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TOKYO — Local ward officials protest a proposal to return part of the U.S. Army’s Akasaka Press Center complex in downtown Tokyo to Japanese control.

The proposal concerns an acre near the complex’s helipad.

The Army and units of Japan’s national and Tokyo governments are discussing a land swap that could let the Army keep its current helipad site on the complex, Tokyo officials have said.

The complex also houses Stars and Stripes, several other military offices and Hardy Barracks, a recreational and residential lodging facility.

But last week, officials from Minato ward wrote the Tokyo government protesting the land swap and requesting that the whole complex be returned to Japanese control.

The swap would involve a plot on the helipad’s northeast side and a similar-sized plot Japan provided the Army in 1983 for a new helipad so a roadway tunnel could be built under the original helipad.

When the tunnel was completed about a decade later, the Army, citing safety concerns, decided it wanted to keep the new site. Being discussed now is returning to Japanese control another part of the complex instead.

The swap “is not restitution … we cannot approve this plan,” ward officials wrote.

They also expressed concern that letting the Tokyo government continue to use the helipad for emergencies might delay indefinitely returning the whole complex to Japanese control.

Nobue Yabe, director of Tokyo’s planning and coordination section, denied the current joint use of the helipad would lead to a permanent U.S. military presence in downtown Tokyo.

“We believe that it is beneficial for the residents for the Tokyo government to be able to use the helicopter pad in times of emergency and disaster,” she said.

U.S. Forces Japan officials on Friday said that no agreement has been reached concerning the heliport and that talks continue.

They deferred further questions to the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

DFAA officials said the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee must discuss the issue before any agreement can be official, but no time has been set for such talks.

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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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