At the same time that Obama made history on May 27, when he became the first standing US president to visit Hiroshima, protests were taking place in Japan after a former marine working at a US military base in Okinawa was arrested by the Japanese police for allegedly killing a Japanese girl in April. Then overnight, an American sailor was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and causing a crash on the Japanese island of Okinawa, in the midst of a month-long curfew placed on U.S. service members after the arrest of an American contractor on murder-related charges.
The latest incident, which injured two people, is likely to further inflame local anger over the U.S. military presence on the island, which shoulders the overwhelming burden of the U.S.-Japan military alliance. Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, crossed the center line on a highway and crashed head-on into two cars shortly before midnight Saturday, according to a police spokesman. She was not injured, but a 35-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man in the other cars were injured, one suffering a chest injury, the other an arm injury. Mejia, who serves on the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, was found to have a blood-alcohol level about six times the legal limit during a breath test, officers from the Kadena police station told Kyodo.
In response to the incident, as well as due to rising anger against US marines in Okinawa, the U.S. Naval Forces Japan immediately banned its sailors from drinking alcohol, on and off base, and said they would be allowed off base only to “engage in official actions” such as taking their children to child care or going to the grocery store or gas station.
The decision impacts the 18,600 sailors currently stationed in Japan.
The measures would remain in place until commanders were “comfortable that all personnel understand the impact of responsible behavior on the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
“These measures are not taken lightly,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, commander of Naval Forces Japan. “For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole.”
The latest incident came as the U.S. military observes a 30-day mourning period at bases on Okinawa after an American civilian working for the U.S. military there was arrested on suspicion of dumping the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman.
Renewed anger among residents in Okinawa at the U.S. military presence threatens a plan to relocate the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa, which was agreed in 1995 after the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel sparked huge anti-base demonstrations.
Okinawa’s governor and many residents want the marines off the island.
All U.S. Navy sailors in Japan will be kept on base and banned from drinking until “all personnel understand the impact of responsible behavior on the U.S.-Japan alliance,” the press release said. “Sailors living off base will be allowed to travel to and from base and conduct only “essential activities.”
The restrictions do not apply to family members and civilian U.S. contractors, which brings the total number of people to 35,000, but they are being encouraged to observe the rules “in a spirit of solidarity,” a spokesman for the U.S. Navy said.
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