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on the Discussion Board on Canvas. What did you learn from the readings and lectures? What

questions did they prompt for you? What new lines of research might you want to investigate?

Your reflections can take a variety of forms, including a short write-up  an audio

or video recording, a news article accompanied by your own text about its relevance to the course

materials, or a combination thereof. The main point is that you engage with the readings in some

way and share those findings with your classmates.

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HIUS/ETHN 103 Lecture 4 – US Militarization in Okinawa

Base-related Data

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Today, the United States maintains the largest forward-deployed US force in the
world in Japan, and 75% of US military facilities there are located on the island of
Okinawa (see figures above). Thirty-three military facilities are spread throughout
the island, which is about seven by seventy miles, sitting between the Pacific and
the East China Sea. How does an island like Okinawa come to bear so much of the
burden of the US military presence?
One answer to this question is from a military perspective: Okinawa is
geographically strategic, located in proximity to the various hot spots of the Cold
War in Asia and, today, to the threat of “China.” Since World War II, it has
remained the United States’ “keystone of the Pacific.”
The argument’s explanatory power lies in its simplicity. The bases are there to
maintain national security, pure and simple. The argument can be taken further:
bases should exist anywhere in the world deemed necessary by the US for national
security. “National security” overrides other concerns that are deemed secondary, or
cast as ill-informed, parochial, maybe “un-American.” Once the hegemonic discourse
of “national security” is called to question, that argument begins to unravel.
Okinawa residents question the discourse of national security and have arrived at a
different answer. Theirs is from a historical perspective: the unequal burden of the
US military has everything to do with Okinawa’s history of colonialism under Japan
(1879-1945) and occupation by the US military (1945-1972). Although Japanese
colonialism and US occupation were declared over long ago, both remain salient in
shaping the political economy and environments of Okinawa. “Liminal” is a word
scholars use to describe Okinawa today; it exists in a liminal status, caught between
the United States and Japan, whose fate is determined by the two Pacific powers
and not by its own people.
This lecture explains Okinawa’s “liminality,” or “dual oppression” under the United
States and Japan to understand the present state of militarization there. Studying
the interplay of colonialism and militarism in Okinawa provides an analytical optic
for understanding other places as well, including Jeju Island in South Korea, Guam
and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and Vieques, Puerto Rico. Each of these
island nations and territories mirror one another in their unique histories of
colonialism and militarism.
I also argue it is from the perspective of colonized and militarized islands like
Okinawa that we can see how violence against women and harm to the environment
– two dominant critiques among antimilitary activists – are in fact inextricably
linked. The Okinawan women activists we are learning from this week insist that
both are forms of gender violence tied to colonialism and militarism, and tackling
one requires tackling the other.
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Japanese Colonialism
In 1879, the Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by Japan, renamed as Okinawa
Prefecture, and incorporated into its colonial empire. Like other settler colonial
empires of the 19th century, including the United States vis-à-vis indigenous nations
of North America, the Japanese colonial government introduced the concept of land
as property and eliminated communal land tenure. Land was seized by the colonial
government for industrial extraction and agriculture, and Okinawans were “freed”
to become workers within the colonial-capitalist economy to make the land and its
resources profitable. A function of settler colonialism is to upend indigenous
worldviews, including the relationship of people and land that is not determined by
a profit motive. Settler colonialism therefore also requires coerced assimilation, and
this was done through the elimination of Ryukyuan languages, cultures and
histories, and the imposition of all things Japanese on the people.
Colonial workers at the Ryukyu Yaeyama Iriomote Island Coal Mine, c. 1905-1910.
Most Americans know Okinawa as the name of a battle. The Battle of Okinawa is
memorialized in US history as a decisive moment of World War II, the only land
battle between the United States and Japan that resulted in scores of American
casualties. Okinawans have a different memory, viewing it as a continuation of
their colonial subordination, a bloody sacrifice directed by Emperor Hirohito that
resulted in the slaughter of a quarter of the Okinawan population (Fukumura and
Matsuoka, 242). That sense of being sacrificed by imperial powers continues, even
after the demise of the Japanese empire in August 1945.
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Capturing defeat. This image depicts General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito at the
end of WWII. MacArthur led the occupation of Japan from 1945-1952. There is a significance in
this photo, and one can do a gender analysis here. What do you observe? See this short article.
Occupation of Japan, 1945-1952
In 1945, Okinawa passed from Japan’s hands to the United States. Okinawa and
Japan were under US occupation from 1945-1952. Initially, US objectives in
occupied Japan were demilitarization and democratization. Then in 1947 US policy
took a “reverse course”: the objectives now were remilitarization and revitalization
of the economy. This shift was due to the emerging cold war; containing
communism, Americans thought, required transforming the former enemy into an
ally. Specifically, that meant transforming Japan into an engine of capitalist
development in East Asia.
In brief, Japan experienced the age of decolonization very differently than other
countries within the US “sphere for influence.” Whereas the Philippines, for
example, was discouraged from industrializing, Japan was developed into an
industrializing “core” nation. Japan was expected to foster relations of economic
dependency with the Philippines, South Korea, South Vietnam, and other
“periphery” countries, such that these countries would remain in the capitalist
After World War II Japan was a crucial US ally, a “junior partner.” Some scholars
call Japan a “subempire,” not exactly a colonial empire like before but acting as an
empire under US guidance.
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San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951
In April 1952, the San Francisco Peace Treaty (signed the previous year)
officially ended the occupation of Japan and reinstated Japanese sovereignty.
Article 3 of the treaty stipulated Okinawa would remain under the “residual
sovereignty” of Japan, but that the United States would “have the right to exercise
all and any power of administration, legislation, and jurisdiction over the territory
and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters.” In essence, the
Peace Treaty granting sovereignty to Japan allowed the US military to continue to
occupy Okinawa indefinitely. It entrenched Okinawa’s liminal status.
Cold War Military Buildup in the 1950s
Between 1950 and 1972, Okinawa was under the administration of the United
States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR), whose objective was to
expand bases and to transform Okinawa in a center of US military operations.
Throughout the 1950s, US base building on Okinawa resulted in violent land
seizures and displacement of Okinawans from their homes and livelihoods. An
estimated 250,000 Okinawans were displaced in the 1950s. To subsist, many found
work at US military bases, collected scrap metal at firing ranges, and worked as bar
maids in base towns.
“Beggar March” through Okinawa Island in response to US military seizures of homes and
farmland and the arrest of farmers, July 1955
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Women protesting US military seizure of their homes in Isahama in July 1955
Antibase sentiments festered, and the people organized. In 1953, 1,200 residents
blocked US military bulldozers from razing their land. In response, the military
deployed 350 servicemen to encircle the protesters with bayonets pointing at them.
In the mid-1950s, women in Isahama banded together in a protracted land struggle
to resist against military encroachment. Thousands of people from throughout the
island converged in Isahama to protect farmers and their land. (see Professor
Matsumura’s essay, “‘Isahama Women Farmers’ Against Enclosure.”)
One resident recalled of that struggle: “At around 3 am, when most supporters of
the resistance had gone home, there were only 200-300 hamlet residents left.
Slowly, one after another, bulldozers with their headlights off & military trucks
filled with armed soldiers entered the hamlet… At dawn, all the supporters
helplessly watched the paddy fields being destroyed by soldiers… Farmers were still
inside the last 32 houses, but were finally dragged out at gunpoint. The bulldozers
went over and flattened the houses, timbers, and roof tiles of the houses were
collected to be discarded in the ocean. Women were screaming at this sight, and I
could not help my tears” (Miyumi Tanji, Myth, Protest, and Struggle in Okinawa).
Military violence against women was rampant during this decade of base build up.
Suzuyo Takazato, co-founder of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence and
co-author of the essay you are reading this week, has meticulously researched and
documented cases of military violence against women in Okinawa, many which
were unreported. The list of crimes she has compiled goes back to 1945.
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Movement for ‘Reversion’ – 1960s
In the 1960s, the antibase movement on Okinawa coalesced around a popular call
for “reversion,” that is, to return to Japan’s control, restore Okinawa’s Japanese
prefectural status, and to end the US military occupation. Returning to Japan was
understood as a means of terminating Okinawa’s “liminal” status, and by extension,
to ending US militarism in Okinawa.
The reversion movement coincided with the Vietnam War (1964-1975). The war in
Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia resulted in the further militarization of
the entire Okinawa island, as the US transformed it into a weapons storage area,
including nuclear weapons, and a launching point for deployments to Southeast
Asia. Base towns serviced increasing numbers of GIs during R&R (rest &
Koza, Okinawa, 1970.
By 1969, the height of the Vietnam War, Okinawans knew reversion was not the
full answer. They realized that even after Okinawa was returned to Japan and
USCAR formally ended, the United States would still be allowed to keep bases there
for as long as it deemed necessary. The US-Japan alliance, and a historical pattern
of being “sacrificed” to maintain that alliance, informed that view. Reversion would
not mean the end of military buildup but its escalation so long as the war continued.
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Protest against US base, March 1971
Antiwar American GIs show solidarity with Okinawa base workers’ protest, 1971
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Thus, the Vietnam War gave Okinawan activists a new lens to approach their
antibase struggle. They understood the task is not only to remove US bases from
Okinawa, but to end the US war in Vietnam and US militarism in Asia. The war,
and their encounters with antiwar GIs, expanded their political horizon. Their
struggle was simultaneously antibase, antiwar, and anti-US imperialism.
Aftermath of Koza Uprising. On December 20, 1970, the people of Koza a rebelled against
the US military. Protesters flipped and torched Military Police cars, chased down GIs, and
women bar workers helped fuel the protests. Protesters refrained from harming Black GIs,
recognizing their “shared oppression” as racial and colonial subjects. For more on the Koza
Uprising, see Wesley Ueunten’s essay, “Rising Up from a Sea of Discontent.”
In 1972, Okinawa Reversion was formalized. The era of USCAR was over. But as
antibase activists predicted, the US military occupation remains a de facto reality.
The reversion agreement allowed the US to maintain its military facilities and
43,000 troops. Reversion, although in the name of returning Okinawa to Japan rule,
preserved Okinawa’s liminal status.
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Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, 2nd America Peace Caravan, October 3-15,
1998. Suzuyo Takazato pictured in the middle.
Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence
Social movements coalesce when people start to see connections that were not
previously apparent, and begin to approach issues not as singular and discrete but
as interconnected. The “antiwar” movement discussed above is one example, when
antiwar GIs understood that stopping the war also required stopping the US
occupation in Okinawa, which required ending US imperialism in Asia, and
Okinawans came to a similar understanding.
The organization, Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, provides another
example of interconnected struggle. OWAAMV was founded in 1995 by Okinawan
women activists, in the wake of the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US marines.
Below, I outline the three key organizing principles of OWAAMV. Please pay
attention to these parts as you do the readings.
1. The critique of the military necessitates a critique of patriarchy, which is
endemic to the military security system. Violence against women is not an
aberration, but part of the structural violence of militarism.
From the reading, identify specific examples of OWAAMV’s critique
of patriarchy. How do they see violence against women as part of the
structural violence of militarism?
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2. The organization has helped shift the discourse about “security,” redefining it
beyond “national security.” This is crucial theoretical and analytical labor to
make possible a reimagining of the world without militarism.
Question: What does de-militarized security mean to OWAAMV? Or,
what does a world without militarism look like?
3. OWAAMV is an internationalist organization, and has been so since its
beginning. It has forged transnational connections with other women’s
movements and antimilitary movements throughout Asia, the Pacific, and
the United States. Read this “Vieques-Okinawa Women United Solidarity
Question: What has been gained by forging internationalist
Lastly, please watch the short video clip, “What’s Happening in Takae and Amami
Oshima,” and the documentary, “The Targeted Village.” Takae was used as a jungle
warfare training village during the Vietnam War and has experienced of ongoing
militarization. What is currently happening there?
Where is Yanbaru?
The wide forest area in the northern part of Okinawa island is called Yanbaru. Its subtropical
natural forest and mountain streams provide habitats for over 5,000 species of wild life and
more than a thousand species of plants. Out of these, some 11 animals and 12 plants are
native to Yanbaru alone. Many of them are listed in the endangered species Red List, such as
the Yanbaru Kuina (Okinawan Rail) or Noguchi Gera (Okinawan Woodpecker). It’s such a
valuable storage of wildlife that even the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) requests its preservation. This same area is now also a World Natural Heritage Site
and National Park nominee, and in the middle of all this, is the village of Takae.
Takae in Higashi village and the U.S. military bases
Higashi is one of the villages in Yanbaru, and the small district located in the northern part of
it is called Takae. Its population is approximately 150 people, 20% being teenagers and
younger. The kids are happily growing up in Peacefulness of the surrounding beautiful
mountains and rivers. However, adjacent to this natural area is the U.S. marines’ Northern
Training Area (Jungle Warfare Training Center), which totals up to 7,800 hectares. America
started using this training area in 1957, a few years before U.S. went down in
to the quagmire of the Vietnam War, mainly for the purpose of guerrilla warfare training.
Originally there were 22 helipads scattered around the training area. Takae residents have
been forced to suffer from the ear-breaking sound of the propellers, as well as facing the
possibility that helicopters might fall out of the sky. Even so, six of the existing 22 helipads
are being relocated and have been scheduled for construction in a pattern that completely
surrounds Takae, the closest being only 400 meters away from the nearest residence.
Currently, one of the six helipads has been completed. The new helipads will have a
diameter of 75m cutting into this pristine forest. Although these may appear as individual
spots on a map, when military helicopters fly around between these spots, the spots quickly
become lines cutting across the canopy.
Why are the helipads planned to be located in Takae? What is the SACO
SACO is a term that always appears when discussing U.S. military bases in Okinawa. In 1995,
right after the tragedy of three American soldiers raping a local girl, approximately one
hundred thousand people in Okinawa demonstrated against the U.S. military’s presence. In
1996 as a response to this, U.S. and Japanese governments established SACO (Special Action
Committee on Okinawa), which aimed at “reducing the impact of the activities of U.S. forces
on communities in Okinawa.” However, the actual and hidden intention of this committee
was “restructuring and re-strengthening of the bases.”
The pretext of returning half of the Northern Training Area to Okinawa came with two
preconditions that had been agreed on by both of the governments.
1. To provide the estuary region of Uka river in order to ensure access from the Training Area
to the ocean. 2. Relocation of helipads to the remaining Training Area. The latter point
resulted in the six helipads to be built around Takae.
Osprey flight drills around Takae
In 2012, the new MV22 Osprey was deployed as a replacement of the large transport
helicopter CH 46. Even now, not only have the deafening roars become a source of worry,
low-altitude flight exercises occasionally cause branches to tear and be blown onto the
prefectural highways. No light flight drills during the middle of the night are also part of
routine. The current situation is already becoming dangerous. Osprey is capable of both
vertical take-off and landing as well as high speed horizontal flying due to its unique ability of
changing the direction of its two large propellers, located at each side of its wings. However,
this advantage also comes with risks, seeing as maintaining the balance of the aircraft while
performing this critical change makes it more challenging to operate than a conventional
helicopter. In the case of engine trouble while in heli-mode (see picture 1), seeing as there’s
no auto-rotation system installed for safety, it would likely fall right out of the sky without
further ado. In the case of an emergency landing while in flight-mode (see picture 2), the
over-sized propellers are designed to rip into the ground, tear themselves into pieces and
scatter all over in a way that doesn’t damage the hull of the aircraft.
During take-off and landing, it gives off a tremendous roar as well as a powerful air blast
directed vertically downwards (approx. 217°C). In America there has already been a fire
accident related to Osprey. Seeing as these helipads will be located around Takae which in
turn is located in the forest of Yanbaru, there’s no telling as to what consequences these
activities will have on the ecosystems. What may happen to the people and vehicles
travelling around the prefectural roads adjacent to these helipads and to the neighboring
residents? Even in America have there been movements aimed at stopping further
production of these airplanes due to the danger they pose. However, in America, as many as
2000 companies involved in the military defense industry depend on the continued
production of Osprey for their livelihood and thus for economic reasons the production has
been allowed to continue.
In 2012, the Okinawan prefectural assembly and all the municipal assemblies united in
opposition of deployment of Osprey. The prefectural governor too announced his opposition.
Nevertheless, Japan acted the same way as they did with the nuclear radiation opposition,
saying things like “it’s safe” and “it won’t cause many accidents” while proceeding with their
original plan of deploying Osprey.
Okinawa’s water is being contaminated!
There are five dams within the Northern Training Area. These are crucial to the people living
in Okinawa seeing as they provide as much as 60% of the total water supply on the island. In
2007, more than 10,000 wasted ammunition shells were found in these dams. Also, it has
been revealed recently that the U.S. forces spayed defoliant (Agent Orange) around the area
during the Vietnam War. If the helipads are constructed, jungle training too will possibly see
a further increase, thus overall adding to the anxiety concerning contamination of the water
in these dams.
Money and Bases = Carrot-and-stick
Although having shown clear opposition against the construction of helipads in his election
manifesto, upon being elected and installed as the new mayor of the Higashi Village district
in 2007, he made a complete turn-around and then apologized to the people saying “I am
aware that I broke the promise”. Behind his change of mind was this: The Japanese
government enacted a bill for facilitating and realigning the U.S. forces, providing subsidies
to affected municipalities in return for accepting the U.S. bases. In this case, the Japanese
government didn’t even try to hide the implementation of the so-called “carrot-and-stick”
Some say that Okinawa should accept the U.S. forces seeing as they bring economic
advantages. However, the reality is that the majority of those provided subsidies tend to end
up in the pockets of private companies from mainland Japan, thus contributing little to
bolster local economies. What’s more, accommodating the U.S. forces adds to the economic
burden on the local governments seeing as they are required to spend budget also on the
maintenance of roads and buildings used exclusively by the military. Although some also say
that there are certain employment opportunities thanks to the U.S. bases, despite 74% of all
U.S. bases in Japan being located in Okinawa the income and unemployment rates are the
worst among all the prefectures in Japan. This doesn’t add up. The more the common sense
belief of that “we can’t live without the bases” is being passed around, the more easily are
the people controlled. Furthermore, the “carrot-and -stick” policy is creating chaos within
the municipalities and separation of the people.
Takae at the moment…
Residents of Takae formally opposed the helipads twice upon learning about the scheduled
construction. Thereafter, we paid the related institutions a visit where we appealed them to
revise the plans. However, we were shown neither the respect of being given a proper
explanation nor room to talk things over. Ignoring our voices, the Defense Bureau proceeded
with their construction plans and initiated work on July 2, 2007. From this day onwards, we
have been dedicated to sit-in and protest activities as well as spreading awareness about our
situation. Seeing as only a few households are actually able to participate in the sit-in
activities, we are still short on hands. Why don’t you participate in the movement by sitting
in with us? If there’s anything unclear, any questions please feel free to contact us. Takae
offers quiet mornings, bird song, star-spangled night skies and so much more.
We need everyone’s attention!
Even today as you’re reading this, sit-in protest is taking place in Takae. This area of great
nature has become the forefront for the nation heading towards warfare potential, Japan.
This is not a particular issue of Takae; the same situation might occur at any time anywhere
in Japan and in other parts of the world. The U.S. military and Japan’s self-defense forces are
steadily combining by wasting our taxes to realign the forces (budget of 3,000 billion yen).
So as if only to enable us to guard the future of our children, and to ensure a peaceful future
for all, we request your kind attention to this issue!
Finally, the words of a Native American
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation”.
In other words, not just thinking about the short term present, but also considering the
future of our children when making decisions is vital. Every single little decision we make will
affect how our future lives turn out. What will our children be inheriting from us? We simply
can’t help but wish that it will be peaceful days among the tranquil treasures of nature.
Outrageous! Japan sues protesting Takae residents
Taking us to court to eliminate the resistance simply for not going along
with whatever the country imposes?! If they get away with this in Takae,
who’s to tell they won’t try get away with it in other places too?! If we lose
even our freedom of speech, then where will we be? This trial concerns
more than just Takae.
A flawed provisional injunction – why even a child?
On November 2008, ODB (Okinawa Defense Bureau, a subordinate agency
of Ministry of Defense) filed 15 residents and supporters a provisional injunction with the
Naha District Court for obstructing the construction. Out of these 15 was an eight-year old
child who hadn’t even been at the sit-in site once (although at a later date charges were
dropped). Against this governmental decision, a team of 24 volunteer lawyers was organized
to protect our rights. The litigation documents the government submitted to the court were
very faulty. As we pointed out at the court, there were multifarious mistakes found in the
documents such as scrambling of the names and faces of the accused.
SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)
Like this, a powerful institution like a company or country uses its power to intimidate the
weaker into shrinking back from their demands. While in America this kind of lawsuit is
made illegal by law, in Japan there has still been no way to prevent the SLAPP cases. As
regards the Takae case, surely Japan filed a SLAPP lawsuit against the residents using its
judicial powers, without even trying to set up negotiations or dialogue.
About the lawsuit – why just two?
December 2009, in the court ruling put forward by the Naha District Court, sit-in as an
expression of protest was found to be a legitimate action. Moreover, the ridiculous charges
regarding appealing for assistance on our blog and expressing our dissatisfaction at the
Defense Bureau were mostly dropped. However, out of the remaining 14, two were
petitioned with having obstructed traffic on a public road. The petition was approved by the
court. Not that these two had done anything different from the others, it’s just that their
names stood out as the representatives of the ‘Resident Assembly of We Don’t Need
Helipads’ association. As a response to this the residents objected while Japan kept pressing
charges against the two. The result was this lawsuit.
Appeal to a second instance court – why just one person?
As was the case with the provisional injunction, the evidence put forth for this lawsuit too
were faulty. The judge pointed out that this type of case ought to be dealt with not in a
courtroom but in a political arena. Nevertheless, the charges were not dropped, and the
judgement fell on March 2012, based on the criteria simply of whether traffic was
obstructed or not. The charges against one of the two were dropped, while the other
however was found guilty of having partly obstructed traffic. In reality however, there was
no difference in their actions. Having received such an unfair sentence, the residents
appealed the case to the Fukuoka High Court.
The appeal hearing and the sentence – without even a fair reason –
The appeal to a second instance court was dismissed by the Naha District Court and the
judgment fell in disfavor of that same resident. The case has now been appealed to the
Supreme Court and awaiting approval.
The outrageous lawsuit still ongoing
It’s rather strange that despite the fact that
numerous people participated in similar kinds of
obstruction activities, just because it’s not realistic
to be suing everyone, eventually a single person
was singled out with charges of obstruction. It
seems this lawsuit is all about threatening really.
Well if it isn’t the court system backing up the
threats of the country.
We don’t want the helipads to be built. We want to protect the nature of Yanbaru. We don’t
want the life nurturing forest of Yanbaru to be used as a training ground for killing and war.
This judgement was handed down on all people who think this way.
From here on too, let’s continue to say that what isn’t right isn’t right, and what we won’t
accept we won’t accept. May all living things of Yanbaru stay healthy. So that the laughing of
children may continue to be heard many many years from now…
A Guide to Participating in Sit-ins
We’re against the construction of U.S. helipads and protest against this in the form of sit-ins.
Clothing & things to bring
Please bring your own food and drinks (if possible in a water bottle).
Although there are convenience stores along the way, we’re aiming for
zero garbage. Water is a must. Also, you’ll need a hat, sun screen, bug
repellent, rain wear and a facecloth. When it comes to preparing for the
weather it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Valuables are brought at your own risk.
There are places without cellphone cover.
If you have any questions please call the Takae Resident Assembly at +81 980-512688.
When arriving at Takae
When arriving at Takae’s local shop “yama-no-eki”, just
continue northwards along the same road (R70) until you
reach a tent in front of the N4-gate. This is where we receive
new volunteers and inform about the contents of each day’s
sit-in activity.
Please don’t hesitate to ask if anything’s unclear 😉

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