TOKYO — Why raise defense spending? How does Japan feel about the United States? Some sixth graders here did not know the answers, so they wrote a letter to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The letter, penned early this year by 36 sixth graders at the private Wako Elementary School in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, begins as follows.
“We have been learning about Okinawa and the war in social studies and integrated studies. We thought that the war was a story from the distant past, but now we know that people are still suffering and that it is an issue that continues to this day.
“We were afraid of war and thought that there should never be any wars, but then we learned from the news that you were going to raise defense spending. Some of us said that ‘we really wanted to ask the prime minister some questions and tell him our thoughts,’ so the whole class wrote this letter to you.”
The letter was written around the time when a North Korean ballistic missile passed over the Japanese archipelago, and Kishida ordered an increase in defense spending after Japan decided to possess the capability to attack missile bases and other facilities of hostile countries.
The 36 children wrote about their thoughts and questions about the government’s security policies, some of which are listed below.
“North Korea is launching missiles at Japan, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to increase military spending because of that.
“I thought that China and other countries might get angry and attack us.
“I think it is indeed terrible to take 1 trillion yen (about $6.87 billion) for defense spending from other taxes. Isn’t there any other plan?
“Why was the rule changed to allow the Self-Defense Forces to attack (enemy countries) instead of only defending the country?”
Why don’t you listen to the voices of Okinawans?
At Wako Elementary School, sixth graders spend a year studying the history, culture and social issues of Okinawa Prefecture. As the culmination of their studies, they visit the southern prefecture for four days and three nights. This is a peace study program that has continued since 1987.
The 36 children visited Okinawa and heard from a woman who lost eight members of her family in the Battle of Okinawa toward the final phase of World War II that she “wished to die painlessly if possible.”
They visited U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan and the area around the Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of the city of Nago, also in Okinawa, where the government plans to relocate the airbase. They also learned that 70% of locals voted against the base relocation in a 2019 prefectural referendum.
In addition to the letter written by the entire class, one of the girls wrote this based on what she had seen and heard in Okinawa.
“I believe that peace will not be realized unless we listen to other people’s opinions and understand that there are many different views, not just our own. So please listen to the voices of Okinawa. Or is there some reason not to listen?”
Many don’t understand why Japan hosts US bases
For what purpose are U.S. military bases hosted in Japan? The students debated this question after returning from Okinawa.
Some of the opinions expressed were “China or Russia might attack,” “I feel protected because of the bases,” and, “The residents around U.S. bases might be caught up in attacks on the bases,” but the majority of the students said they “don’t know” what the bases are there for.
In an attempt to learn about the U.S. side’s intentions, they sent an email to the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base asking to speak with them, but received no reply. The homeroom teacher also approached U.S. military personnel through an acquaintance, but the proposal was turned down.
On Feb. 1 this year, the students sent the letter to the prime minister’s office, addressed to Kishida.
What was the prime minister’s response?
Kishida referred to letters from the public in his response to additional questions posed by the media after a Feb. 24 press conference.
He stated, “It is difficult for me to reply to each of them, but I will make every effort to gain the public’s understanding regarding our security policy.”
On March 6, this “response” was conveyed to the Wako elementary students by their homeroom teacher. Unsatisfied, the students wrote to the prime minister again, but did not receive a response.
The children are now junior high school students. How do they feel now? One of the girls said, “Japan lost many people to the wars we fought in the past, and many people suffered. I feel that boosting defense spending will lead to war. I don’t want wars that Japan was involved in, including the Battle of Okinawa, to become a thing of the past. I am still waiting for a reply (from the prime minister).”
(Japanese original by Hiroya Miyagi, Digital News Group)