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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. servicemembers and dependents who carry pocketknives should consider leaving them behind when they venture off base in the future. Japan’s already-strict weapons law became even more stringent this month.

A new law, a revision to the country’s Swords and Firearms Control Law, bans the possession of double-edged knives and tightens gun-ownership rules. The new law went into effect Monday.

Japan’s government enacted the revisions in response to a series of brutal crimes that took place last year throughout the country, including a shotgun shooting spree in Sasebo and a mass stabbing attack in the Akihabara area of Tokyo that killed seven.

The new law adds a ban on possession of double-edged knives such as daggers with blades longer than 2.2 inches; spears, single-edge knives and swords with blades longer than 6 inches; and switchblades that open 45 degrees or more and have blades longer than 2.2 inches.

The law also forbids the possession and use of knives as weapons, but exemptions are made for knives used for cooking, fishing and other utilitarian purposes, and for people who have appropriate authorization, such as for use in competitive sports.

On U.S. bases, knife and sword ownership rules differ among installations and are not affected by the Japanese law.

But, cautioned Joe Tenis, deputy provost marshal for U.S. Forces Japan, going off base with any kind of knife carries a risk.

"Unlike in the States, if you are going off base, keep your pocketknife on base," he said. "If stopped and requested to be searched by Japanese police, explaining the pocket or other knife is for personal protection is not a valid reason for carrying the knife and will likely result in the individual being taken into custody."

Service component and installation commanders provide knife ownership policies and regulations for their installations, Tenis said. He added that while he isn’t aware of any major problems with knives on base, he has heard of a few incidents in the past where a servicemember or dependent was detained by the police off base.

In May 2008, a 27-year-old Marine missed his flight going back to the States after airport officials found a sword with a 14-inch blade in his baggage.

"Servicemembers going off base need to keep their pocket and other knives on base unless there is a valid reason for having the knife, such as going on a fishing or diving trip," said. "And if you are going fishing, you better have a pole with you, too."

Violators face a maximum of three years imprisonment or a fine up to 500,000 yen (about $5,680). According to the Japanese National Police Web site, anyone possessing the newly banned knives must dispose of them by July 4.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.

What types of blades are prohibited?

- Double-edged knives such as daggers, with blades longer than 2.2 inches

- Spears, single-edge knives and swords with blades longer than 6 inches

- Switchblades that open 45 degrees or more and have blades longer than 2.2 inches


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