Okinawans’ opinions vary on American restrictions
Stars and Stripes March 3, 2008
Okinawans offered mixed reactions Friday to the restrictions imposed on U.S. servicemembers, families and civilians on Okinawa under the status of forces agreement.
“It is not fair for family members to be included in the restriction,” a 40-year-old Chatan hair dresser said.
“Business might hurt, but streets are much safer,” a 42-year-old Chatan resident said.
The period of reflection was set Feb. 20 by Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the senior U.S. officer on Okinawa, after two Marines were arrested by Okinawa police and accused in separate alcohol-fueled crimes. Those incidents followed the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Okinawa girl by a Marine a week earlier. That Marine was released by Japanese police Friday after prosecutors decided not to seek an indictment. A U.S. soldier also is under investigation for an alleged Feb. 17 rape.
The restrictions Zilmer imposed curtail all off-base travel unless it is authorized. The policy applies to all active-duty servicemembers and Defense Department civilians, as well as their families, whether they live on or off base.
The restrictions, which Zilmer is to reassess Monday, also apply to Marine bases at Iwakuni and Camp Fuji in mainland Japan.
Around lunchtime, streets at American Village in Chatan were nearly empty, except for occasional tourists and local shoppers. Two employees smoked and killed time outside their restaurant near the shopping area’s Ferris wheel.
Hairdresser Yoshiteru Yunome, 40, shopping at a home-improvement store, believed the restrictions were unavoidable.
“Half of me said it’s something that cannot be helped,” he said. “But the other half of me said that family members, especially women and children, who have nothing to do with the incident, should not be included.
“I think it is a too much a blanket rule.”
A caretaker of a nearby stadium agreed.
“Children should be exempt from the restrictions,” said the 49-year-old Chatan man, who asked not to be named. He added that many SOFA-status Americans who contribute to local communities by doing volunteer work, for instance, also should be exempt.
“The good relations we have established with the military people should be maintained,” he said.
Others were concerned about the impact the restrictions have on the local economy.
“Americans have been completely out of sight,” said a 62-year-old Yomitan housewife, who asked not to be named.
She pointed out that most of the restaurants and coffee shops near military bases are empty. People say military bases are the cause of problems, but Okinawans have enjoyed many benefits from the presence of the military, she said.
“We should see both sides and accept each other, while closely working together,” she said
Some Okinawans welcomed the restrictions.
Business might hurt, but local residents can sleep better while the restrictions are in place, said Takeshi Nakazato, 42, from Chatan.
“Stores and bars along Gate 2 Street might suffer, but residents in back streets say they feel more comfortable knowing that there will be no drunken servicemembers fighting on the streets near their homes,” he said.
Nakazato agreed, however, with an idea to exempt family members from the restrictions.
“I think it is the individual who committed the crime and his supervisor who should be responsible, not the entire people,” he said
In Naha, a group of four college students and some high school classmates split over whether they support the restrictions.
“I think the restrictions should continue for a while,” said Akari Kinjo, 19, of Naha, at a hamburger shop in a Naha mall.
Natsuki Yotsumoto agreed. “I think it is a good way for the military to show that they reflect on the incident,” Yotsumoto said.
“But I heard it’s hurting business near military bases,” Rin Arakaki said.
“I wonder what will happen when the restrictions are lifted,” Arakaki added. “By then, everyone’s frustration is well pent up.”