YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Some 240 residents near this base west of Tokyo will share $1.4 million as compensation for enduring harmful aircraft noise, a Japanese court ruled Tuesday.

The Tokyo District Court in Hachioji rejected the group’s demands to ban all nighttime and early-morning flights and be compensated for future disruptions from noisy aircraft.

In all, 325 people who live in more than six towns around the air base sued the Japanese government because of suffering they said was caused by intolerable levels of aircraft noise.

Presiding Judge Tohiko Sekino agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims that noisy planes interrupted their sleep and other daily activities, such as watching television, talking on the phone and conversing with family in their homes. She also accepted the assertion that aircraft noise may have caused hearing defects or buzzing in ears — or at least made the plaintiffs fear such damage.

“Although there is no direct relation at this point of other physical malfunctions, it can be accepted that the noise is the cause of stress and that stress gives negative influence to the body,” the judge wrote in the verdict.

Yokota Air Base, headquarters for U.S. Forces Japan, has one of the largest runways in Japan.

It’s the major supply and transportation hub for U.S. military forces in the region. Aircraft assigned to the base include a fleet of C-130 cargo planes and the C-9 Nightingale air ambulances.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ plea to ban flights and the running of aircraft engines between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The base already suspends flights from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., except in emergencies.

A request to prohibit training flights above the residential and business areas of nearby communities was also denied. USFJ has the right to operate and manage Yokota Air Base under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, the court ruled, and the Japanese government cannot restrict that unless it’s otherwise specified in a treaty or national law.

The court turned down compensation requests from plaintiffs who commute to the area near Yokota, since their exposure to aircraft noise is limited and any settlement would be difficult to determine.

USFJ officials referred all comments to Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration Agency. A spokesman there said DFAA was pleased with some parts of the ruling but disappointed that past compensation was awarded.

“We will try our best to acquire an understanding of the residents living near Yokota Air Base” and help them improve their living environment, said Michio Ishii, head of DFAA’s general affairs department.

Residents near Yokota have waged a drawn-out battle against aircraft noise.

The first in a long series of lawsuits was filed in 1976, demanding that the Japanese government suspend late-night and early-morning flights. Some plaintiffs were eventually compensated in 1994, but the flight schedule was unchanged.

Among those first plaintiffs was Ryuzo Fukumoto, a resident of Akishima city. Fukumoto, who says he still wakes up at night from military planes flying overhead, lives 400 yards from the base and directly under a flight path.

“I did not file a lawsuit because I am against the Japan-U.S. security treaty or the U.S. bases,” said Fukumoto. “I just want them to follow the joint U.S.-Japan commission,” which reserves that local residents and the U.S. bases maintain a relationship of trust.

Fukumoto, also a plaintiff in the case decided Tuesday, said he was disappointed with the verdict. By awarding compensation only, that tells residents to put up with the noise as long as they are paid, he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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