Joy Lehuanani Enomoto
Japan has been occupying the sovereign nation of Okinawa since 1879 and the U.S. military has been occupying Okinawa since WWII, without the consent of the Okinawan government and the vast majority of its people. Nearly all of Japanʻs bases are in Okinawa. Okinawa contains over 35 U.S. military bases and training grounds on island slightly smaller than Kauai. Every year since 1945, more multiple rapes, abductions and violent murders of women have been committed by members of the military, primarily the marines, who have the most soldiers here.
The push to end U.S. military occupation in Okinawa is a movement led primarily by women, those who survived the battle of Okinawa, where nearly 200,000 people died, and their descendants. Currently, the U.S. is seeking to expand its base Camp Schwab in Henoko by building a helipad into Oura Bay, the home of the last three surviving dugong (similar to manatees) native to the bay. The dugong are considered sacred animals to Okinawans. Oura Bay is classified as a Japan Natural Monument. The military is crushing the existing coral reef and devastating the surrounding ecosystem. Potentially causing great harm to the dugong. This activity is protected by the Japanese Coast Guard and the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) who have provided false environmental impact reports to justify the buildup.
Each month a group of Okinawan activists, many who are women, are fighting to save this sacred space and save the sea. They ride out in kayaks and jump the line of buoys to protest the buildup. Their kayaks are seized and activists detained for hours at a time.
Everyday, there is a line of elders and government officials that camp in front of Camp Schwab to demand the stop to this devastating building and demanding that military leave Okinawa. The large majority of these protestors are women in their 70ʻs and 80ʻs.
The commitment to de-occupy Okinawa is unwavering. The commitment of Okinawan Women Against Military Violence is also unwavering. These images while simple, tell a much deeper story. May we all be as strong as the women in those kayaks, who face their occupiers everyday without fear.