March 1, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo
Takamatsu Gushiken, 67, who represents Gamafuya, a volunteer organization that collects the remains of those who died in the battle of Okinawa, began a hunger strike at the Prefectural Citizens Park in Izumizaki, Naha March 1. He is protesting against the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB), urging them to abandon their plan to collect dirt from the southern region of Okinawa’s main island for use in the Henoko new base construction land reclamation project. He is also demanding that Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki to order a stop to the quarrying project in Komesu, Itoman, where war-dead remains were found.
Gushiken told reporters, “Using earth that is mixed with the remains of those who died in war for constructing a new base is a mistake. It does not feel like the government has a sense of respect for the dead. I have decided on a hunger strike to protect the dignity of the victims of the Battle of Okinawa, and protect their remains. I want them to help the remains.”
The island’s southern region was the site of the bloody land battle that took place between the American and Japanese armies in the Battle of Okinawa 76 years ago, where soldiers and civilians alike lost their lives in large numbers. Many of the remains have yet to be recovered.
The ODB is planning on procuring about 32 million cubic meters of dirt, around 70% of the dirt they plan to procure from within Okinawa, from the towns of Itoman and Yaese in southern Okinawa to be used in land reclamation in Henoko Bay, part of the new base construction that is underway in Henoko.
Gushiken decided to carry out his hunger strike to inform people outside of the prefecture and the many people who have lost loved ones of this problem, and to foster a sense of solidarity. “The government have betrayed the thoughts of those who died in battle and their descendants. If people share the desire to protect the remains of the war-dead, they can skip as little one meal as a family, and show that we are all in this together.”
Itoman and Yaese is the location of the Okinawa Senseki Quasi-National Park, which is managed by Okinawa Prefecture, and development of the land is restricted under the Natural Parks Act. The excavators informed Okinawa Prefecture through Itoman City that they were beginning work in January. A man representing the company divulged to reporters of this newspaper that it was part of the land reclamation effort in Henoko. Gushiken expressed a sense of concern, stating, “It has become clear that the excavation in Komesu is proceeding in anticipation of the demand from Henoko. If the governor accepts the notification from the excavator, it will be highly likely that others will similarly come to develop the green belt in the south.
A number of religious leaders empathetic to Gushiken’s cause have also gathered, including retired catholic priest Daiji Tani, 68, who said, “Okinawa Senseki Quasi-National Park holds the memorials of many of those who died in the Battle of Okinawa, it is a holy place. I want the governor to protect this holy place, where the blood of the war dead has soaked the soil.”
Fumiko Shimabukuro, 91, a woman from Itoman who lived through the Battle of Okinawa and now resides in Henoko, also came to visit. Shimabukuro criticized the government’s plan, saying, “In the war, I drank water muddied with the blood of those who died in order to survive. Using the land mixed with the remains of those killed in the war for land reclamation is the same as killing them a second time. It certainly cannot be tolerated.”
Gushiken will carry out his hunger strike until March 6.