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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Results of a survey taken two months before several crimes involving U.S. sailors made local headlines found that the naval base has gained more approval with Japanese who live in the city of Yokosuka.

The citywide survey taken in November, shortly after the Navy announced a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would eventually replace the conventionally powered USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka, revealed that 19.3 percent of residents said having the U.S. base there is better than not having it and 45.2 percent said it is inevitable that the base must be there. The city counted both figures as approval of the base’s presence, for a total of about 65 percent.

That’s an 8 percentage-point increase over an identical survey taken in 2002, despite widely publicized protests from groups that oppose basing a nuclear-powered warship in Japan.

The number of people who said they opposed the base fell to 25 percent, compared to about 31 percent in the previous survey.

The survey — conducted every three years by the city of Yokosuka — was sent out in November to 2,000 randomly chosen residents of different genders, ages and areas of the city. Its purpose is to gauge residents’ reactions to city decisions. Findings were released Feb. 13.

Results show the city’s policy of hosting the base is on the right track, said Masakazu Fukumoto, the city’s planning and coordination division official.

“It does not reflect any specific policies but shows that the residents’ feelings toward the base is not bad,” Fukumoto said. “It shows that the city’s policy is not wrong.”

The survey was conducted before the Jan. 3 robbery and killing of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman and several lesser crimes in which U.S. sailors have been accused.

This month, a joint committee of U.S. Navy and local Japanese groups and officials was formed to combat crime in Yokosuka. At first called the “Committee to Prevent Crimes Committed by U.S. Servicemembers,” the group’s name later was changed to “Downtown Yokosuka Public Safety Promotion Group.”

“Terrorism” and “situations in neighboring countries” likely played a role this year’s results, Fukumoto said.

Those giving the base the thumbs up in 2002 did so for reasons of security (40 percent), international friendship (27 percent) and contribution to the local economy (26 percent).

In the most recent survey, security concerns were way up (58 percent), while local economy (20 percent) and friendship (13 percent) were down.

The base’s approval rate increases every time the poll is taken, Fukumoto said.

This year’s results didn’t surprise Miyuki Johnson, who lives with her active-duty military husband off base in Yokosuka city.

“Most Japanese think Americans are OK — it’s just a few people who do bad things,” Johnson said. “Some people don’t like the base, but I think most people don’t mind it.”

However, some people — especially young sailors — may be surprised at how they’re viewed in the community, said Petty Officer 1st Class Barry Harmon.

“I don’t think a lot of our junior people understand the concept of how Americans are perceived,” Harmon said. “Many haven’t lived outside the United States, some never lived outside their own towns, and they don’t know how to live in another culture.”

For his part, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander found favor with the results.

“The Navy is always pleased to know that people accept us and enjoy having us here,” Nylander said. “The majority of people on base might not realize that.”

The survey says ...

The survey was sent in November to 2,000 randomly chosen residents Yokosuka city residents 15 or older, of different sex, age groups and areas of the city. Results were announced this month. In the survey:

Asked what they thought about the U.S. base, 19.3 percent of residents (compared with 18.4 percent in 2002) said having the U.S. base there is better than not having it; 45.2 percent (37.9 percent in 2002) said it is inevitable and 24.5 percent (30.4 percent in 2002) said not having a U.S. base there would be better. Answering “neither”: 6.9 percent (8.5 percent in 2002). Answering “don’t know”: 4.0 percent (4.7 percent in 2002).Among those who said it is better to have a U.S. base, 57.6 percent (40.0 percent in 2002) said it’s necessary for Japan’s security; 20.4 percent (26.5 percent in 2002) said it contributes to the local economy; 13.1 percent (27.6 percent in 2002) said it helps international friendship; 3.7 percent (1.8 percent in 2002) said it would be reassuring in times of disaster, and 5.2 percent (4.1 percent in 2002) said “other.”Among those who said not having a U.S. base would be better, 45.5 percent (38.3 percent in 2002) cited the possibility of being involved in the dangers of war; 23.4 percent (31 percent in 2002) said the base’s central location impedes their city’s development; 18.3 percent (20.8 percent in 2002) said they worry about crimes and accidents; 5.1 percent (4.4 percent in 2002) said putting military bases in urban areas such as Yokosuka is unfair; and 7.7 percent (5.5 percent in 2002) said “other.”— Stars and Stripes

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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