor.

In response to whether they think the burden on Okinawa Prefecture is overly excessive in terms of hosting U.S. military facilities, 12 governors selected “overburdened,” including Iwate, Niigata, Saitama, Shizuoka, Shiga, Tottori, Tokushima, Kagawa, Kochi, Oita and Miyazaki.

The Tokushima governor wrote, “We need to work out ways to ‘decentralize’ not only where bases are located but also where the U.S. military holds its training.”

The Shizuoka governor wrote, “The concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture appears to reach its limit.”

Five prefectures that did not select “overburdened" also expressed their understanding to help relieve Okinawa's burden and move U.S. military installations elsewhere. The governors of Hokkaido and Yamaguchi said, relieving their burden is "necessary.” The governors of Tochigi and Hiroshima expressed the views that the ratio of U.S. military bases in Okinawa has “remained very high.”

Most of the respondents did not answer directly if they support the Okinawa governor’s stance, who vehemently opposed the central government's decision to construct a new base in Henoko.

Governors of Shizuoka, Shiga, Tottori selected the choice that they “support” Onaga’s stance.

The Tottori governor noted, “I believe he is acting on the Okinawa residents’ wishes that were made clear over a number of local elections.”

The Saitama governor, who did not choose “support,” wrote, “(Onaga’s) stance is only natural.”

In another question about local autonomy, the Shizuoka governor wrote, “The government has not gained the understanding of local residents” while the Tokushima governor wrote, “I would like the government to sincerely and fully discuss the issue with Okinawa Prefecture.”

The civil group conducted a similar survey last year, and the group members feel that the governors’ attitudes are changing.

“We noticed there are more comments that dig deeper into the issue compared with last year's survey responses,” said Aki Matsumoto, 35, a member of the Osaka-based group.

Mayumi Tamura, 55, member of a Tokyo-based group, said, “Many governors are now voicing their own opinions after Onaga had made efforts to have his voice heard as the meetings of the governors.”

Group member Fumiyo Sasaki, 45, said, “To live up to Onaga’s will, we must continue promoting the establishment of a platform for discussions over how other prefectures should share more of the burden of hosting U.S. bases, and to prompt other Japanese nationals to take the Japan-U.S. diplomatic and security issues as their own problems.”

On Aug. 11, the government notified Okinawa Prefecture of the postponement of scheduled work in Henoko. The move is believed to have been decided in response to Onaga's death and to await the results of the Okinawa gubernatorial election, scheduled for Sept. 30.