By Joseph Essertier, World BEYOND War, May 3, 2019
A gathering of Japan for a World BEYOND War on the 27th of April marked the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration, by which one year prior North Korea and South Korea agreed to work together to officially end the Korean War.
In a serious but fun event at a karaoke room in Nagoya we discussed the current circumstances faced by Koreans and Okinawans and the history of Washington- and Tokyo-sponsored violence against them. We watched video clips of a trip to Okinawa that I and another WBW member took together in early February, and of course, we chatted a lot and got to know each other better. After the karaoke gathering, we joined other peace-loving citizens of Nagoya and linked our bodies together symbolically into a “human chain” in solidarity with the human chain in Korea on the same day.
This event was covered by the South Korean mass media. See this video in English for example. (In Korea they did it at 14:27 on 4/27, as the date is written “4.27” in their language. Japanese languages also display dates this way). The section of the five of us forming a chain in the photo above in Nagoya was only one section of a long chain made up of about 30 people, perhaps 20-meters long on a major street corner.
Notice that there were no banners or placards marking specific political or religious groups. This was intentional. It was decided that due to the variety of participating organizations, sometimes of opposing political goals, during this particular event, no organizational affiliations would be displayed. We, too, in Nagoya, respected this wish of the organizers.
There have been nearly 150 protests over the last three years against the new base construction in Henoko and Takae, on the corner in the photo. This corner is in a central shopping district of Nagoya called “Sakae.” The main focus has been on stopping the US from building these two bases, but sometimes opinions have been expressed against war and for peace on the Korean Peninsula, in solidarity with Koreans and others in Northeast Asia threatened by the United States.
These weekly protests are held on Saturdays from 18:00 to 19:00. Only the worst typhoons and snowstorms have prevented people from gathering. Even in heavy snow and rain, we/they gather week after week. We educate passersby with photos that show what is happening in Okinawa, give speeches, sing antiwar songs, and do a “line dance.” Japan for a World BEYOND War is one of the groups that have supported these efforts during roughly the last year and a half.
Okinawans and Japanese who live or have lived in Okinawa often give speeches, sometimes in “Uchinaa-guchi,” the most common language/dialect in Uchinaa. (Uchinaa is a local name for Okinawa). And people from Okinawa as well as people from other islands of the Archipelago, such as Honshu (where Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, and other major cities are located), often dress in the traditional clothing and sing songs of Okinawa. Thus the protests, besides making a political statement, also provide a forum for people from other parts of the Archipelago as well as the foreign people who walk by, to experience the culture of Okinawa. This is an interesting feature of anti-base protests of Nagoya and other major cities such as Tokyo.
One way to say “The land is not yours” in Uchinaa-guchi is “Iita mun ya nan dou.” In Tokyo Japanese, which is the dominant “common language” throughout Japan, this could be expressed with “Anata no tochi dewa nai.” This is an example of how different these languages/dialects are from each other and an example of the rich linguistic diversity of the Archipelago. I do not speak Uchinaa-guchi, but I recently asked one Okinawan how to say this in their language—because I want to say “It’s not yours” to US military personnel who live and train and prepare for war on the occupied territories of these dispossessed people. At one time, there were farms, roads, homes, and graves on those lands. There are still some Okinawan people alive today who were children living on that land long ago before it was stolen from them by US citizens.
And the language of Uchinaa, or “dialects” of Okinawa, are dying. This is not only due to the linguistic imperialism, i.e., state educational policies of the Empire of Japan and postwar Japan but also due to the several decades of US influence. Some elderly Okinawans can speak English well, while their grandchildren cannot speak the local language of their grandparents, “Uchinaa-guchi.” I can only imagine how sad and painful that must be for them. (But even within Okinawa, there is variation and diversity in terms of dialects. This is typical of other parts of the Archipelago, too, that were originally full of amazing and often beautiful cultural diversity).
Sometimes protestors show videos of the beautiful nature of Okinawa, including the endangered “dugong” or sea cow, using a digital projector that projects the images onto a portable screen or a simple white sheet or curtain. One T-shirt that many peace activists wear to these protests has the word “tenacious” written on it in Chinese characters, as with the woman with the grey T-shirt standing to the right of me. Indeed, the anti-base protestors of Nagoya have been very tenacious throughout these past three years, and also creative and original. And not only elderly people who do not have the burden of earning a salary from full-time work. There are many working, middle-aged, and even young adults who express their opposition this way.
Sadly, US and Japanese journalists hardly covered the event on the 27th in Korea, even when many tens of thousands—I have heard as many as 200,000—of Koreans lined up and held hands along the US-imposed “DMZ” (Demilitarized Zone at the 38th parallel that has divided the nation of Korea for most of the last century). Plus there were many solidarity protesters outside of Korea.
A grassroots video about the 27th in Korean is here:
A blog post in English and German, and with video is here.
The event was announced at least as early as January.
Pope Francis marked the 4/27 with a speech.
“May this celebration offer hope to all that a future based on unity, dialogue and fraternal solidarity is indeed possible”, Pope Francis says in his message. “Through patient and persistent efforts, the pursuit of harmony and concord can overcome division and confrontation.”
Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, and the professors Noam Chomsky and Ramsay Liem made statements that were covered in Korean language media.
There were also events in Los Angeles, New York, and Berlin.
Besides other events in Japan, there was an educational event commemorating the Panmunjom Declaration in Nagoya with a lecture by a professor of Korea University in Japan (朝鮮大学校) and a researcher with the “Korea Issues Research Institute” (韓国問題研究所所長).
Keep your eye out for more human chains in the future in Korea. These are life-affirming chains that liberate humanity from the life-taking of war.
Many thanks to the professor and activist Simone Chun for providing most of the information above about events in Korea and around the world. She shared it with us through the Korea Peace Network. She contributes to the peace movement in terms of both research and activism through organizations that include the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea, Women Cross DMZ, and the Nobel Women’s Initiative.