Photo/IllutrationOkinawa Governor Denny Tamaki addresses protesters gathered in front of Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 15. (Masaru Komiyaji)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGO, Okinawa Prefecture--Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki vowed "Our fight will never stop" when he met protesters gathered outside the site of a contentious land reclamation project intended to become a new U.S. military base here.

Hundreds of demonstrators were gathered in front of Camp Schwab on Dec. 15, a day after the central government ordered the use of bulldozers to heave tons of dirt and soil into waters on the southern side of the base in the Henoko area here.

Tamaki was greeted with loud cheers from the protesters when he showed up at around 11 a.m., wearing a hoodie and looking nothing like a politician ready to take on the central government.

"There will be some measure that we can implement," Tamaki told the crowd. "Let us seek out true democracy."

The land reclamation is intended to create a new V-shaped runway to allow for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

As protesters shouted out their opposition to the land reclamation, dump trucks kept arriving and unloading dirt and sand to fill in the waters off Henoko.

In addressing the protesters, Tamaki also said: "I always receive courage from all of you whenever I come here. While we are now at a time that is very difficult to bear, there are resistance measures out there."

Toshiko Nagado, 68, came to join the protest from Naha, Okinawa's prefectural capital.

"The central government went ahead with the dumping of dirt and sand even though it said it would hold talks," she said. "I pray that Governor Tamaki will refuse to budge from his position of not allowing the Henoko project to continue."

Protest organizers said about 600 people gathered Dec. 15, largely because of a tweet Tamaki posted the previous day announcing his intention to turn up.

Afterward, Tamaki toured Henoko fishing port, where he used binoculars to observe the reclamation work in the waters off Henoko.

"That sight really tears at my heart," he told reporters, referring to the tons of dirt and sand being dumped. "This is illegal construction work so we must implement the appropriate countermeasure."

Tamaki was also furious at a remark made Dec. 14 by Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya that having the Futenma land returned by fiscal 2022 appeared to be difficult.

"When is that land going to be returned?" Tamaki asked. "I feel strong anger."