The US has returned thousands of acres of land in Okinawa to Japan marking it the first such move since 1972. The handover comes amid resentment from residents over the American military installation on the island.
Both Tokyo and Washington have hailed the return of 9,909 acres (4,000 hectares) of land and are due to hold formal ceremony in Okinawa's Nago on Thursday (22 December) for the same. The US military will hand over the training area known as Camp Gonsalves or the Jungle Warfare Training Center.
"This reversion will not only reduce burdens of the US bases but also contribute to invigorating local economies," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a meeting with US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.
The American diplomat said: "This return will reduce our footprint in Okinawa by about 20 percent, and it is an important step in the Okinawa consolidation plan, which will eventually result in the transfer of 60 acres of land south of Kadena Air Base." In return, the Japanese government will allow the US to build new helipads in other areas.
However, local residents, who had been campaigning for decades against the existence of US base in the prefecture, are not entirely assuaged with the return. "We feel betrayed by the (Japanese) government. From our point of view, the US military (is) giving back something (it doesn't) want while having new Osprey runways built. Okinawa alone is host to 74% of the US's military bases in Japan. The return of this land only reduces this presence to 71%," Takashi Kishimoto, spokesperson for Peace Okinawa, told CNN.
Groups against the US base have also said that the vast land returned by the US is mostly unusable. As a mark of protest, Okinawa's Governor Takeshi Onaga has decided not to participate in the ceremony to commemorate the handover. The citizens' concerns were reignited after an MV-22 Osprey aircraft crashed off the Okinawa coast recently.