All 18,600 US sailors in Japan slapped with full drinking ban, confined to base

© Mike Blake
Three separate scandals involving American servicemen and contractors in a highly-controversial Navy base in Japan's Okinawa have finally resulted in an all-out alcohol ban on all the 18,600 sailors. The measure is the latest and comes after a Marine's drunk-driving stunt.

Adding to the two cases involving murder and rape of two young Japanese women, a third incident saw a US sailor with six times the legal alcohol limit go on a joyride, hitting two cars in the wrong lane. The officer, Aimee Mejia, who was assigned to Kadena Air base, is now being held by Japanese police.

This is all in the midst of now nationwide anger over the antics in Okinawa, not to mention earlier opposition to such a prominent American presence on the island.

The latest incident took place as US forces were observing a 30-day period of mourning for the earlier murder victim. Part of the gesture by the American military included imposing strict measures on its servicemen and women, such as curfews and a partial alcohol ban when off base.

Starting Monday, all American sailors in Japan are banned from consuming alcohol on and off the premises. More severe movement restrictions were also imposed – the soldiers can now only go to the store, the gym and the gas station, according to the Japan Times.

“We have recognized a problem, we’re owning it, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that every one of our sailors understands how important our behavior is to the alliance and to our relationship to the people of Japan,” Ronald Flanders, spokesman for Naval Forces Japan, said in a statement.

Currently all sailors are confined to their respective bases, save for those stationed in urban accommodation. The latter group is allowed to travel to and from work as well. But everything else is off limits, as per the new ban.

The Navy will hold new specialist training for its soldiers, and the ban will stay in place until then, Flanders said.

“The alcohol restriction will remain in effect until the commander of the 7th Fleet and the commander of Naval Forces Japan determine that all personnel have fully embraced their responsibilities of being a US ambassador at all times.”

The ban only applies to military personnel, not to their families or civilian contractors, which would bring the total number to about 35,000.

A civilian contractor is the suspect in one of the two recent cases, the murder of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro. The case, along with April's rape and murder, reignited Okinawa resident's anger over US presence. But the problem is not new. In 1995 a schoolgirl was raped by three US military personnel, sparking fierce anti-base demonstrations.

According to Washington Post, a US congressional delegation was due to visit Okinawa last week, but had its meetings cancelled, as local politicians didn’t wish to be seen dealing with Americans.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani called the latest incident involving Mejia “extremely regrettable,” and has written to the Okinawa Defense Bureau with instructions to lodge a formal complaint with the Navy.

The defense minister’s remarks come just a day after his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, agreed with Nakatani that further measures will need to be implemented in future to prevent repeated instances of rape and murder by American service personnel.

The government in Okinawa is ramping up steps to get the Americans off the island, announcing Monday that the anti-base assembly took majority in prefectural elections. Given Governor Takeshi Onaga’s sentiments, it is expected his constituency will fight the central government for the removal of the Futenma base run by the Marines.