On Monday night (the 27th), I returned from Okinawa. During this visit, my first to Okinawa since becoming Prime Minister, I took my own personal style of approach, centered on three themes and thoughts.
The first of these was giving consideration once more to Okinawa’s history of hardship.
I included in my schedule a large number of places to visit that would enable me to thoroughly reflect upon the path that Okinawa has traveled. This was because I felt that it was definitely imperative to visit these sites as I take on the various issues concerning Okinawa as Prime Minister. One was the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Park’s Cornerstone of Peace, upon which the names of the more than 200,000 victims of the Battle of Okinawa have been inscribed one by one. With victims being newly identified even today, it is said that the number of inscribed names continues to increase. I once again prayed for the souls of the war dead.
At the Himeyuri Monument, each of the words of the explanation I received from Ms. Yoshiko Shimabukuro, Director of the Himeyuri Peace Museum, one of the student corps who survived, resonated deeply within me. The female students who were mobilized to a military hospital that was in an extreme state lacking sufficient materials and equipment and then lost their lives upon being dispersed…. The many innocent faces in the photographs of the deceased that adorn the museum have remained imprinted on my mind.
At the Former Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters, I was struck by Commander Minoru Ota, who left the telegram stating, “This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war. And for this reason, I ask that you give the Okinawan people special consideration, this day forward,” and committed suicide. He comes from Chiba Prefecture, as I do, and he was 54 when he killed himself―the same age I am now.
The inside of the bunker has been preserved just as it was when he and others committed suicide there, with the graphic marks from the hand grenades still remaining. The message he left is a weighty one that all Japanese must take up in earnest into the future.
I also offered flowers at the bust of Mr. Ichirou Suetsugu, who had poured his heart and soul into bringing about the reversion of Okinawa to Japan from the private sector standpoint. Through visiting these sites, I came to feel even more strongly than before that we must not forget the achievements of these forerunners who continually yearned for a future of Okinawa characterized by peace and abundance.
The second of these themes and thoughts was to offer an apology to the people of Okinawa and to restart discussions towards reducing the burden of the military bases.
Since the historic change of government, we have pursued the possibility of the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to outside Okinawa and verified various proposals. However, the results have led to the current agreement between Japan and the U.S. As this has been underway, it is undeniable that this situation has caused great trouble for the people of Okinawa. At the beginning of the talks I had with Governor Nakaima, I expressed my unfiltered thoughts as words of apology to the people of Okinawa. I cannot help but hope that they reach the hearts of as many people as possible.
During this visit, I also entered the grounds of the Futenma Air Station and made aerial observations of both the relocation site and the entirety of the military base. It is absolutely essential that we avoid the Futenma Air Station becoming fixed at its current location. At the same time, the severity of the security environment surrounding Japan is increasing, and the Japan-U.S. alliance and deterrence are both becoming increasingly important.
Within this context, I said straightforwardly that the proposal to relocate to Henoko is the sole available path forward at this moment. It seems to me that the only realistic plan is to continue our efforts to gain the understanding of the people step by step by indicating a way forward towards reducing the burden at an early time, through consultations between Japan and the United States.
The third theme and thought was my reconfirmation of the potential for the further development of Okinawa, which is a gateway to Asia and the Pacific. Observing Naha Airport’s runway expansion project and new cargo terminal building, I realized the great potential for making rapid progress as a hub for international logistics, adding to Okinawa’s pillars of tourism and IT.
In order to undertake such a beginning, in addition to the draft budget for next fiscal year that allocates block grants, which have a high degree of freedom in how they are used, it is necessary to bring about the early enactment of the bills to amend the Act on Special Measures for the Promotion and Development of Okinawa and the bill to amend the Act for the Promotion of Dezoning and Reutilization of Military Land in Okinawa. Through talking with members of the business community, I felt the great degree of expectations of the local people towards these measures.
In response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, the people of Okinawa took the initiative in making donations, welcoming disaster victims, and other such efforts. Governor Nakaima has also shown a positive stance towards wide-area disposal of disaster-related debris. Okinawa has been showing that in spirit, they stand right alongside the disaster area, despite its great distance in geographic terms.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. In May, the Pacific Islands Leaders' Meeting will be held in the city of Nago. It may be the case that nothing will suddenly change only as a result of this visit of mine. All that can be done is to provide proof of our sincerity by building up one by one without fail, even if only in small steps, the successful achievements of reducing the military bases burden and developing and promoting Okinawa.
I very much hope that this visit becomes the first step in rebuilding our kizuna―our bonds of friendship―with Okinawa.