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GINOWAN, Okinawa — While the Futenma relocation controversy simmers, the Japanese Diet has passed a defense budget with little fanfare that allocates 186.9 billion yen — or $2.1 billion — for supporting U.S. bases.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the so-called host nation support budget covers about 70 percent of the cost to maintain U.S. bases in Japan.

The fiscal 2010 budget, passed by Japan’s Upper House on Wednesday, is a slight decrease from the 189.7 billion yen budgeted last year. It does not include the $1.4 billion in rents the Japanese government pays to 33,309 individuals and municipal governments that own property used by the U.S. military.

The base support, sometimes called the "sympathy budget," began in 1978 to help the U.S. maintain the bases during a period of dramatic fiscal deficits in the United States. Since then, the cost-sharing has become the norm, rising steadily until the mid-1990s, with slight decreases since then.

The entire defense budget for Japan is $53.2 billion.

The amount for host nation support includes $1.58 billion in salaries and benefits for Japanese base employees, $266.7 million for utilities and $216.7 million for improving base facilities, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Besides host nation support, Japan’s defense budget includes $532 million for the construction of facilities on Guam in preparation for the transfer of 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa and $881 million for other realignment projects, including the Futenma relocation project and moving carrier-based aircraft from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

The current host nation support agreement was signed in 2008 and expires next year. The agreement is renegotiated between the two countries every three years.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.

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