Popular website’s shutdown irks military users in Japan
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A popular website among U.S. military personnel in Japan remains shut down by its private parent company, following Navy allegations that the site’s administrator conducted business off-base without its required approval.
Although Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) officials said the Navy made no request that Japanbases.com be shut down, the private site’s registered owner said the company felt pressured into the shutdown to preserve site administrator Adam Jones’ job as an on-base military contractor.
The site’s June 13 closure — and Jones’ public silence — has led to confusion and disappointment among many of the 2,000 registered members who say they had come to rely on Japanbases.com’s as a valuable part of their daily lives.
“It’s just one of the best things that ever came around,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Rob Collins, a Yokosuka-based sailor. “It was kind of like a Facebook just for Yokosuka.”
Although the majority of the site’s activity centered on forums where users discussed everyday living at bases in Japan, the site also included a news feed and occasional complaints about base practices — as well as a new home listings section that ultimately led to the Yokosuka Naval Base complaint against Jones.
Many of the site’s members have voiced frustration about the shutdown on a Facebook page titled “Put www.JapanBases.com back online!!” The page had 301 followers as of Thursday. The website was receiving 90,000 unique hits per month and 15,000 new visitors per week, according to messages posted prior to its shutdown.
Jones declined to comment on the matter, saying he feared that speaking out could jeopardize his full-time job as a secure Web developer for Logistical Support, Incorporated, known as LSInc.
CFAY sent a message June 9 to LSInc. stating that Jones had violated a base regulation covering off-base employment in Japan for workers in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement, according to base spokesman Michelle Stewart.
CFAY officials denied a public records request by Stars and Stripes for the correspondence, citing privacy issues. Phone messages left with LSInc. were not returned.
Japanbases.com is owned by NoJo Solutions, a Georgia-based limited liability corporation that Jones transferred ownership to after meeting with CFAY legal officials last year, said Robin Noe, who is the company’s registered owner and Jones’ mother.
Last year, the same legal officials in a meeting with Jones asked him to apply for permission to run the website after he began allowing advertisements.
Instead, Jones removed all advertising and left the meeting believing that if he were an unpaid volunteer and retained no ownership stake, CFAY could not exercise any control over the site or his activities, Noe said.
Following the ownership transfer, CFAY raised no objections until the base housing office received a phone call in late May from a Yokosuka real estate agent asking if she would be required to use Jones’ site. Japanbases.com had recently launched a housing section that allowed users to target home searches by type, price, agent and other features like the number of bedrooms.
Jones had told local agents that they could post home listings free for one year, after which japanbases.com would consider charging for the listings.
By discussing possible fees, Jones violated a 2008 CFAY regulation requiring personnel working on the base to ask for permission from the command within seven days before conducting commercial activity, said base legal officer Lt. Jonathan Flynn.
Commercial activity, he said, includes “representing a company for future financial gains.”
Later, CFAY relayed another message to Yokosuka real estate agents stating that Jones “dispersed false information about providing rental house information, saying that information will no longer be provided by the housing office …,” according to a document obtained and translated from Japanese by Stars and Stripes.
However, base officials did not ask Jones for his account of what happened, citing their standard procedure of notifying a contractor’s employer.
Six real estate agents told Stars and Stripes that Jones made no false claims to them, and that they hoped the site would return. Three others, including the agent who initially called the base housing office, said they did not understand Jones, who does not speak fluent Japanese.
Meanwhile, former japanbases.com users like Chancie Parmley hope that the website and the base can resolve the dispute.
Parmley said she would not have been prepared to move her family to Yokosuka without help from the site’s users. She also had a ready-made group of friends waiting for her when she arrived.
“I was terrified to come here. I went from that to total excitement because japanbases.com made me feel that way. … We’re pretty committed to do what we have to do to get that site back.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Teri Weaver and Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.