Misawa City was chosen for the 1994 Peace Conference because of a U.S. air base which is wreaking havoc on the environment with daily low-flying reconnaissance practice planes, 50 of them F-16's, which carry nuclear weapons. Nearby is a base of the Japan Defense Force. Because of sound pollution 360 houses and a school have been demolished, and dairy herds had to be removed because "their milk dried up."
I observed two of these reconnaissance flights during a bus tour of the city. The jets ripped overhead just above the treetops, drowning out people's voices on the bus.
Not only in Misawa are low-flying airplanes a problem; our guide said Akita Prefecture (in the northwest) and Yokosoka (just south of Tokyo, where the U.S. 7th Fleet is stationed) also suffer noise "as loud as a subway."
The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty allows the U.S military to defy Japanese aviation law prohibiting flights below 500 meters from the land surface. The U.S. planes swoop low over the long mountain ranges across the Japanese mainland and Shikoku Island.
A number of local governments have lodged protests to the U.S. military through the Foreign Ministry, usually unsuccessfully.
One community was able to banish low-flying airplanes from practicing night landings over their sleeping heads. Strong citizen protests caused the U.S. to move its flights from Atsugi Airbase to Miyaka Island. It turned out the airport wasn't long enough, and the U.S. military wanted to lengthen the runway, but local villagers resisted this successfully.
Recently two planes crashed in the ocean, similar to aircraft that daily zoom around Misawa. City authorities protest the air base, but to no avail. Local activists demand removal, collecting signatures as well as staging protests.
I filmed local activists as we marched through the downtown streets to City Hall on a blustery morning, to call for the removal of the F16 nuclear warplanes and low flights.
Rather than stop the U.S. military's low-flying reconnaissance practice, the Japanese government chose to buy out the owners of the 360 houses in Misawa at a special deal: they were paid much more per 3.3 sq. meters for their vacated houses (50,000 yen) than they had to pay for the new houses (30,000 yen). (A good deal for the homeowners; bad for taxpayers!)
- HOKKAIDO ACTION -
One thorn in the foot of the military beast is a sturdy little family, farmers on the northernmost island, Hokkaido. Hanji & Fumiko Kawase are an earnest middle-aged couple whose small farm (only a few acres) lies in the middle of a Japan Defense Force base. They refuse to sell their land, under great pressure from the government (both high offers and intimidation).