We just completed our mission in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan. For two days, we held meetings and protest actions against the US military bases in the small city of Iwakuni.
Incidentally, last October 14, a 19-year old Japanese women was raped by four US Marines. The circumstances of the rape were not unlike the Subic rape case in the Philippines two years ago. The Marines met the woman in a bar, brought her to their van and there raped her. It is quite sad that the local government in Yamaguchi are now trying to shift the burden on the victim, citing alleged inconsistencies in her statement. The Japanese authorities are not keen in filing a rape case against the four Marines.
Iwakuni is a small city with a population of only 152,000 and is six hours by bus from Osaka City. What sets it apart from other coastal cities in Japan is the presence of the US Marine base and several hundred American troops.
The road going to the main gate of the base was lined up bars, reminiscent of the red light district in Olongapo in the Philippines. The US forces levelled a hill so thet they can reclaim an area off the coast where they plan to expand the base and put up a new airstrip.
The protest action was relatively peaceful and unlike in the Philippines, we were actually able to march right up to the main gate of the US military facility. However, as the contingent refused to move (we were only supposed to pass by the gate), the police threatened to disperse us. They started with around 10-20 police men trying to convince us to move. When this failed, they called in a platoon of riot police to standby. A confrontation was averted when the group started to march, though very slowly, trying to maximize the time in front of the US military base.
The city mayor is a staunch critic of the bases and now faces a recall petition from some pro-bases groups. The city council is divided on the bases issue. One council member spoke at the rally.
There were some unusual sights at this protest action. Costumes seem to be popular among the younger activists. The chant leader and cultural performer wore a black body suit or something resembling a wet suit. One marcher was dressed up as a French maid, another as US military serviceman with a heavy metal motif and of course there was this one marcher dressed in a blue penguin suit. The French maid and the US serviceman were part of a street play. The guy in the blue penguin suit, in don’t know what that was about.
All in all it was an interesting protest action and experience.