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Businesses like this ramen noodle shop near Yokota Air Base are feeling the effects of Yokota’s 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the area within a block of Akasen-dori, othewise know as Bar Row.
Businesses like this ramen noodle shop near Yokota Air Base are feeling the effects of Yokota’s 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the area within a block of Akasen-dori, othewise know as Bar Row. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Businesses like this ramen noodle shop near Yokota Air Base are feeling the effects of Yokota’s 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the area within a block of Akasen-dori, othewise know as Bar Row.
Businesses like this ramen noodle shop near Yokota Air Base are feeling the effects of Yokota’s 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew on the area within a block of Akasen-dori, othewise know as Bar Row. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)
Katsutoshi Yasumoto, right, and his wife, Yumi, have owned and operated Yumi’s Bar, which sits a block east of Bar Row on a narrow backstreet, since 1967. He estimates 80 percent of his business has disappeared since Yokota’s curfew began two months ago.
Katsutoshi Yasumoto, right, and his wife, Yumi, have owned and operated Yumi’s Bar, which sits a block east of Bar Row on a narrow backstreet, since 1967. He estimates 80 percent of his business has disappeared since Yokota’s curfew began two months ago. (Vince Little / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — More than two months after his predecessor imposed a 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. restriction for “Bar Row,” Col. Scott Goodwin sees no reason to lift it.

But while base officials tout the curfew’s effectiveness, some Yokota airmen say it’s too harsh on the great majority of personnel who don’t engage in misconduct when they head outside the gates. The measure also reportedly has had a significant financial impact on at least one establishment owner.

Col. Mark Schissler, the former Yokota commander, issued the indefinite order after a string of incidents linked to the base’s airmen. It prohibits all Yokota servicemembers from being within a block of Akasen-dori — which lies near Honcho-dori and Fujimi-dori between the base and Fussa Train Station — for five hours each morning.

Goodwin, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, said Friday the policy has produced the desired results. There hasn’t been an incident or injury involving a Yokota community member in the Fussa City entertainment district since it took effect May 9, he said.

“But more importantly, the local city and government officials from Fussa City have received nothing but great feedback from the Japanese residents who live near Bar Row and they’ve shared their satisfaction with us,” Goodwin said. “It’s a win-win situation for both the base and local community.”

Not everybody sees it that way, however.

Katsutoshi Yasumoto, 61, has operated Yumi’s Bar since 1967. It sits a block east of Bar Row on a narrow back street. For 38 years, he and wife Yumi have poured alcoholic beverages and cooked up various late-night favorites for the many U.S. troops who frequent the tiny pub.

He’s open from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and says he can’t recall ever having a major problem inside his establishment. But since the curfew about 80 percent of his business has disappeared, he said.

“I don’t think it’s fair. It makes me so angry,” Yasumoto said. “I wanna ask the base commander: ‘What I do wrong? Why I get punished from base?’ He treat me same as the problem places. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been nice. It’s damaging my livelihood. I never can believe they’d treat me like this.

“Whoever has fights or trouble, let them get punished and placed off-limits,” Yasumoto added. “Not everyone should be punished.”

American customers now drop by his bar for an hour, he said, then head out at 12:30 a.m. to find another place outside the restricted zone.

Yasumoto, who serves as vice president of the Bar Row Owner’s Association, said two nearby bars have closed since the curfew, unable to pay the rent.

He’s sought out Japanese media outlets and complained to Fussa City officials, who told him residents prefer the district’s new, slower pace.

Yasumoto said more Fussa police patrols would prevent many problems along the strip simply by establishing a presence near the most raucous clubs. City officials claimed police are too busy to monitor Bar Row, he said.

“The message is, ‘Quit and go away,’” Yasumoto added. “I’ve been doing business for Americans for a long time. I don’t want to change. My life is here.”

‘A couple of bad apples’Airman 1st Class Jay Patterson and Airman 1st Class Viet Ha, both of the 374th Medical Group, say the restriction has led many servicemembers to alter weekend plans in favor of other metro destinations farther away from Yokota. Those include Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Hachioji — where servicemembers often stay out later than before because Tokyo trains stop running shortly after midnight.

“I didn’t like going to Bar Row much before, but it was nice and convenient ’cause it’s right next to the base,” Ha said while walking down the strip on a recent weeknight. “We do stuff a little bit more during the day. Nighttime out here is boring now.”

Patterson believes the prospects for more serious incidents are higher because of the curfew.

“There’s more chances now of driving and getting a DUI in Roppongi or elsewhere,” he said. “If they think people can’t make good decisions here, why would you think they can make them in Roppongi or farther out?”

Staff Sgt. Mark McGrath of the 730th Air Mobility Squadron, sipping a beer inside Disco Bar International: Latin America, agrees.

“I don’t exactly know why they put the curfew up,” he said. “They talk about all the problems down here. Basically, they’re taking it out on everybody. You should punish the guys who were responsible and leave the rest of us alone.”

Said Patterson: “A couple of bad apples spoiled it for the whole bunch. It’s been effective just because you don’t want to get in trouble with your commander. Do I agree with it? No.”

Not going awayAn airman assigned to the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who asked not to be identified, said the restriction isn’t a bad idea, particularly for young servicemembers fresh out of high school and thrust into a nightlife scene in which alcohol is so readily available. The limited access to Bar Row also has sliced his own bar tabs in half, he mused.

Base officials have declined to say whether special patrols have been dispatched to enforce the restriction.

“The men and women of Yokota Air Base are fully aware of the policy and their full compliance is expected,” Goodwin said. “Our commanders and senior NCOs are doing all the right things to ensure our airmen are adhering to this policy.”

And it’s not likely to be revoked anytime soon, he added.

“Based on the feedback we’re receiving from the Fussa City and local government officials, and the fact that our airmen are staying out of the area during the restricted hours, I see no reason to ease or lift the restriction,” Goodwin said. “The policy is helping to ensure the health and safety of the Yokota community, but as an added bonus, we’re strengthening our local community relations with Fussa City.”

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