YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A can of Georgia coffee. Sake. Cigarettes and a portable ashtray. All things a Japanese taxi driver may want with him in the afterlife.

Such small offerings and flowers were placed in the quiet alley where just more than a week ago, on March 19, Masaaki Takahashi was found leaned over in his taxi, fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife.

As of Friday evening, Japanese police had neither named a suspect nor asked to question the U.S. Navy sailor whose credit card was found in the 61-year-old taxi driver’s vehicle.

The sailor, a seaman apprentice with the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens, is in custody at Yokosuka Naval Base.

The Navy is conducting its own investigation into a desertion charge against the sailor, who had been absent from his command for weeks before the incident, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman said Friday.

“He is being detained for the desertion charge,” Waterman said.

The sailor turned himself over to Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents March 22 in Tokyo.

Whether NCIS was questioning the sailor about the murder was “only being shared between the two agencies,” Waterman said, meaning the Japanese police and NCIS.

Both the Navy and a Kanagawa prefectural police spokesman declined to say whether the Navy provided the sailor’s fingerprints, saliva or hair to the police. But sources close to the investigation said they were provided last week.

Kanagawa police issued a news release on the status of the investigation Wednesday, saying that police had spoken with 1,296 people from 411 households, 422 taxi drivers and workers from 126 companies. Eight people came forward with information, including two who may have seen the taxi in the area near the Shioiri area of Yokosuka where the stabbing occurred, the release said.

Takahashi, a single, Tokyo-based taxi driver, died around 9:30 p.m. after an 8-inch knife was thrust into his neck, according to police.

There were no signs of a struggle, as Takahashi was found wearing his seat belt, and the motor was still running, the police said.

The taxi’s fare meter showed about 17,000 yen, about $170. Several tens of thousands in yen also were found in Takahashi’s pocket, police said.

One of the area’s residents said Thursday that his family heard short screams around 9:30 p.m. on the day of the killing. The man looked out the window and saw the taxi.

“He (the driver) was not moving at all,” he said. The man, who did not want to be identified, said he feels unsafe after the incident.

If an American servicemember turns out to be a suspect, he said, he wouldn’t want him or her “to be let out of the base” but added that it was “hard to say” as Japanese people commit crimes, too.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the special investigation task force at 046-824-8931.

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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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