Photo/Illutration Shunsuke Yaita, right, mayor of Nishinoomote in Kagoshima Prefecture, at a meeting with Defense Ministry’s State Minister Tomohiro Yamamoto in Tokyo on Jan. 16 over the government’s plan to use an island in the city for the U.S. military’s landing practice (Yoshitaka Ito)

The mayor of a southwestern city with jurisdiction over an island that the central government plans to use as a training site for U.S. carrier-based aircraft is refusing to give his blessing to the project.

“We are not at a stage to announce if the city is for or against the central government plan since many details have yet to be disclosed (with respect to envisaged facilities and drills on the island),” said Shunsuke Yaita, mayor of Nishinoomote in Kagoshima Prefecture, when he met in Tokyo with Tomohiro Yamamoto, state minister of the Defense Ministry, on Jan. 16. 

However, Yamamoto said the ministry will go ahead with an environmental impact study on the uninhabited island from Jan. 21 with the aim of moving forward with the project.

Mageshima is located 12 kilometers west of Tanegashima island.

After a number of twists and turns, the central government reached an agreement in November over the purchase of Mageshima with a Tokyo developer, which owns 99 percent of the island. The price tag was around 16 billion yen ($147 million).

In December, the ministry notified the city of its intention to establish a base on the island for the Self-Defense Forces.

The U.S. military is expected to use the eight-square-kilometer island for field carrier landing practice once or twice a year, with each session lasting about 10 days. The SDF is considering conducting exercises there, such as parachuting and fighter jet maneuvers when U.S. forces do not conduct drills.

The purchase is in line with an agreement in 2011 in which Japan promised to provide the U.S. military with a training site after moving landing practice from Iwoto island, formerly known as Iwojima, south of Tokyo. Mageshima has been a leading candidate site.

The mayor handed Yamamoto a written inquiry about the basis for the purchase price and the ministry’s stance on protecting the island's environment.

Yaita said that relocating the U.S. military’s training site to Mageshima is not a done deal, adding that there are other alternatives to making the best use of the island.

But Yamamoto insisted that Mageshima is important for Japan’s national security.

After the meeting, Yaita told reporters he will announce the municipality’s position after more details become available, such as the number of troops to be stationed and the number of installations to be built on the island, as well as flight routes and noise levels from the roar of jets taking off.

Yaita, a former journalist, won the mayoral election in 2017 on a campaign platform of opposing the central government’s plan.

“I remain opposed,” he told reporters.

Nishinoomote, with a population of 15,000, consists of the northern part of Tanegashima and Mageshima.