Arriving in Okinawa for Second Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference

April 15, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Communication] As people gathered for the Second Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference, beginning April 16, a day-long tour provided time to get to know, learn and become acquainted with the host city, Okinawa.

The weather was a delightful 71 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny with a light breeze. Okinawa, an important port for incoming goods, consists of 160 islands with 1.4 million people, reflecting 1 percent of the population of Japan. From the mountains to the many beaches, Okinawa is crowded with highways and cars and high-rise buildings.

The van was filled for a Monday tour that included Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her canon, the Rev. Charles Robertson, Bishop Andrew Yoshimichi Ohata of Tokyo, and clergy from Okinawa. We travelers passed such traditional sites as a Shinto temple, shimmering in red and gold, facing the ocean for good luck; the oldest Christian cemetery in Okinawa, boasting a monument to Admiral Matthew Perry, whose mid-19th century expeditions are credited with opening trade and diplomatic relations between Japan and America; and familiar business signs like KFC, McDonalds, Toyota, Suzuki,  and various casinos.

It is impossible to explore Okinawa without bumping into the numerous U.S. military bases – Army, Air Force and Navy – that dot the landscape. The breakdown of the U.S. military personnel in the bases on Okinawa, according to the 2009 figures presented by the tour guide, are: 61% Marines, 5% Navy, 27% Air Force  and 7% Army. The personnel contribute greatly to the economy, and the bases are a major employer of Okinawa, with 10.2% of the population working at the various installations.

Signs are readily apparent of the simmering relationship between Okinawa and the U.S. military bases. Protesters shared concerns about governance, jurisdiction, noise, expansion, environment and the future of the U.S. military on Okinawa. Even a stop at one of Okinawa’s beaches featured demonstrations against the building of a military installation.

This topic, along with others concerning peace in Asia, will be addressed as the Second Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference commences and the week progresses.