More than 2,000 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, the small island of Ishigaki has developed into a center of direct democratic activity. Manami Miyara is the first voice in our new series on worldwide freedom of expression.
This content was published on June 29, 2021 – 11:08 am
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Ishigaki is far from the main centers of Japan. The island is just under 2,000 kilometers from the capital Tokyo and more than 1,000 kilometers from the next main island, Kyushu. Around 50,000 people live on the island, including 28-year-old Manami Miyara, who was born and raised there. And despite its remoteness and size – around 1.5 times the size of Liechtenstein – Ishigaki has recently found itself at the center of geopolitical power struggles in East Asia.
As the immediate neighbor of the contested and uninhabited Senkaku Archipelago, Ishigaki has become a frontline in the struggle for geopolitical influence in the East China Sea. For this reason, the so-called “Japanese Self-Defense Forces” are planning to build a new base on the subtropical island – a highly competitive move that has caused locals, including Manami, to make their voices heard.
There is also an even bigger story about the context in which she lives. Ishigaki belongs to Okinawa Prefecture, which is now the southernmost part of Japan. However, Okinawa, a chain of dozen of islands stretching for nearly a thousand kilometers, was an independent kingdom until the late 19th century. It then became a buffer zone between Chinese and Japanese interests before being annexed by Tokyo in 1879. During World War II, Okinawa became the only battlefield in Japan. And then the US occupied the island chain for decades – until 1973 when Japan regained control.
So for the people of Okinawa, the military base issue is much more closely related to their daily experience: Around two-thirds of US military facilities in Japan are still concentrated in Okinawa. As a result, due to the geographical distance and the different historical paths, the people there are perhaps more willing to make their voices heard through initiative and referendum than is the case in mainland Japan, says Manami in this first video of our “Global Voices of Freedom”. ” Series.