The Multinational Monitor

November 1988 - VOLUME 9 - NUMBER 11

J A P A N  T H E   N E X T  E M P I R E


By Ellen Hosmer ZUSHI CITY, Japan

In the bustling over-populated Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area, what may be one of the most significant political battles in post World War II Japan is emerging.

In an effort to accommodate the U.S. military, the Japanese government wants to build 854 housing units for around 4,000 U.S. military personnel in Zushi, a beautiful and wealthy coastal city an hour from Tokyo. The project, estimated to cost between 50 and 70 billion yen, would devastate a portion of a forest known as Ikego Hills that has grown undisturbed on the outskirts of the city for nearly half a century. The struggle to save the hills of Ikego has developed into much more than just a battle over a plot of trees; it has become an organized call for adherence to the democratic ideals promised by the country's constitution and a staging ground for a grassroots citizen movement.

Ikego's Past
At stake are nearly 290 hectares (717 acres) of land, one-sixth of the Zushi land area, that has been vacant since Japan conceded defeat in World War II and Gen. Douglas MacArthur began his six-year effort to transform the country. The hills were once farmed by local residents. When war broke out, the Japanese Imperial Navy expropriated the land for a munitions depot. After the war was over, the United States military took over the hills and has administered them since.

Fenced and vacant, the territory began to slowly revert to the wild, broad-leafed forest it had been before either the war or the farmers had taken their toll on it. Under U.S. domain, the hills were seldom used--although local residents report that during both the Korean and Vietnamese wars the depot was a hotbed of activity. Meanwhile, the population in the area surrounding the hills exploded. The number of people in the Tokyo metropolitan area grew from 13 to 29 million between 1960 and 1980. The hills are an oasis of green in the otherwise concrete and steel of the metropolitan Tokyo area. The Ministry of Construction surveyed the area in the late 1970s and concluded that it should be part of a natural park.

The first sign that the hills were to be changed came in October 1982 when workers moved into the area. Local residents, gathering along the fence that has long surrounded the hills, watched with apprehension as workers bored holes in the ground. Within a few days, the quiet town of Zushi was up in arms and those who had gathered together at the fence organized to change the fate of their woods.

What developed was a sophisticated and effective citizens movement that, if successful, may reshape Japan's political system. Zushi residents, organized under the banner the Citizens' Association for the Protection of Nature and Children and various environmental, political and citizen groups, mounted a comprehensive opposition campaign. In the first years, petitions were circulated and alternatives investigated. In 1983, representatives with 47,000 signatures opposing the plan headed to Washington to lobby the U.S. administration. Zushi city also hosted an international environmental symposium. When the former mayor decided to accept the Ikego Hills military housing project in return for certain "kickbacks" to the community, the citizens organized a recall campaign in 1984. When the city council refused to veto the project, they successfully petitioned to recall all the members of the city council.

For the next five years the Ikego issue would be the litmus test for Zushi politicians. The movement to fight the U.S. military housing project is made up mostly of women--housewives from Zushi with little previous experience in politics and even less in bucking the system. "The men go to work in Tokyo. They leave very early and come home late," says Michiko Suzuki, a city councilwoman in Zushi. "Women had to take the initiative because men don't live here;" they only sleep in Zushi. Suzuki says that before the issue surfaced, there was only one woman on the city council--now there are five.

After the 1984 recall, Mayor Kiichiro Tomino was elected. An astronomer by training, he has devoted his office to fighting the Ikego hills housing project and testing Japan's post-war democracy. Tomino says Zushi is attempting the unprecedented. "The attention of the entire nation is focused on this city, where the relationship between local government and central government under the post-war constitution is being tested." At stake, he says, is Japan's democracy. "The basis for local autonomy lies in a people's government; government of the people by the people, for the people," says Tomino. But adequate information and active citizen participation is necessary to realize such a government. "Initially the movement was to protect the environment. Now, it's to protect self government," says Akiko Motoyasu, one of the organizers of the opposition campaign. "It's probably the first time in Japan's history [that a movement has] put self- government into practice." With 87 percent of Zushi's citizens behind him, the mayor is confident that he cannot lose.

His optimism remains undaunted, mainly because of an article in the constitution which says that a law applicable to only "one local public entity, cannot be enacted by the Diet--the Japanese parliament--without the consent of the majority of the voters" in that area. Central to the debate is the issue of where the authority of the national government ends and the local government begins. Although the national government is required to consult with and gain acceptance for national decisions that affect local communities, the national government has never before had serious difficulty in garnering support for its proposals.

Zushi City, with Tomino at its helm, changed all that. The Japanese government says that the election of a new mayor does not void the agreement that they entered into with the former mayor and city council. And the Defense Facilities Administration Agency (DFAA), the military office charged with overseeing Ikego, maintains it has made every effort to accommodate the concerns of local citizens. The number of housing units has been reduced from 1,000 to 854 and some of the townhouses have been converted to high rises to preserve the green. Under the DFAA plan, almost 30 percent of the hills will be used for the housing project. Of that, more than half will be cut and filled--the steep slopes will be levelled to fill in the valleys. Citizens say the national government had no right to make a unilateral decision which failed to take into consideration either the importance of the area environmentally or its importance to the local people. The forest is irreplaceable, says Dr. Teruyo Oba. And to bulldoze it for U.S. military housing, she says, would be like bulldozing New York's Central Park.

Opponents stress that environmental considerations, rather than anti-military sentiments, shape their movement and that opposition to the housing project does not indicate a more general opposition to the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty.

U.S. Forces in Japan
The decision to convert the hills of Ikego to a housing complex for U.S. military personnel was given the go ahead in 1982 after a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. Under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Japan is mandated to contribute to its defense effort by supplying the infrastructure for U.S. forces. The lack of adequate housing, especially in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, for U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan has long been a controversial issue between the two countries.

According to a U.S. Navy spokesperson, junior enlisted service men and women wait, on average, two years for military housing, field officers wait 12 to 14 months and junior officers wait 6 to 8 months. According to the U.S. Navy, there are some 850 people on the waiting list today. Together the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps need some 4,000 on-base housing units within the Kanto Plain but have only 2,400. The United States has complained loudly since the early 1970s about the shortage of housing. In 1973 the crew of the U.S.S. Midway was allowed to bring family members to Japan, further compounding an already serious problem. And the sharp rise of the yen only added to the difficulties of living off base.

Comparable housing in West Germany is estimated to cost one fifth the amount of that in Japan. Since the military subsidies do not reflect the high cost of Japanese housing, many military personnel stationed in Japan look to military housing as the only affordable alternative. The shortage of housing, especially Western-style homes, some fear, may lead to a morale problem for U.S. forces stationed in Japan. T

o rectify the situation, the United States requested that new housing units be established immediately. The U.S. Navy claims it merely requisitioned additional housing, and left to the Japanese Defense Agency particularly the DFAA, the logistics of the plan. "Once the U.S. Government has made its needs known to the Japanese, the [Government of Japan] has complete responsibility for satisfying the requirement," noted Rear Admiral J.C. Doebler, of the Department of the Navy. But according to Hisayoshi Nishida, Director of the Planning Division of the Facilities Improvement and Relocation Project of the DFAA, that's just not how it went. He says that "due to the housing deficiency," the Japanese government was notified by the U.S. government that "they required 1,000 units in Ikego."

U.S. Law vs. Japan
Exactly who requested the Ikego site could develop into a hot political issue. If the United States requested the land, opponents can argue that U.S. environmental law--with its much more stringent environmental considerations--would apply.

If the City of Zushi decides to sue, this would be a key issue, according to Japanese environmentalists. Under this strategy, opponents would argue that the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 would apply. The act requires that "all agencies of the U.S. government shall include in every recommendation or report on ... a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment a detailed statement ... on the environmental impact of the proposed action [and] alternatives to the proposed action." The act further requires the recognition of "the worldwide and long-range character of environmental problems" and, that "where consistent with the foreign policy of the United States, [that it] lend appropriate support to initiatives, resolutions, and programs designed to maximize international cooperation in anticipating and preventing a decline in the quality of mankind's world environment."

Thomas J. Graff of the Environmental Defense Fund says the key to NEPA is the importance of investigating alternatives. "These requirements would clearly be binding on the U.S. Navy were the actions being discussed here within the United States," said Graff in a speech to opponents. It must be an "action that is implemented or funded directly by the United States Government," something that is difficult for the housing opponents to prove. If the U.S. does not implement or fund the project, then it is not required to meet these criteria. Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC JAPAN, a World Wildlife- affiliated organization, says that a similar case in West Germany was decided against opponents because there was no overt U.S. involvement.

But the Japanese case may be different because the United States has administered the hills for 50 years and the DFAA says the United States played a major role in deciding where the housing project was to be built, if not the only one. The DFAA's Nishida is emphatic about who made the decision to locate the housing project in Japan. "There was no suggestion from the government of Japan to use Ikego," he says. Rather, the impetus came from the United States.

Options and Alternatives
Although suing in U.S. courts to try to apply U.S. NEPA standards may be a last resort, opponents of the construction are exploring every avenue.

In February, opposition groups travelled to Washington and several other U.S. cities to try to garner support for their efforts. Although citizens have stalled the project for more than six years now, the Japanese government says it has no intention of backing down. Says Nishida, "I know there are protests by citizens, however, at the government we're doing everything as scheduled." He says that by 1995, the hills of Ikego will be home to an unparalleled housing complex. With a sports complex complete with tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, and all the other amenities of home, it will do much to ease the housing crunch for U.S. military personnel in Japan.

Earlier this year, the DFAA replaced the wire fence surrounding the complex with a 10-foot-high solid fence. "The levelling of the area we would like to initiate within this fiscal year--by the end of March, 1989," says Nishida. Behind the fence, bulldozers work through the day, amidst bright orange flags. It is an ominous sign for opponents, but one that is more a threat than a reality, says Tomino.

He says the government is unwilling to force the project on such a unified opposition, so they hope to temper the opposition by making them realize the futility of it. They want opponents to feel it is too late, that work has already begun on the project.

If that does not work, he says, they may begin chopping away at the constitutionally protected rights of the local government, a move that may have serious repercussions for Japan. "The Japanese government will be destroying the system of democracy," he says.

For their part the Zushi citizens are concentrating on alternatives. Alternatives that, they say, have never been properly explored. There are at least a half dozen options that would avoid razing the hills of Ikego and still provide housing to U.S. troops within minutes of Yokosuka. Opponents note that several military housing projects in the immediate vicinity are being returned to local governments and that these would be much less costly both for the environment and the Japanese taxpayer than Ikego. In one area in particular, some 400 homes with wide streets and spacious lawns are reverting to the local government for civilian use. Another option would be to increase the number of housing units already on the bases in the Yoskosuka area. Opponents are not convinced that the U.S. military needs to be cut off from the locals in the first place. They say a NATO- style open housing situation may lessen tensions between foreign military personnel and local populations and encourage more give and take. Although local housing is expensive, opponents of Ikego say that if the government would spend only a small portion of the sum used to build the Ikego housing complex to give subsidies to military personnel living off the bases, these soldiers could afford local housing.

At this point, however, there maybe too much at stake for the Japanese government to retreat. Opponents say that it may take the United States to break the deadlock. "The [Japanese] government doesn't want to lose face so they won't back down," says Uki Hatanaka a member of the opposition group Ikiiki Kaigi, a citizens' group opposed to the housing project. But Mshida of the DFAA is not optimistic. "We don't think the U.S. government will withdraw the plan, even if there is a strong protest from Zushi citizens," he says.

The last line of defense against the project may be the city's right to approve any plans changing the course of the river which runs through the Ikego Hills. The DFAA needs to re-route the river and build a flood control basin in order to accommodate the housing, but the national government must have the approval of local government to interfere with rivers. Although the DFAA says it is going ahead with the work with or without the local government's consent, Zushi City can take the government to court on the issue.

In July, another potential wrench was thrown into the DFAA's plans. According to Kanagawa Prefectural Cultural Assets Center, the remains of ancient dwellings and artifacts dating from 100 to 1,200 years old were recently found in Ikego. The Center is asking to pursue a more detailed study which could take two to three years.

In the end, says Tomino, the movement against the construction is a tribute to American democracy. He says that during the occupation, the Japanese people learned much from the United States, but only now are the individual democratic principles that were granted being tested. In a system with few opportunities for citizen participation or oversight already in place, it will be a long, hard battle. It is a kind of coming of age for Japan, says Tomino. Those born during or after the occupation are much more willing to challenge the system. Although so far there have been few successes, it is inevitable that change will come to the top- down decision-making that has guided Japan since feudal times.

Already the fight of the citizens of Zushi to preserve Ikego has inspired grassroots movements across the country. On the islands of Miyakejima and Ishigaki where residents are fighting against construction of airports in environmentally sensitive areas, and in areas throughout Japan where citizens are organizing against nuclear power plants, pollution and destructive development, many look to the fight of the Zushi housewives as an example to replicate. "It seems to be a new trend," says Naomi Kamei of Friends of the Earth Japan. "It's the first city to become involved on an environmental issue."

Although the Japanese cultural bias argues against the success of these movements, says Milliken, "if just one of them can win, it's going to galvanize" the nation. Already, he says, "the system is on the defensive." "How long it will take for the system to yield and make amends it's hard to say," he says, but when it comes, Zushi will deserve much of the credit. "If Ikego could succeed it's the first foot in the door."