Helipad construction protestors surprised by First-Lady Akie Abe’s Takae visit

Helipad construction protestors surprised by First-Lady Akie Abe’s Takae visit

First Lady Akie Abe (right) and Yohei Miyake (left) listen to explanations of the sit-in protest at 6:54 a.m. on August 6 inside a protest tent set up by the N1 rear gate of the Northern Training Area. (Photograph provided by Zenkichi Nashida.)

August 7, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On August 6, the prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, visited a sit-in protestors’ tent at the N1 rear gate of the Northern Training Area set up in opposition to helipad construction. She listened to the protestors explain the sit-in site. The protestors showed bewilderment at her unexpected visit.

In July, Mrs. Abe came to Okinawa to give a speech in support of Aiko Shimajiri in her campaign for an Okinawa district seat in the House of Councillors. Shimajiri is an LDP politician who supports helipad construction and the relocation of Futenma to Henoko. Some of those protesting criticized the first lady for this, asking what it was she came to Takae to accomplish. Others wanted her to convey the hardships facing Okinawa to the prime minister.

Yohei Miyake, a musician and two-time candidate for the House of Councillors, said that First Lady Akie Abe was inspired to see Takae for herself when she watched the documentary Hyoteki no Mura (Targeted Village), which depicts the issue of helipads in Takae. Although Miyake had spoken about this to Hiroji Yamashiro, chairman of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, he did not notify the majority of Okinawans about the first lady’s visit. This explains their voiced bewilderment and doubt at her sudden appearance.

Mrs. Abe accompanied Miyake into the protest tent and listened to Okinawans talk about the protest movement, but she did not state her opinion.

Chie Miyagi brought up base burden issues to the first lady, such as late-night Osprey flights and the case of assault and murder by a US base employee. Mrs. Abe simply nodded and gave Miyagi her business card. Miyagi voiced her hope that the first lady will tell the prime minister about Okinawans’ hardships, and mentioned that Mrs. Abe thanked her for the experience.

Director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center Satoru Oshiro shared his negative viewpoint on the implications of the first lady’s visit, as her husband is trying to force through base construction:
“She is different from a citizen [of Japan]. For her to say ‘I came because I want to see,’ is suspicious. It will be good if she listens to the voices of protesting Okinawans and conveys the current status of Okinawa to the prime minister. However, that is probably not the case.”

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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