Peace Music Festa! Henoko2007
@ Henoko Beach, Okinawa (24th to 25th Feb '07)
- Intro -
This fence on the beach might look pretty beautiful, but the reality is that it is a bunch of barbed wire covered by thousands of messages collected from all over Japan and the world to stop destroying this lovely beach with a plan to build a new military heliport. Over the fence is what is called "Camp Schwab", the 2nd largest US military base in Okinawa, the semi-tropical island situated at southern end of Japan. We know that there is a huge powder magazine there and could witness tanks and soldiers in drill before heading to Iraq or something likewise.
It was this side of the fence where Peace Music Festa! Henoko 2007 took place from the 24th to the 25th of February.
For more than a month, the main guys working for the festival were staying near the beach for the groundwork, and kept sending information on what was happening there through their blog. There you could see the actual threat of military presence to us, and we hear that those boys were freaked out when the cannon of a tank was actually turned onto where they were. We do have knowledge of these things through mass media, but there is a big gap between knowing something in the square box of a TV and feeling it as an actual threat right in your life, which is nothing special in Okinawa. By coming down here and facing these facts, we now can realize not only that the issue is far more serious than we thought, but also how severe it is to live constantly facing the presence of the military forces.
A bar near here where we happened to be was nothing like a Japanese or Okinawan place, but like ones in Hanoi we saw in classic movies about the Vietnam War, where the soldiers are enjoying nothing but America. Seeing this, if you are not a US citizen, you feel like being in a colony of the USA here. Driving a roadway in Okinawa, we see a sign saying "Be Aware of Stray Bullets", but how could we? When a military drill is on, do we have to stop moving around here? Does Okinawa belongs to the people there or the US government? When there was a massive accident involving a military helicopter crashing into a building of Okinawa Kokusai University in August '04, the spot was completely sealed by the US military forces in spite of the fact that it was not located in any part of the military area. None of the domestic police forces or government officers could even get close to it. Why? So many girls were raped by the US soldiers there, but only a few got arrested and even then their sentences are pretty light. Why?
Facing these facts and reality, we had to come to the conclusion that Okinawa is a colony of the US and an island abandoned by the Japanese government. There are more than 80-some US military facilities in Japan apart from the ones partnering with what we call the Self-Defense forces - Military Forces of Japan. 75% of those are located in Okinawa and almost 20% of the main island has been occupied by US military forces for years. By coming down to Henoko beach, we realized that most of the beaches were already taken by "Camp Schwab" ages ago and there are only tiny bits left for the local people, which are about to be taken away because of the plan for building a new military heliport.
"You'd better watch this program before covering the festival."
Takashi Nakagawa of Soul Flower Union, one of the most radical music forces in Japan, was telling us about a TV documentary produced by the local station, which gives a history of 600 days of struggle by the local people to stop the operation to build the heliport. The main contingent of the sit-in to stop the action by non-violent means was the elder people there. They were risking their life to stop this brutal action to kill the life source of water for the local people, where dugongs and some other very rare, threatened species live and enjoy life.
With the support of the younger generation from all over Japan and the world, the local people did manage to gain victory and save their beach, but now the governments of both Japan and the US are planning to build one by reclamation of Oura Bay, which still is a part of Henoko, and the operation would kill those water creatures as well as the local fishermen's life, and would no doubt create drastic changes to the biological environment.
"I honestly wish I didn't have to organize this kind of a festival... It would be much better not to mention anything about military things..."
One of the main organizers, Hideko Itami of Soul Flower Union, mentioned this before the festival started. If people were living a life with no military forces nor the threat of them, which is nothing special in most parts of Japan and even the US I guess, nobody would have to talk about this and act. In Okinawa, the rate of unemployment is very high and there is hope of jobs related to the bases. The government also pours amazing amounts of cash into civic projects to lure local support. This issue of military bases has been dividing the local people and even families into two sectors, which made us so sad.
There are lots of natural treasures on the islands there, and although the most of the tourism has been undercut by the major industries of mainland Japan, there is still hope for the local people.
"Who wants to come to Okinawa for tourism? A bloody bomb might be dropped here... Isn't that right?"
Tatsumi Chibana, the leader of Duty Free Shopp, who played in the festival as well as being one of the organizers, declared this from the stage and so did many others there. Exactly! What we are all saying here is "Enough!" No more military facilities of any kind, which are clearly destroying the earth, are needed by the creatures of this planet including us human beings, and none of this is useful to help people at all if you have studied what history has said to us.
Here I took more than 2400 photos of what was happening at the festival. No words need to be added to the photos, but you can guess what the vibes were like there on a summery day like the 23rd and a slightly cloudy 24th of February from my photo reports. The links to the reports on each of the musicians and performers are not complete, but will be done bit by bit, and when a new one is posted we will let you know on the top page.