The Movement for Non-Defended Localities in Sapporo, Japan

In his essay, "The Movement for Non-Defended Localities," Yaguchi favors us with an account of the way he used two of his poems in a public, official meeting to try to persuade local authorities in his home district to make Sapporo a "non-defended" location. The incident is a fascinating illustration of how poetry can be used in the praxis of peace-seeking.

There is a group of citizens in Sapporo, Japan, who want this city to become a non-defended locality. Their purpose is stated in the document, "Spread the Non-Defended Localities Movement to all Corners of Japan and the World," as follows:

This movement is based on article 59 of the Protocol I Addition to the Geneva Conventions that provides for the protection of civilians under international conflicts. Article 59 stipulates: "It is prohibited for the Parties to the conflict to attack, by any means whatsoever, non-defended localities"; and "The appropriate authorities of a Party to the conflict may declare as a non-defended locality any inhabited place near or in a zone where armed forces are in contact which is open for occupation by an adverse Party." It sets out the following four conditions for a locality to satisfy before declaring itself as non-defended: (a) all combatants, as well as mobile weapons and mobile military equipment, must have been evacuated; (b) no hostile use shall be made of fixed military installations or establishments; (c) no acts of hostility shall be committed by the authorities or the population; and (d) no activities in support of military operations shall be undertaken. And this movement is spreading throughout Japan, though the citizens' proposal has been rejected by most city assemblies.

The group of people in Sapporo promoting the non-defended localities initiative was officially named the "Citizens Group," and I was asked to be one of their representatives. I accepted it because I thought it was in accord with the spirit of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which says: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." I thought it was one of the effective ways to make the most of Article 9. Moreover, I believed it agreed with Jesus' way of peace-making, though it is not a religious movement.

In order for us to legally request the city government to consider making a regulation for Sapporo to become a non-defended locality, we needed to gather signatures of one-fiftieth of the constituency within one month. Members of this "Citizens Group," along with those who were in favor of this movement, stood on the streets every day, asking passers-by for their signatures. They visited their own neighbors, too. I occasionally joined them and worked together with them. There were indeed cold days with chill rains, but we worked hard. And not a few passers-by were willing to sign their names. But other people avoided us. And there were still some others who openly cursed us, exclaiming, "What nonsense! Because of your action, North Koreans kidnap Japanese!" or "What will you do when the North Koreans start attacking Japan?" But we obtained 41,619 signatures and officially requested the mayor to consider enacting the regulation.

The mayor was against making the regulation, perhaps partly because there are army bases in the city. Soldiers of the Self-Defense Forces have been helping to make snow statutes for the Sapporo Snow Festivals for years, and he might have thought it was difficult to remove the bases from the city. Besides, the opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, which is strongly in favor of the bases, holds the majority in the city assembly. But he had to discuss this in the city assembly. If the majority was in favor of it, he would have to enact the law.

In the regular city assembly meeting held on December 4, 2007, four representatives of "Citizens Group" were requested to speak their opinions. I was one of them and I read two poems of mine instead of making a speech. The first poem was "Town with a Navy Air Base." The town I was brought up in is called Yamoto, and there was a base there which was called Matsushima Navy Air Base. It was so named because Matsushima, one of the three most scenic places in Japan, is close by. In the beginning of World War II, the town was lively with young soldiers, but when the war situation got worse, the base and our town were attacked by American airplanes almost every day. We townspeople fled. I once ran into a coal mine in a mountain and took shelter in the cold, wet place for a few days. The following poem is based on this experience of mine. Our town was attacked because the base was there. Other towns without bases were not attacked.

There was a naval airbase in our town,
And when the war started, it was crowded with young soldiers.
But towards its end when the situation got worse,
Our town was often bombarded by enemy planes.

They suddenly appeared in the heights as grains of sand,
Then rapidly grew into the shapes of planes,
Diving down,
Dropping bombs on the base.

Bombs fell outside of it as well
And dug big holes, which when water gushed out
Became pools large enough for kids to swim in.
Showers of machine guns caught our residential areas.

But our planes did not try to intercept them at all.
They squatted down in their air-raid shelters.
Only after the enemies disappeared,
Our antiaircraft artilleries shot off a few rounds.

As a matter of fact, our soldiers were hiding
In a mountain nearby,
Looking at their almost unmanned base
And our town being attacked.

And when they knew our loss in the war, they returned to the base,
Stole from their storehouse silk parachutes, rubber rafts,
Blankets, rice, canned food, etc., which they hid and
Took home when they were disbanded.

The second poem was about "Mae Island" in the Okinawa archipelago. It is now a well known fact that, toward the end of the war, many people in Okinawa were killed by fierce attacks by the U.S. Army, and that, though the right-wingers have been trying hard to reject it, not a few were forced by the Japanese Army to commit group suicide. The soldiers handed grenades to the people and ordered them to die by exploding them before becoming captives. Some soldiers even shot them. I have an acquaintance, one Reverend Kinjyou, who, ordered by the army, killed his parents on an island called Takashiki. And after it he tried to kill himself as he was so ordered, but could not, because he had used up all the grenades he had been handed. He told me he had seen a man striking his family members to death, one by one, with a strong bar. And he was crying all the while he was doing it. And this kind of tragedy took place on several islands.

Near the island of Tokashiki there is "Mae Island." According to a legend, the Japanese Army came and tried to be stationed there, but the principal of a branch school and some islanders tried very hard to dissuade them. The captain first got mad, but finally gave in and the soldiers went away. Now toward the end of the war, the American army approached it and found there was no Japanese Army there. They left without attacking it. The title of this poem is "Mae Island."

Mae Island was not attacked.
Since there was no Japanese Army
Nor base there,
The US Army came but didn't find anything to attack.

When the Japanese Army had first come to be stationed there,
The islanders tried hard to dissuade them.
When the US Army came and found no enemy, they announced,
"We won't attack you. Live in peace!" and left.

The other islands where there were Japanese bases
And where Japanese soldiers were stationed
Were all showered with
Ceaseless gunfire and bombs.

And surrounded by colorful flowers
the islanders of Mae were looking with
eyes filled with tears at their neighboring islands
floating on the waves, exposed naked to the assaults.

After a few days of our speeches and my reading, there was again a regular city assembly where members discussed this issue. One member criticized our non-defensive movement, saying, "I don't want to see our city occupied by a foreign country. There will be no freedom, then." Strangely, no other members said anything about Japan, which had fought in the Pacific War, had surrendered to the States, and had been occupied by the U.S. Army. No one said that if we didn't want to be occupied, we ought to fight till all of us are killed. No one mentioned that Okinawa is even now almost occupied by the U.S. Army.

Another member said that her party's position was to observe Article 9 of the Constitution, which denies Japan the right to engage in any warfare, and that therefore she could not agree with the non-defended locality movement, which presupposes the outbreak of war. But she did not mention what her party was doing in the face of the strengthening of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and their bases rooted deep in the soil of Japan. Indeed, Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions presupposes warfare.

But whether or not it presupposes it, I wanted them to talk about what we should do to avoid making war and being bombarded. Should the bases in Sapporo be reduced? Should they be abolished? Should the Self-Defense Forces be changed to disaster relief forces? If the members of the assembly cannot agree with this movement, is there any other effective way of avoiding warfare? If they think the declaration of Sapporo as a non-defensive locality is impossible because of the existence of the Self-Defense Bases, can't we "freeze" the base issues and declare other parts of the city to be non-defensive? I proposed to them that they discuss it, but it was not accepted. One of our group said that this movement was one way of making the most of Article 9, but this opinion was also ignored.

Finally the mayor concluded that he could understand the poems of Mr. Yaguchi, but that he could not enact the regulation because any military issue was entirely decided by the central government, and local governments couldn't do anything about that decision. I didn't think that was true. But when they took a vote, our proposal was rejected, with only one assembly member in favor. Even a few assembly members who stood with us for signatures on the streets did not vote for it, being pressured by their party leaders.

When the government makes war against the Constitution, and when Sapporo is attacked by enemy planes, can't people in this city say or do anything against it? Can't the city government do anything but obey the central government? These are questions that were raised by us, but the assembly in Sapporo completely failed to answer them.

About the Author

Yorifumi Yaguchi

Yorifumi Yaguchi, Professor Emeritus of Hokusei Gakuen University, has published more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, some of which are in English, including The Poetry of Yorifumi Yaguchi, edited by Wilbur J. Birky (Good Books 2006) and The Wing-Beaten Air: My Life and My Writing (Good Books 2008). The former was awarded The Japan Society of Literature and Christianity Prize for Creative Writing. His most recent book of Japanese poetry is This May Not Be a Piece of Poetry, but it is All I Want to Say (2011). From 1962-65 Yorifumi Yaguchi studied at Goshen (Ind.) Biblical Seminary, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree.