Photo/IllutrationA sit-in protest in front of a gate of the U.S. forces’ Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, reaches its 1,759th day on April 30, the last day of the Heisei Era. (Mahito Kaai)

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NAGO, Okinawa Prefecture--A young newspaper reporter in Okinawa Prefecture has caused a stir with admitting he used to be a "netouyo," who posted rightists' views on the Internet.

Shohei Tsukazaki, 27, of The Ryukyu Shimpo, made his experiences public with his column titled, “Net-uyoku deshita” (I was a rightist on the Internet). He hoped his words would resonate with people who hold similar views to those he once held when he tweeted criticism against China, South Korea and Okinawans.

Tsukazaki underwent a dramatic sea change by talking to people in Okinawa, which prompted him to become a reporter.

Now, he fears that his previous tweets may have cowed some people into silence.

What is the “freedom of expression” that is guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution? He is thinking about the issue when he is collecting news materials in places where harsh words are ongoing.

Tsukazaki, who is from Oita Prefecture, became interested in security issues as he enjoyed watching the Self-Defense Forces’ air shows and similar events.

In 2010, he came to Okinawa to enter a university. At midnight, he would often tweet about national defense and the state of the nation on Twitter.

One of his tweets criticized South Korea, saying, “I knew South Korea’s (low) level as a state (by its president’s remarks).”

Another tweet criticized his future employer, saying, “For The Ryukyu Shimpo, the will of the people who support (the construction of a U.S. military base) is worthless, isn’t it?”

Targets of his criticism were always the same. He regarded local newspapers in Okinawa and people opposing the construction of a U.S. military base as being “anti-Japan groups.”

“I believed that posting my messages on the Internet, which is the 'sea of freedom,' would lead to making Japan a better country,” he said.

However, meeting with and hearing Okinawans led him to doubt what he was thinking.

For example, he went to the Takae district of Higashi in Okinawa Prefecture to argue against protesters who were holding a sit-in there to oppose construction of helipads for U.S. forces.

Then, in contrary to rightists' claims, he found that none of the protesters were receiving daily allowances and that there were no South Koreans or Chinese.

He was also touched by the protestors’ remarks that they wanted to protect their daily lives. Such remarks went “beyond my assumptions,” he admitted.

He became aware that he was reading only information that supported his own opinions.

Thinking that he wanted to provide information based on news materials he collected about Okinawa, he became a newspaper reporter.

When his second year as a reporter ended in spring 2018, he was transferred to the newspaper's Hokubu branch office, which is in charge of the Henoko district of Nago.

When he wrote his “Net-uyoku deshita” column, it caused a major reaction. One consequence was that he learned that there were people who were harmed by his previous postings on the Internet.

He began to think that his one-sided opinions may have hurt or silenced some people.

At present, he frequently goes to the Henoko district where land reclamation work for the construction of a U.S. military base is ongoing.

When an idea of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the Henoko district emerged more than 20 years ago, there were active discussions in the area about whether to support the project.

Now, however, many people do not talk about the issue. When he interviewed some people who are regarded as supporting the relocation, he found that their true stance is opposing it.

“Labeling people as supporters or non-supporters or as leftists or rightists may be making it difficult to grasp complex thoughts, dividing people and depriving them of opportunities for dialogue,” he said.

Tsukazaki widened his world view by talking with people of different viewpoints. Therefore, he wants to place importance on diverse opinions. That means that freedom of expression is guaranteed, which is something that he wants to strive to do.