It’s easy to understand why residents of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa would be upset with the deployment of twelve new Osprey hybrid aircraft to the Futenma U.S. military base.

While the U.S. assures the Japanese government that the aircraft are safe, an accident in Morocco that killed two U.S. Marines in April and then another in Florida in June make them a hard sell for Okinawans, especially since the Futenma base is surrounded by crowded residential areas.

So it wasn’t surprising when hundreds of protesters raised banners and chanted outside Futenma on Monday to show their concern over the safety of the aircraft, the first six of which arrived at the base that morning.

It was surprising, however, when, the next day, two groups of Okinawans gathered at a park near Futenma to protest the arrival of three new Osprey by flying kites near the aircraft as they attempted to land.

The protesters were members of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, led by director Hiroji Yamashiro. Yamashiro came up with the idea to fly balloons or kites as a form of protest as a way to inspire Okinawans to action. “If the people of Okinawa take this problem seriously, we can stop the Osprey,” he said in an interview with Okinawa Times.

Yamashiro raised nearly 70,000 yen (US $890) from 130 people to purchase the kites after sharing his idea with memebrs at a local protest meeting.

Around 20 people, including police and local government officials, visited the park to watch Yamashiro and other volunteers fly kites along the fence located at the southern part of the base.

A U.S. military member leading a military dog warned the demonstrators from behind the fence to stop flying the kites and attempted to cut the kite string with a tree branch, but was unsuccessful.

Volunteers responded to the warnings by asking, “Tell us what is illegal about flying a kite,” and, “Have you ever seen Okinawan people charged with such anger?”

Another protester said, “Our anger over the past 67 years since the war ended is on the verge of exploding. This won’t end until the people of Okinawa are treated with honor.”

Photos of one of the kites flying close to an Osprey has drawn a wave criticism of internet users, most of whom fear their actions will only exacerbate the situation. One points out, “Don’t complain about the safety of Osprey if you’re going to do something as dangerous this.” “It’s only a matter of time before they start launching fireworks as well,” quips another.

Source: Okinawa Times, U.S. Forces Japan

■An Osprey in action