The following is a copy of a letter written by Prof. Tomoko Egami to a colleague living in mainland Japan.
After living in Okinawa for six years, I recently had a horrific experience. As you know, a U.S. military helicopter crashed at the university where I work.
At the time of the accident, I was actually on my way to the building where the helicopter crashed. Incredibly, the accident didn't result in any fatalities, and miraculously, no one on the ground was injured. Casualties were averted by all sorts of coincidences: the staff member whose desk was next to the window which incurred the worst damage was spared because he was on a business trip that day, and the side of the building where the helicopter burst into flames didn't have any windows. It truly was a miracle.
The helicopter exploded five or six times, but I was on the opposite side of the damaged building, so it wasn't all that terrifying. About four or five minutes after the first explosion, however, the U.S. Marines had already appeared. They stealthily invaded the campus and brazenly took control of the area. A large area was cordoned off with yellow tape, and everything inside became occupied territory. Needless to say, even university personnel were completely forbidden to enter, and the Marines even tried to stop people from taking pictures. I will never forget my firsthand experience of U.S. extraterritorial rights and the horror of being invaded (their way of raiding the campus and subsequent actions can only be termed an invasion). Japanese sovereignty and university autonomy were both rendered completely irrelevant. It has once again been made clear to me that the U.S. military views this area as being one of their territories.
The university is in the middle of a densely populated residential area. This is where the helicopter was flying before parts broke off and it crashed. Apparently, the pilots were searching for a place to bring the aircraft down. Parts fell in fourteen or fifteen different locations, but luckily, none of these accidents caused any casualties.
A mother and child living across from the university also narrowly survived, but the event was played down in the Japanese media. That evening, there was meager coverage of the accident on NHK and commercial TV stations. I'm sure that even without any casualties, coverage would have been extensive if the accident occurred near a base in the Tokyo metropolitan region.
I can see the Futenma air base from my office window. My students often spoke about the dangers of the base, and they would parody the "It's all right-Okinawa" slogan by singing "It's NOT all right-Okinawa." I thought that their fears were unfounded, but now they have become a reality.
As long as people living in the mainland remain ignorant of the situation here in Okinawa, things will not change. There are pictures and videos of the accident on Okinawa International University's web site, so please take a look. I also hope you will read the letters of protest by the faculty.
I plan on getting involved by collecting signatures and campaigning to strongly demand an immediate end to all flights out of Futenma and the prompt return of the base.
Okinawa International University