OSAKA, Japan, Oct. 8 (Xinhua)-- The U.S. Marine Corps and Japan 's Self-Defense Forces commenced joint military exercises on Tuesday using the MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft in the western Japanese prefecture of Shiga, local press reported.
A total of 230 military personnel from both forces are expected to participate in the joint drills, which are being carried out at an SDF training field in the prefecture.
The drills are officially planned as part of both countries' efforts to reduce the burden of U.S. military bases on Okinawa and its people, according to Japan's Kyodo News Agency.
The report cited Japanese defense officials as saying that one or two Osprey transport aircraft, part of the squadrons based in Japan, will be used during the program scheduled for Oct. 16, while the overall scope of the Shiga exercises was scaled down due to an approaching typhoon heading east from the seas off Kyushu, southwestern Japan.
Prior to the military exercises, meanwhile, local papers said more than 1,000 people assembled on Monday near the training field to protest against the joint drills in Shiga, which end on Oct. 18. They also came to express their strong concerns over safety issues related to the aircraft.
Opposition to the deployment of the Osprey remains strong in Okinawa because of its safety record, which includes crashes overseas, including a fatal accident.
Anticipating the discontent, the prefectural office had already urged both forces to keep the U.S. teams from flying over commercial and residential areas as well as the country's biggest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa, located in the center of the prefecture.
In addition to the Shiga drill, they will carry out disaster relief training in Kochi Prefecture in late October, using the transport in a simulated scenario of a major quake with the epicenter in the Nankai Trough off Japan's Pacific coast.
The trough stretches along the east side of the country's main island of Honshu and an earthquake emanating from there could directly hit the Kochi area and cause a tsunami.