"For whose protection does the army exist if it destroys the environment and tramples on the human rights of women and children?"
Machiko Matsumura (photograph), who visited Korea for the international conference organized by the Women's Network against Militarism, is a peace activist who lives and works in Yuhuin, Japan to 'create communities without armies." Yuhuin is both a famous hot spring tourist attraction and home to a US army base. Angered by the assault of a Japanese girl by an American soldier in Okinawa, the Japanese public began calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Japan. On the pretext of placating Okinawa residents, the Japanese government dispersed the Okinawa base and provided army bases in five other districts. Yuhuin was one of them. Matsumura, who did not know much about the problems associated with American army camps before Yuhuin became a host to one in 1998, launched the anti-base movement when she personally felt the negative effects of US military presence and realized the need to remove American army bases not only in Yuhuin but in every region.
Military training in Yuhuin always goes on for the whole month of February, and during that time, we take turns to monitor the army's actions. We borrow a field in the highlands with a bird's eye view of the training camp and build a small hut, from where we count the number of artillery or monitor the movements within the camp."
There is quite a limit to what people can do outside the base, but through these annual vigils, the residents of Yuhuin continue to check if the US troops are trying to expand their training, make military maneuvers that residents have not been briefed on, or attempt anything suspicious. Besides monitoring and protesting against military training by the US army, the residents of Yuhuin launched a regional currency union project two years ago as part of their efforts to create a local community that does not have to rely on the army.
"Regional currency means a currency that is used within a specific region or group. For example, one Yuhu is worth about 100 Yen or 10 minutes of service. The community has been slow in utilizing this currency, at the moment limited to transactions such as home-grown vegetables, moving services or looking after senior citizens. But when the regional currency takes root and our basic livelihoods become stable, we will be able to face up to economic pressure from the government and confidently say that we have no need for military facilities in our community."
Considering the typical characteristic of army base-hosting communities that are economically dependent on the army bases, the regional currency union project could be an important foundation for the anti-base movement, says Matsumura. She went on to explain that this campaign has spread throughout Japan and is in full swing in more than 100 districts in the world.
Another area that women groups in Yuhuin focus on besides economic independence is international solidarity among grassroots groups. "We publicized our call for the withdrawal of US troops in the form of an advertisement in the New York Times in 1997 and 1998. Back then, we had to pay an advertising fee of 6 million Yen, and five women took up the project and managed to raise almost 8 million Yen. At first we weren't sure if the funds could be raised or if the paper would accept our advertisement, but our enthusiasm made the day." The advertisements helped bring together the women activists of Japan and the US and led to the founding of the 'South Asia-US Women's Network against American Militarism,' which in turn developed into the present Women's Network for Peace.
The women groups in Yuhuin recently produced a documentary entitled "Maehyangni" on the damages caused by US army bases. Through "Maehyangni," the Japanese women reveal an extraordinary point of view on the lives of residents living around the US military training sites in Korea, not Japan. The women took up the issue of US troops in Korea through the documentary based on their view that the problems caused by US army bases transcend national boundaries. The documentary has been screened more than a hundred times all over Japan. In the hopes that American viewers may realize the structural problem of violence engendered by the American army and its overseas bases, the Japanese women are currently making an English language version of "Maehyangni."