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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Yokosuka’s Honch district was quiet on Wednesday but not somber.

Most people had yet to hear of the death of Katsumi Nakagawa, 70, after an altercation at local bar with a U.S. Navy civilian.

But Honch liquor-store owner Kimie Noji had read in a local newspaper about Nakagawa, who died of a head injury four days after falling outside the Honch’s Live Bar Buzz.

Navy civilian Robert Nolan, 54, is in Japanese custody. Yokosuka police reported that he worked at Live Bar Buzz and is thought to have pushed an intoxicated Nakagawa out of the bar after the Japanese man caused trouble inside.

“I was surprised when I read the article,” Noji said. “I don’t know all the details since they weren’t reported — but if the person who committed (the crime) didn’t have bad intentions, it is a calamity to that person as well” as to the man who died.

Nolan, a GS-14, works at Yokosuka Naval Base as the Commander, Naval Forces Japan personnel management officer.

Yokosuka police are investigating the case under the potential charge of “bodily injury resulting in death,” which carries a sentence of from three to 20 years in prison. As of Wednesday night, no charges had been filed.

Several Americans at the base expressed regret about the death and concern about how the incident would impact the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

Most brought up a USS Kitty Hawk sailor’s Jan. 3 robbery-homicide of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman and the ensuing protests, liberty restrictions and political turmoil. Although many said this case has different circumstances, they also said the U.S. military needs to tread lightly in Japan.

“It’s hard to compare what happened in January to what happened last week — both situations were different,” said dependent Derron Brown. “But it seems like this could have been avoided by calling the Japanese police and asking them to remove the guy. The military is going through enough over here without this.”

“I’m saddened by the whole thing,” said Yokosuka Middle School teacher Thomas Amend. “We’re all still numb from what happened in January, but I’m relieved that this seems like a different situation. The part of me who loves Japan and loves the U.S. military is hoping that it was an accident more than anything.”

“It’s unfortunate that these things happen,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathaniel Blood. “But over here, we have to be especially careful as an unfortunate thing can turn into an international incident.”

“This could happen between Japanese people,” agreed Yokosuka resident Shoji Kawaguchi, “but when it involves foreigners, it gets more attention.”

Asked about actions the Navy has taken to prevent incidents, Kawaguchi said, “I think they are good efforts but, as with the Japanese,” avoiding trouble “is a matter of individual common sense.”

He said he’s concerned about the death but believes Yokosuka would not “stand out” if the base didn’t exist.

Honch clothing store owner Takeo Wagatsume said although he’d not heard of the death and such incidents don’t impact his business, Japanese people drinking in the Honch is a bad idea.

“When one cannot understand English, there is a concern that troubles tend to occur easier,” Wagatsume said. “They probably could not communicate, and alcohol was involved.”

CNFJ released a statement Tuesday extending “its deepest sympathies to the family of Mr. Nakagawa” and said the Navy will continue to work closely with Japanese authorities on the case.

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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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