TENS OF thousands of people on the island of Okinawa formed a human chain around Asia's biggest US Air Force base yesterday in a powerful demonstration of anti-military sentiment, hours before the arrival of President Bill Clinton and the leaders of the Group of Eight nations.
More than 25,000 people linked arms around the 11-mile perimeter of the Kadena air base in central Okinawa, carrying banners calling for the removal of the massive American presence on the island. "Bases are places where they practise killing people every day," read one message.
A demonstration organiser, Seshu Sakaihara, said: "Fifty-five years ago, Okinawa was the only place in Japan to suffer a land battle.
"In all of Japan we have the greatest experience of suffering this way, so we don't want a repeat of this tragic history. If we permit the bases to stay we are allowing war."
The G8 summit begins today in a luxury resort in the town of Nago against a background of bitter local dissent about the presence of the American bases and Okinawa's place in modern Japan.
Until Japan's rapid modernisation began in the last century, the islands were an independent kingdom with a distinct dialect, culture and cuisine, as much the product of Chinese, as Japanese, civilisation.
But since 1945, and the bloody battle of Okinawa which left 237,000 dead, the island has been dominated by a third great presence - the American military.Until 1972, Okinawa was governed by an American general, and even after reversion to Japan it is one of the most intensively Americanised places in Asia.
About 26,000 American soldiers are based on the island, including the largest population of Marines outside the United States. Despite occupying less than 1 per cent of Japan's total land area, the prefecture is home to three-quarters of the country's American bases. On the map they appear as big blobs, almost straddling the narrow island and bringing with them traffic congestion, pollution, accidents and crime.
Five years ago, the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three Marines led to months of protests, and forced the government of Tokyo to renegotiate its arrangements with the Americans. …