Ryuichi Sakamoto speaks about Okinawa's U.S. base issue during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo. (Wataru Sekita)

Musician Ryuichi Sakamoto says he is determined to use his celebrity status to speak out against construction of a new U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture, even if it may cost him some of his popularity.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Sakamoto, 66, said it is easy to become a target for “fukuro-dataki” (ganging up on someone) when taking a stand, particularly one with political overtones, in Japan.

Nevertheless, he said he will continue to raise his voice against moves to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

Sakamoto, a New York-based, Oscar-wining composer who also has a varied career as an activist, writer and actor, said artists have a duty to take a stand on issues as a “canary in a coal mine” that can alarm the public about a looming danger.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

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My first encounter with Okinawa was when I was a high school student. I was drawn to the folk songs there. I also took an interest in the music of Indonesia and Africa and studied ethnic music in college. I thought the music of Okinawa was more interesting because of its close geographical proximity, yet its unique cultural sphere that is so different from mainland Japan.

In the course of visiting areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I came to think that nuclear power plants and U.S. military bases are not separate issues. If nuclear power plants and military bases are needed so much, why not build them in Tokyo?

Still, the state forces them upon rural areas. I think there is an underlining mind-set of “Put what smells bad far away.”

In contrast, people who want to preserve nature or protect their own land and life have a right to resist. But a nation-state in all ages has suppressed that with money and violence. That is precisely what is happening now in Okinawa.

As the land reclamation work began in December with pouring earth and sand into waters off Henoko, an online signature petition campaign to demand a halt to the project spread on social media. I think it was great that Rola, an entertainer, was among those calling on people to sign the petition.

In Japan, many people choose to remain silent on issues because they are afraid of being exposed to a barrage of criticism. But there is no need to feel that a bunch of reckless people online represent the mood of the society. And it is really ridiculous that TV programs provide so much coverage to them. I don’t care at all.

In 2015, I created a song about Okinawan people’s thoughts and the beauty of the islands with Unaigumi, a four-piece band that includes Misako Koja, an Okinawan singer, whom I have known for 30 years.

I have given the proceeds from the song to Henoko Fund, which supports the opposition movement.

In the United States, nearly half of Americans support President Donald Trump. So, there is no comparison between the United States and Japan for bashing. Even so, it is not unusual for entertainers and athletes to make political statements. Those who don’t express their views are not taken seriously, actually.

George Clooney, a popular actor, was arrested during a protest against human rights issues at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington after he, totally unfazed, entered the premises in front of police officers. Statements and actions from artists carry weight. They are like a “canary in a coal mine.” Clooney used his influence at a most critical moment. He had guts, and I was impressed.

In the world today, politics of “the one with a loud voice gets the power to push ideas through” is widespread. A one-sided response, such as repeatedly calling truth-seeking media a “liar,” is prevalent. I suppose the Japanese government, whose stance is to make no attempt to have a serious discussion with opponents, is imitating President Trump. It is out of control.

Many people don’t pay attention to it, and that is the biggest problem. The media may be taken in and become unable to say what it wants to say. I intend to keep on taking risks to make my position clear and continue to say what I want to say.

(This article is based on an interview by Hiroki Ito)