Japan Suspends TMT Funding Citing Mauna Kea Stalemate

Mar 3, 2020

Opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope held a press conference on Monday outside the Japanese Consulate General in Honolulu where they reaffirmed their commitment to blocking the project's construction on Mauna Kea.
Credit Kanaeokana

Japan has suspended its yearly funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope, citing the stalemate over its construction on Mauna Kea. While this doesn’t mean the country is pulling out of the multi-nation project as opponents urged it to do, the country does supply key components for the telescope.

Opponents of the telescope calling themselves kiaʻi or protectors of Mauna Kea gathered at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu Monday.

“We are here at the Consulate General of Japan as kiaʻi of Mauna Kea to deliver a letter to reiterate and reaffirm our position on Mauna Kea and the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope,” said Kahoʻokahi Kanuha, one of the group’s leaders.

Former Tokyo resident Ikuko Kurata, who helped organize a meeting between the telescope opponents and consulate staff, said TMT may not be on the radar of the people in Japan.

“Not many Japanese know about this issue,” said Kurata. “They don’t know 135 million yen [in] tax money is being used for TMT.”

Japan is one of only two countries in the international consortium developing the telescope that is using public funds to finance the project. Canada is the other.

Kiaʻi Lanakila Mangauil said the group’s focus has been on convincing the people of both countries to scrap the project. The opponents believe the telescope will desecrate land they consider sacred.

“So we’re trying to encourage the people of Japan to ask of their officials and demand that this money be divested from this project and reinvest that back into their own communities and help their own people,” said Mangauil.

Tomonori Usuda, TMT project manager for Japan, confirmed the Japanese government reduced funding for the project due to the situation on Mauna Kea. But, Usuda said, Japan is still strongly committed to Hawaiʻi as the preferred site for TMT.

TMT opponents blocked the access road to Mauna Kea's summit for over five months last year. They reached an agreement with Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim in December to reopen the road until the end of February in exchange for a commitment that the project would not proceed forward in the meantime. 

The agreement negotiated by Kim ran out on Saturday. It’s unclear whether the arrangement will be extended.