Stennis visit a boost to Japan's economy
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A recent visit by the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis was a $1.9 million shot in the arm of the shaky local economy here, according to figures released this week by the U.S. Navy.
The money flowed into Japanese harbor services, vendors and tourism businesses over the four-day visit, matching the amount taken in during a similar port call by the USS Ronald Reagan one year ago, officials said.
Navy retailers, fast-food shops and recreation centers on base also made more than $1.5 million during the February visit.
The total $3.5 million tally was part of Sasebo Naval Base’s annual economic report that will be presented to the city in coming days, according to base spokesman Charles Howard.
The Navy figures show the carrier visits, though still controversial, provide a significant source of revenue for Japanese businesses and workers, who have struggled as the global economy faltered over the past year.
In recent months, Sasebo has seen its second-largest industrial company, Tsuji Heavy Industries, declare bankruptcy, and a hotel at its most famous tourist attraction, Huis Ten Bosch, announce it will close due to a downturn in visitors.
Carrier visits are not met with much public enthusiasm from the Japanese and often trigger debate and some protest in Sasebo. Critics downplay the economic contribution of the port calls, and protesters gather to oppose the U.S. military, war and nuclear weapons.
"While there are various voices concerning port calls of U.S. aircraft carriers, both positive and negative, it is necessary for us to verify the economic impacts," said Yukihiko Nakajima, chief of Sasebo City’s Commerce and Industry Department.
Nakajima said the city has been studying the visits for years.
"Whenever an aircraft carrier makes a port call, it generates various positive economic impacts in our city," he said.
Japanese port companies and workers made the most — $976,000 — for services provided during the carrier’s stay, according to the Navy base. The money covered barges, water taxis, potable water and a floating crane.
Local vendors also set up sales booths and stocked vending machines on the base while about 5,300 Stennis sailors took shore leave over the weekend. Those businesses earned $84,543.
Long lines at ATMs snaked around buildings over the weekend, and customers withdrew $800,000 worth of yen, which was likely spent in the Japanese economy, Howard said.
He said it was not possible to track credit card transactions made by visiting sailors but that those purchases would likely increase the economic contribution.
Tourism generated $48,488 but attracted far fewer sailors during the Stennis visit than the USS Ronald Reagan visit at about the same time last year, according to the base.
Morale, Welfare and Recreation reported that 814 sailors went on tours with local tour bus companies and MWR. During the Reagan visit, 2,700 sailors participated in tours.
"Overall, visiting Sailors appear to have spent more time and money on base than previous visiting aircraft carrier crewmembers did," the report found.
Still, the off-base revenue had a significant effect on the city economy, said Yosei Matsumoto, a Sasebo City Council member and member of the council’s Special Committee on Military Affairs.
"Although we don’t have solid data on how much the crewmembers spent in the town, it was obvious that the city greatly benefited by the port call," he said. "Even if the spending for each person might have been small, there were 5,000 crewmembers, which means that the number of people on the military base doubled."