US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy has made her first visit to the southernmost island of Okinawa, hoping to get support for a contentious plan to relocate a US military base.
She met yesterday morning with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who expressed hopes they could work together on the base problem.
“There are various problems and tasks, such as crimes, accidents, as well as environmental issues and so on,” Nakaima told Kennedy. “We would like to seek and urge your help so as to resolve the issue fundamentally, and to reduce our burden of having US bases.”
Earlier, Kennedy offered flowers at the National War Dead Peace Mausoleum, which honors people who died during the closing of World War II.
Nakaima supports the relocation of the Futenma air station to the Henoko District of Nago, but many others are opposed, including Nago’s mayor. The plan is backed by the US government.
Half of the 50,000 US troops in Japan are on Okinawa, which takes up less than 1 percent of Japanese territory.
Many Okinawans want Futenma closed and moved completely off the island.
Kennedy, who has drawn much attention as a celebrity since arriving last year, was due to visit a castle and a high school, then attend an evening reception before departing today.
More than 300 people rallied ahead of her arrival late on Tuesday to protest the base relocation plans, waving signs that said “No base.”
“We as Okinawan people gave our answer many, many times — that we don’t want maritime bases here,” 47-year-old English teacher Kazue Nakamura-Huber told reporters.
The US has proposed a broad plan to consolidate and reduce its troop presence in Okinawa, including a 1996 agreement to move the Marines Corps Futenma air station to Henoko.
Twelve-year-old Wakana Toguchi said she hoped to show Kennedy the relocation site.
“And I must tell her not to build the base,” she said.