Atsugi's Friendship Saturday program hasn't ended, officials say
Naval Air Facility Atsugi is not closing its gates to the public due to parking problems even though a Japanese media report stated otherwise, Atsugi officials said Friday.
That the base has not planned another “Friendship Saturday” event is “coincidental” and has nothing to do with Japanese media reports that base visitors were parking in spaces designated for area businesses, base spokesman Brian Naranjo said Friday.
“We have not closed or suspended our friendship program,” Naranjo said. “We just don’t have an event on the calendar. Parking has nothing to do with it. … We are looking forward to our next event and will solidify plans soon.”
NAF Atsugi has been hosting open-base days for several months in an effort to “make a positive and goodwill contribution to community,” Naranjo said.
Each open day draws between 200 and 300 local residents and centers around one or two places on the 1,249-acre Kanto Plain facility, such as the food court or Officers Club, he said.
Parking issues were the reason given in Thursday’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper for the recent pause in Friendship Saturdays. Several surrounding city officials confirmed that they read the report and believed the open events had been cancelled. Yamato’s military affairs division chief, Takashi Yawaka, said after reading the report that if it was true, it was “regrettable.”
“There were people within and outside of the city who looked forward to it,” Yawaka said. “It was something that was never done before.”
The city had not yet heard from the base on the matter, nor did it receive any parking complaints, he said.
Ayase city received one complaint from a supermarket near the base after the second open-base Saturday. The city relayed the complaint to the base, said an Ayase base-affairs official.
Ebina police said they’d heard reports of traffic jams and that people were lined up to enter the base, but they referred all questions to the base.
In October, NAF Atsugi received a call from Yokohama customs officials stating that local residents were visiting the base during friendship events, buying tax-free pizzas and taking them off base. Soon afterward, Naranjo said the base advised Japanese who visit during open houses to buy only what they can consume on base.
The base has no intention of halting friendship events and will continue to work with local governments and police to correct any problems that may come up, Naranjo said.
“We tweak the program a little after every open event,” he said. “It’s not our intention to create an inconvenience. We want our community to get to know us and recognize us as good neighbors. We are guests in the country and this is a way we can reach out to it.”