YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japanese police had not identified a suspect as of Friday evening in the stabbing death of a taxi driver Wednesday night in Yokosuka.

A Commander Naval Forces Japan official said Thursday that a Yokosuka-based sailor was being sought for questioning in the case. The sailor is not a suspect, said CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman, but “he may have information related to the crime.” Neither the U.S. Navy nor Kanagawa prefectural police would discuss the sailor Friday.

The sailor — who sources say is a seaman apprentice off the Yokosuka-based USS Cowpens guided-missile cruiser — was identified Thursday as a “person of interest” who may have information about the crime. The sailor has been in an unauthorized absence status, Waterman said.

Several sources who did not want to be named said the sailor has been absent since March 1. CNFJ referred all inquires Friday to the Japanese police due to the “ongoing” nature of the investigation.

“The Japanese police are running the investigation and we are cooperating with them,” said CNFJ spokesman Jon Nylander.

Masaaki Takahashi, 61, was found in his taxi near Shioiri station with a knife in his neck, the police spokesman said.

There were no signs of struggle, the spokesman said, adding that Takahashi was wearing his seat belt and the taxi’s motor was running when he was found by a resident of the area. An autopsy later determined Takahashi died at about 9:30 p.m. due to bleeding caused by the blade cutting his thoracic aorta, the spokesman said.

Tens of thousands of yen were found in Takahashi’s pocket, the police spokesman said.

But police would not confirm Japanese media reports that a credit card bearing the name of a U.S. sailor was also found in the car, nor would they talk about their search for him.

Every car was searched Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base and in the housing areas. At the gates Friday, U.S. pedestrians were subject to bag searches and metal detectors upon entering and leaving the base. When asked about the added security, base spokeswoman Michelle Stewart said the identification checks and bag screenings are “normal procedure.”

The additional search with a metal detector wand was used only on Americans because the “base commander has the legal right to tell Americans what they can bring on and off base” — a right that doesn’t extend to the Japanese in their own community, she said.

But Americans grumbled outside base gates Friday morning as they waited in long lines in blowing rain while their Japanese peers passed them by. Many sailors said they expected this kind of treatment after what happened.

“What do you expect?” asked one sailor in line.

Yokosuka city officials also asked the Navy to put their best effort toward finding all sailors on unauthorized absence status as soon as possible, said Takehiko Akimoto, the city’s military base division chief.

Takahashi was characterized as a single man who had “personal magnetism” and “took care of new employees,” said Hiroyuki Watanabe, corporate officer for the ANZEN Group taxi company’s Shinagawa office.

Takahashi had worked for the company for seven years and usually drove around Tokyo, Watanabe said. The company did not know where Takahashi had been driving on Wednesday night because his taxi wasn’t equipped with a Global Positioning System or a camera, Watanabe said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chris Fowler contributed to this story.

author picture
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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