In the late 1970s the Japanese government made an agreement with the US government to build an elite family housing complex in Ikego forest for US naval families working at the military base. The US government had requested this area on the outskirts of Zushi city due to its moderate isolation and calmness.
Zushi is a town located in Kanagawa prefecture, about 70km southwest of Tokyo. With a population of just over 58,000 people, it is often described as a “bedroom community”, meaning up until today most men of Zushi have commuted to other cities daily for work (in the 1980s around 70% of the workers worked outside Zushi) while most of the time the wives have stayed at home with their children . This is partly due to the town’s proximity to Tokyo and its lack of industry.
Just north of Zushi town centre lies the lush forested area, Ikego forest. Part of this forest was used by the Japanese imperial army as a dumping site for ammunition until the end of WWII when it was seized by the US navy who were granted the right to administer the area . For at least half a century this almost virgin forest was more or less untouched, exhibiting an extremely rich biodiversity with over 109 varieties of birds recorded as well as other animals and insects .
The Japanese government, in collaboration with the US government had been planning since the 70s to build military housing for the US navy in Ikego forest, but it was not until 1982 that this information became public.
Following an announcement made by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency that the housing complex plan had been approved, a group of residents largely comprised by housewives from Zushi protested and formed the “Shizen no kodomo o mamoru-kai” (Association for the Protection of Nature and Children or APNC) .
In 1984, mayor Mishima of Zushi who had previously been against the housing complex fell under the pressure of the central government and announced his support for the project. The APNC, who had gathered 46,000 signatures for a petition against the project were furious and started another petition calling for the firing of the mayor, who immediately resigned from his post . Conservationist candidate Kiichiro Tomino became mayor, but the proposed plans for the housing complex remained unaffected. This polarised the city of Zushi and split people up between the conservationist side and the pro-construction side.
In 1985 a compromise was made by the government that the number of housing units to be built would be reduced . Despite ongoing strong resistance and opposition to this project, it was accepted in 1994 that 854 housing units would be built in Ikego forest, and the construction was completed four years later in 1998 . The housing complex was built on the promise that there would be no expansions after this initial project. However, in 2003, 800 additional housing units were proposed. This decision was justified by arguing that the new housing units would be built on the Yokohama part of Ikego forest and not the Zushi part, which enraged the local community as the promise had been no more expansions in the forested area . The residents tried to take the Japanese and US government to court arguing that they had not kept their promise, but were rejected by the Tokyo High Court which ruled in favour of the central government .
This has been a huge grassroots movement in Japan, which in the end has not been successful. Although some small compromises were made, the housing complex project went ahead against residents’ wishes. The main argument of the conservationist residents have been to protect Ikego forest and its rich biodiversity. But there is also a cultural aspect to the debate. Ikego forest has cultural value and may provide a sense of place for many residents, which cannot be monetised. Furthermore, it may be argued that creating a community of US military families in a secluded forest in Japan can have negative impacts culturally. Not only is there less chance of these families being able to partake in the local culture, but it may also bring back traumatising memories of the US occupation for residents of surrounding towns.