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Ironically, the U.S. military’s influence over Okinawans is evident even in their protests against the bases. They shout at passing cars, “Get out of here!” and “We hate you!” in good vernacular English that is unusual for most Japanese but typical for Okinawans. During one recent rally protesters closed by singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Okinawans got their hopes up about getting rid of the bases in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan seized control from the conservatives that have ruled the country almost incessantly since the end of World War II.

The prime minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, promised that the rest of Japan would share in the burden of hosting American bases. But almost as soon as he made his promise, he was kicked out of office.

The Okinawan bases have faded to a nonissue in Sunday’s nationwide parliamentary elections, which are dominated by concerns about the country’s nuclear disaster and economic malaise. Japan has had one prime minister after another over the past several years, making any negotiations difficult.

And so the plan to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, promised after the 1995 rape, to coastal and less densely populated Henoko on another part of Okinawa has gone nowhere.

Yoshikazu Tamaki, an Okinawan prefectural (state) legislator, said keeping the bases on an island that makes up less than 0.5 percent of Japan’s territory is “systematic discrimination.”

He said he is disgusted by how Okinawa has been treated by its own government, and he suggested that officials in Washington are more sympathetic about Okinawa’s plight than those in Tokyo.

“These are young soldiers here, maybe 18, maybe 20,” he said. “They are waging war every day. They are coming to Okinawa as a military base. The way we feel and the way they feel will never meet.”

Japan must weigh Okinawans’ complaints against its relationship with the U.S. military, which it values all the more as Tokyo quarrels with China over several small islands and watches nuclear-armed North Korea test its missile technology, most recently with a rocket launch Wednesday.

Okinawans are angry that Japan approved the deployment of the 12 Osprey aircraft, which began in October, though the government has asked for and received additional assurances of the aircraft’s safety.

Washington says the Osprey is safe and is needed to ensure regional security. Okinawans are concerned about two Osprey crashes earlier this year, in Florida and Morocco, and because Futenma, where the aircraft make nearly daily test flights, is smack in the middle of the crowded residential area of Ginowan.

Col. Honchul said the Osprey is “a very safe and capable aircraft” that has operated on the island without incident. Investigations into the two crashes did not find fault with the aircraft, he said.

Okinawans, however, remember how a U.S. helicopter dropped eight years ago into the Okinawa International University campus, next to Futenma base. No one was killed and no civilians were injured in the accident.

Over the last several months, dozens of people have been gathering daily at a Futenma gate to protest the Osprey. Kazunobu Akamine, who makes and delivers lunches for a living, was among the most boisterous protesters.

He said his son was nearly killed in the 2004 helicopter crash; he had gone to the university to pick up empty lunch boxes. Talking as if World War II were yesterday, he said his grandfather was fatally shot in the head while hiding in the mountains from U.S. soldiers.

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