Killing hasn’t raised tensions in Yokosuka community
April 6, 2008
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It was quiet Friday outside Yokosuka Naval Base, a day after a flurry of official apologies and a media frenzy when a U.S. sailor was handed over to Japanese custody in connection with the stabbing death of a taxi driver.
There were no protesters at the gates, and even though the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk had arrived Friday morning, there was no homecoming celebration in the entertainment district.
All Yokosuka personnel are observing a mandated mourning period for the death of Masaaki Takahashi, a 61-year-old taxi driver who was robbed and fatally stabbed in Yokosuka on March 19.
USS Cowpens sailor Seaman Olatunbosun Ugbogu is in Japanese police custody and has admitted to the stabbing, according to police reports.
But in the wake of the crime, Americans and Japanese said it hasn’t altered how the two groups treat each other in the Yokosuka community.
“I haven’t felt any change,” said Miguel Mendoza, a Navy retiree who has lived in Yokosuka for seven years. “It’s a tragedy, but it seems like it’s always the one person who messes everything up for everyone.”
That sentiment was echoed by several Japanese in the community.
“He just happened to be an American, and you can’t say this wouldn’t happen with a Japanese person. It could happen anywhere in the world — it happened to happen here,” said 64-year-old Katsuhiro Funahashi, who was born and raised in Yokosuka. He was more curious about why the sailor did it, he said.
A 37-year-old housewife out walking with her two children said that “anyone” could have been a suspect. But because Americans are different, they stand out, she said.
“Because of the violent incident, I’m scared walking around later in the afternoon and at night,” she said. “But there are many nice American people, and they smile at my children.”
Others said the stabbing made them more fearful of Americans.
High school student Yuzuki Nakayama, 15, said her parents warned her not to go out at night in Yokosuka.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I hope these incidents won’t happen again.”
Taxi driver Yoichi Inonue, 53, said he didn’t like picking up American customers, because he didn’t speak English and was concerned about possible trouble.
Another taxi driver, Hiroaki Sato, 50, works both on and off base. He said there have been discussions about the pros and cons of installing more protective shields in taxicabs.
“I never thought Americans were dangerous,” Sato said. “But it’s hard to tell when something dangerous will happen to you, so I try to avoid trouble.”
Business owners in Yokosuka’s entertainment district known as the Honch had varying opinions about the base’s mourning period, which is scheduled to last at least through Monday and includes a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and a ban on public alcohol consumption.
Restaurant owner Shige Iida closed on Thursday because he didn’t know about the Navy’s new rules and suggested that the Navy inform sailor-centered businesses about the policies.
“Frankly, it will be harsh on the businesses,” Iida said. “But it’s regrettable that this happened and that everyone is being criticized for one person. It also affects the image of the city.”
Yuzuru Saito, a 70-year-old store owner in the Honch, said the decision to implement restrictions is “adequate.”