The project is controversial enough: Japan is building a new military base for the US in Okinawa to replace another that's being shut down, and the vast majority of Okinawans oppose the coastal construction, reports Stars and Stripes. In fact, local groups have asked President Biden to reconsider plans for the new base in the Henoko district. Now, a report in the Asahi Shimbun raises a disturbing new wrinkle: fears that the remains of war dead are being inadvertently scooped up for use in the construction. Okinawan authorities estimate that nearly 2,800 people who died during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa remain unaccounted for, having died where they fell in remote spots. Volunteers have spent the decades since attempting to find and identify remains, and the report highlights one such volunteer's discovery of a jawbone and bullets in a cave in September.
The volunteer alerted authorities, but when he returned to the area in November, he discovered that it had been cleared and declared a quarry. Such quarries are popular these days. It seems that the military project in Henoko is in dire need of soil and stone because the nearby earth is too soft, and that has led to excavators rushing to score contracts, per the report. Critics, however, say the government doesn't have proper safeguards in place to ensure that the remains of war dead aren't included. One suggestion is to bar soil from the southern part of the island, where volunteers focus their searches. "The welfare ministry must make even more detailed efforts to grasp and preserve areas where war remains might be found as well as appraise the remains that are uncovered," says a history professor at Tokyo's Teikyo University. (Read more Okinawa stories.)