Saturday, April 5, 2008

Yokosuka is different

I have held off from commenting on the murder of Takahashi Masaaki, a taxi driver in Yokosuka by Olatunbosun Ugbogu, a deserter from the US Navy because the details were murky.

But now that Ugbogu is in Japanese custody and US Navy and State Department officials have made their initial apologies, including a visit by Rear Admiral James Kelly, commander, US Naval Forces Japan, to the taxi company that employed Takahashi, where he apologized directly to the company president.

Navy officials have issued a curfew for personnel attached to Yokosuka Naval Base, as well as restrictions on the purchase of alcohol. The Navy has also initiated a period of "training and reflection" for personnel.

Stars & Stripes reports that the situation in Yokosuka is calm: no protests, little hysteria among the local population, and complaints from business owners who fear that business will be hurt by the new restrictions.

This goes to show that it is a mistake to view the US forward presence in Japan uniformly. Okinawa is not Iwakuni is not Yokosuka is not Sasebo: each area has its own dynamics depending on the population size and service origin of service personnel, the size and density of the host community, the scale of the US bases, the presence of JSDF personnel, and the host community's history as a military base.

Yokosuka, a city of more than 400,000 is host to a population of US Navy personnel and dependents of approximately five percent of the city's total population. By comparison, Ginowan, home to MCAS Futenma, has a population of 88,000 hosting more than 4,000 Marines between Futenma, Camp Foster, . Yokosuka is approximately 100 square kilometers; Ginowan is approximately twenty. Add in the presence of Marine aircraft at Futenma and the problem is immediately apparent. (Apologizes for imprecise numbers: it's hard to pin down exact totals of US service personnel and their dependents by facility.)

Yokosuka is also home to a major MSDF base — its facilities intermingled among US facilities — and the relationship between the US Navy and the MSDF is closer than between any other branch of the services. Yokosuka also has a long history as a naval base. Visitors to Yokosuka can see a succession of dry docks built since the Meiji Restoration, with the increasing scale of the dry docks indicative of the growing sophistication of the Imperial Navy and naval warfare in general. Yokosuka is a navy town, and I can attest to the fact that US personnel in Yokosuka are sensitive to their place in the community.

All of which goes to show that if the US presence was limited to the 7th Fleet and a carrier strike group divided mostly between Yokosuka, Sasebo (in Kyushu), and Iwakuni for carrier aircraft, the US position in Japan would be considerably more secure. The danger is of events elsewhere prompting a national movement against the US presence in toto. Having a carrier strike group in Japan is the main reason why the US is the Asia's premier naval power, and is worth preserving, even as other elements of the US forward presence are drawn down. (Yokosuka's importance to the US Navy will only increase, with the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, scheduled to replace the USS Kitty Hawk in August. The George Washington will set sail Monday.)

The relatively calm response to this latest, terrible crime illustrates the sustainability of the US presence in Yokosuka. It is now the responsibility of both governments to keep that way by finding the appropriate composition and distribution of US forces in Japan.


David said...

Were a young girl to be gang-raped near Yokosuka by a military member (or dependent), I wonder if the reaction would be so calm. Wonder if the media would be 1/1000 as constrained as it has been in this case?

For sure, it's been different, especially in the coverage of the murder compared to coverage of any similar incident that occurs in Okinawa.

Japan Observer said...


You're right to point this out. The uproar would undoubtedly be bigger, but that's why these differing factors are important. The US Navy has a stock of goodwill in Yokosuka that the Marines don't have in Okinawa. The aforementioned factors that can act as shock absorbers in rough times.

Anonymous said...

Yokusuka is no different than any other Military base out there, I CAN ATTEST for that since I was stationed there for 3 1/2 yrs. In all my time stationed there we were on "LOCK DOWN" for about 12 times, not including the times we weren't inport or out in other ports, if I can remember correctly, all of them for personnel being drunk and doing incredibly stupid things.