Japan Land Minister Asks Court to Order Okinawa Prefecture to Approve Henoko Design Changes Related to Futenma Air Base Relocation

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The planned reclamation area is seen in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

Land minister Tetsuo Saito filed a lawsuit on Thursday demanding that Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki be ordered to approve design changes related to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture from Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago.

Filed with the Naha Branch of the Fukuoka High Court, the lawsuit came after Tamaki on Wednesday refused to approve Saito’s call for the design changes.

If the court orders Tamaki to approve the changes and Tamaki still does not comply, the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister will be able to approve them on Tamaki’s behalf.

About 66 hectares of soft ground was found in Oura Bay to the north of the planned reclamation area in Henoko, necessitating work to improve the ground. The state asked the Okinawa prefectural government to approve necessary design changes in 2020, but the prefecture refused, leading to a lawsuit.

A Supreme Court ruling on Sept. 4 finalized the prefecture’s defeat in the lawsuit, obliging it to approve the design changes. Okinawa Prefecture still did not comply, and the land minister issued an instruction for Tamaki to approve the changes.

The deadline to comply with the instrcution was Wednesday, but Tamaki did not do so.

“We’ve received various opinions from residents and academics specializing in administrative law, and we need to analyze those opinions in order to operate prefectural administration in a stable manner,” Tamaki said Wednesday. “It is difficult to approve [the changes] by the deadline.”

The ministry then decided to file the lawsuit Thursday based on the Local Government Law.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, this is the second lawsuit in connection with the central government’s right to take action on behalf of prefectural governments since the Local Government Law was revised in 2000 to legalize such a step.

The first was in 2015. The approval of reclamation related to the base relocation to Henoko had been canceled, and the central government sued to have the cancellation withdrawn.

The first hearing will be held within 15 days of the filing of the lawsuit, as the law requires. If the court finds the government’s claim to be reasonable, it will issue a ruling ordering the prefecture to approve the design changes within a certain time frame.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, who was visiting the United States, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon, “I want to proceed with construction work on the Oura Bay side to realize the full return of the Futenma air base as soon as possible, while carefully explaining to local residents.”