Friday, April 2, 2010

Our second day in Okinawa was inspirational, to say the least...

Upon viewing Futenma from an aerial perspective, we were struck by its location - right in the middle of the city. One member from US for OKINAWA, Danielle Pierre told us about her life growing up in Colorado Springs, USA, surrounded by various army bases, the Air Force Academy, and other military facilities, but she never felt that the military presence adversely affected her daily life. "I can't imagine, however, that the Futenma locals feel the same", she said. A sizable military base was placed right in the middle of their lives, bringing with it planes and helicopters that fly in a pattern nearly double the radius of the original agreement. Not only that, but a representative of Ginowan City Hall stated that these planes fly on average every 5 minutes near the base. Can you imagine trying to carry on a normal life with that noise?

Another shocking fact, upon many, that we learned from the Mayor Iha himself is how many accidents happen near Futenma. He provided us with a map that depicts various accidents such as helicopter crashes, and we were appalled at the result. Crashes ave occurred at a University, near elementary schools, and just about all over the extended circumference of the base! Not only is it hard enough to live a normal daily life with the noise, but to live in fear of the next accident causes such distress amongst the local population.

Altogether, what we've learned so far highlights the necessity for Futenma to be closed. Having a conversation last night with a foreigner living in Okinawa reminded us that it is also important to think about what happens next, and not to leave Futenma in a vacuum after so many years of having a military base that stimulates the local economy. Thankfully, Mayor Iha has already taken sizable steps in the next direction. He explained his outline to restore the area to its original form, rebuilding a valuable avenue that was once lined with native pine trees and land that was once a source of livelihood for local farmers.

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