Noise complaints pit Sasebo skateboarders against neighbors of popular downtown park

Sasebo City Assemblyman Yosei Matsumoto talks with skateboarders Friday at Shimanose Park.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 26, 2007

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — As the heat waned here Friday night, City Assemblyman Yosei Matsumoto approached three tattooed Japanese men, who sat smoking on benches at a downtown park.

The assemblyman was pursuing an unlikely topic of Japanese-American relations — skateboarding.

The men were among Japanese and Americans who skateboard together at night in Shimanose Park, something that has upset Japanese residents living in high-rises near the center of the city arcade.

Police are continually called to the park for skateboarding noise complaints despite signs warning against skating and a newly built city facility for skateboarders beside Nimitz Park, according to the assemblyman.

Matsumoto politely explained the situation Friday to the Japanese skaters. That night, no Americans were in sight, but Matsumoto said he wants to get the message out.

“They [skate] until midnight, and people can’t sleep,” he said.

Seaman Heath Auerbach, an avid skateboarder, said downtown is attractive to many skateboarders, even though it causes some conflict with neighbors.

“A lot of Americans, they go right next to Starbucks [to Shimanose Park],” Auerbach said. “It’s the only place they can go, and they get in trouble for that.”

Base residents should be mindful of Japanese sensitivities and adhere to any areas posted to prohibit skateboarding, according to base spokesman Charles Howard.

Shimanose Park is posted with several signs in both English and Japanese.

“If informed by local police certainly, or perhaps even shop owners or passers-by that their activity was being a nuisance, we would expect our personnel to cease the activity,” Howard said in an e-mail response.

Auerbach said the noise problems could be solved by creating a new skateboarding park.

Such community parks are common undertakings in the United States and provide the half-pipes, ramps and rails that can be more attractive than the benches and stone walls at public parks.

Skate parks also can increase enforcement of safety gear such as helmets, Auerbach said.

“It would give a place to go and the Japanese people would love it,” Auerbach said.

Sasebo Naval Base offers some skateboarding equipment — ramps and jumps — near the recreation center, but the area competes with other activities such as basketball, he said.

Sasebo City has tried to lure skateboarders from downtown with a temporary skate area but with little luck.

The small patch of land between the city’s future expressway and Nimitz Park has no basic amenities common to skate parks.

A lack of lighting at night also was a problem and kept some skaters away, said Shuhei Satomoto, who recently visited the area with three friends.

The city added more lighting. Still, the skate area remains deserted most days.

However, Auerbach’s suggestion may yet become a reality — the spartan city skate area is only temporary until the adjacent Sasebo expressway project is completed.

Sometime after 2010, a new layout for Nimitz Park will be planned, and a permanent, more-equipped skate park could be a component, according to city planners.