Guest workers with guns

On Apr. 14, about 2,000 residents of Iwakuni, a city in northern Japan that hosts an U.S. Air Force base, demonstrated against a proposed new housing development for American soldiers. In line with a major shift of military personnel, Iwakuni would be receiving about 4,000 soldiers and their families from other bases in Japan, mainly Atsugi. Iwakuni City wants to build about 10,000 new units for these arrivals on Atago mountain, which is mainly why the citizens protested. Atago has cultural and even sacred significance for local people. However, the reasons for choosing Atago go back further than the base issue.

Some years ago, the local government came up with a plan to develop Atago as a residential area and even began removing soil. The soil was brought to the coast to make landfill that the city thought could be used by the adjacent U.S. base. However, the project quickly ran into the red and a subsequent study found that, in fact, there was no demand for a new residential housing development. The city government then hatched a plan to sell the land it had partially developed to the central government to use for U.S. military housing, so essentially the base housing plan was devised to cover up for the botched housing development. 

The central government has indicated indifference to the plan, probably for two reasons. One is the opposition from local people and the other is the cost. The Japanese government foots the bill for putting up American soldiers, who usually demand American-style housing, which is much larger and more expensive to build than Japanese housing. (When such housing is abandoned because a base is downsized, like what happened at Yokota air base, Japanese scoop up these properties at premium prices.) Presumably, the Japanese government would prefer that the new arrivals rent off-base housing units. Still, this is not a problem that is limited to Iwakuni.

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