Okinawa marks 49 years since return to Japan rule

Japan's southwestern prefecture of Okinawa has marked the 49th year since its return to the country from US rule. People have held a rally to call for removal of US bases that are concentrated in the island prefecture.

Around 40 members of civic groups and labor unions gathered on Saturday in front of US Marine Corps Camp Foster, also known as Camp Zukeran, where the US military in Okinawa is headquartered.

People from across the prefecture usually take part in a "Peace March" to commemorate the May 15 anniversary. However, the march this year was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on behalf of the organizers, Yamashiro Hiroji said 49 years have passed quickly, but that peace without bases has still not materialized in Okinawa. He added that the bases have actually been strengthened.

About 70 percent of the area used exclusively by US forces in Japan is concentrated in Okinawa. Local residents have had to put up with airplane noise, low-altitude flights and unruly behavior of US service personnel.

In a bid to reduce the burden on Okinawa, steps are being taken to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to a less populated area within the prefecture. Landfill work is underway at the planned relocation site off the coast of Henoko, despite local opposition.

Okinawa Governor Tamaki Denny plans to call on both the Japanese and US governments to reduce the area occupied by the US military facilities in Okinawa to less than 50 percent of the total area across Japan, in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the reversion next year.