Protesters Rally Against USS Reagan Arrival, Japan Security Bill

Anti-nuclear weapon demonstrators march during a Sept. 13, 2015 protest outside of Yokosuka Naval Base. (TYLER HLAVAC/STARS AND STRIPES)
Anti-nuclear weapon demonstrators march during a Sept. 13, 2015 protest outside of Yokosuka Naval Base. (TYLER HLAVAC/STARS AND STRIPES)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan -- A protest against the upcoming arrival of nuclear-powered carrier USS Ronald Reagan and proposed security legislation to expand the role of Japan's Self-Defense Force largely fizzled Sunday with only a fraction of the turnout that organizers predicted.

The protesters came from a variety of groups organized by labor unions and the Japanese Communist Party, according to spokesman Hideo Higashimori. Turnout outside Yokosuka Naval Base was in the hundreds; organizers had expected 10,000.

Most appeared to be people from outside the local area, coming in from Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama. Some represented groups that oppose war, nuclear weapons, the Marine Corps presence on Okinawa and the deployment of Osprey aircraft to U.S. bases in Japan.

The protest began with a rally at nearby Verny Park. The demonstrators then formed small groups and marched through Yokosuka, pausing briefly to rally in front of the base's main gate before finishing at the Yokosuka-Chuo train station. The protest remained organized and quiet, with the base gates remaining open.

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The Reagan is expected to arrive next month, replacing the nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which sparked similar protests when it first arrived. The deployment of the more modern Reagan is part of Washington's "Pacific Pivot," reflecting the Obama adminstration's view of the region as its highest long-term priority.

Nuclear power remains a controversial topic in Japan after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown. A March 2014 poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun showed that 59 percent of Japanese opposed restarting nuclear reactors that were shut down after the meltdown; 77 percent said they would support a plan to phase out nuclear energy.

The security bills currently being debated in the national legislature, the Diet, are also a hot topic, with a May poll from Asahi Shimbun showing a 60 percent disapproval rate.

Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet reinterpreted the constitution to allow for collective self-defense, arguing that not defending allies like the United States if they came under attack would threaten key alliances and, thereby, Japan's survival. Opponents believe expanding the military's role could drag Japan into outside conflicts.

Recent polls show the Abe cabinet's approval rating falling to 38.5 percent, partially linked to disapproval of the security bills.

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Japan Aircraft Carriers