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Good fences may make good neighbors.

But in most cases, careful attention to trash rules and the volume control on the television go much further in making a lasting impression on the family next door.

With that in mind, Sasebo Naval Base leaders last week invited the city’s neighborhood leaders onto base to talk about the Americans who live in their communities.

The meeting marked the first time the U.S. Navy has invited these volunteer cho, or neighborhood, leaders to the base to listen to their concerns and ideas.

“Most of the (cho) leaders are appreciative of how the sailors are acting out in town,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Marcos Sibal, the top enlisted sailor at Sasebo. “We just told them — any issue you have, I want you to call.”

In Sasebo, on-base housing is at a premium. Currently, 675 single sailors and base workers live off-base, and 434 families live in Sasebo’s neighborhoods. That’s about 52 percent of the base’s population, according to Sasebo’s public affairs office.

With all those Americans living in a foreign country with different customs, leaders at Sasebo thought it was time for a meeting with community leaders, Sibal said. One Sasebo city assemblyman who attended the meeting agreed.

“I thought it was a very good thing,” said Sasebo Assemblyman Yosei Matsumoto, who also was a cho leader in Akasaki for 17 years. Matsumoto said most problems between American renters and Japanese neighbors usually involve noise and trash.

“People don’t know how to deal with these issues since there are problems such as language barrier,” he said. “They feel emotionally distant.”

At the meeting, one cho leader said landlords often have only one American name to refer to, the person who signed the lease. Sometimes those who cause problems are visitors or others staying at the apartment. The Japanese leaders asked for help tracking down those people, Sibal said, and the command agreed to help.

Matsumoto said he thought the meeting was too short, as there was only time for leaders to answer two or three questions. But he added that Sasebo commander Capt. Tilghman Payne wants to meet quarterly.

Matsumoto hopes more planning will be done for the next meeting, such as sending the invitation in written Japanese and conducting surveys of problems they are facing.

“I definitely hope the meeting will continue,” he said. “It is a way to solve any concerns and complaints.”

Sibal said the command is ready to help. And before the meeting was over, he gave each cho leader his business card and cell-phone number.

“Now, they know how to contact us,” Sibal said last week.

Of course, neighbors often move, especially in the Navy. This week, Sibal was named the top enlisted sailor for 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka. He is expected to move to his new job in less than two weeks, according to the Sasebo public affairs office.

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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