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Bases: Transplanted slices of Americana

by Minoru Matsutani

Edward Papazian, an American, visits the U.S. Navy bases at Yokosuka and Atsugi, both in Kanagawa Prefecture, once every two or three months, escorted by a former navy friend.

His friend has a U.S. military pass that gains him entry to U.S. bases anywhere in the world. Such passes are given to those who work or have worked for the U.S. military. Papazian, 49, like many people, needs someone like his friend with a pass to get him onto a base.

As well as being accompanied by someone with a pass, those who want to enter also need to show their passport and additional identification at the gate.

So when Papazian’s friend drives him to the bases, they are only allowed to enter after the friend shows his military pass at the gate and Papazian displays his passport and alien registration card.

While Americans and Japanese are usually able to enter easily, the rules for allowing visitors of other nationalities to enter differ from base to base, and are not disclosed to the outside world.

Bases have no specific rules as to what nationalities are likely to be denied entry, and whether entry is permitted or not is entirely up to the discretion of each base, said Minoru Toyoshima of the Media Liaison Office of the United States Forces Japan.

“The access procedure varies by base and service component,” Toyoshima said in an e-mail.

People from countries suspected of harboring terrorists naturally tend to be denied entry, Toyoshima said. But not only Middle Eastern nationals, who are often viewed as anti-American, have difficulty entering bases. For example, a Frenchman was denied entry to the Negishi Open Bon Odori Festival in August for the second straight year.

“Bases are fun places to go to,” Papazian said. “It feels kind of strange to see Americans and everything done the American way.”

Seeing American things, however, is not his main purpose for visiting the bases. Rather, he goes there to do his grocery shopping.

“You can get things (on the bases) you cannot get in Japan, most of them hugely cheaper than in Japan,” Papazian said.

For example, two pork chops would cost about ¥300 in Japan, but 12 pieces are sold for around ¥320 on the bases, he said. He also likes to buy olives, cheese, vegetables, grits and clothes.

Supermarkets on U.S. bases worldwide are run by the military’s purchasing department, the Post Exchange, more commonly known as the PX.

The official PX members are the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the Navy Exchange Service and the Marine Corps Exchange.

However, most people refer to a supermarket on a U.S. base as a PX.

“Only people with a military pass can buy at a PX,” Papazian said. He is not allowed to enter the PX in Yokosuka, while in Atsugi he can enter with his friend, load up a shopping cart and go to a cash register, where his friend buys the goods for him.

However, a base PX is the only supermarket handling groceries, although it may offer brand items carried in many major commercial retail outlets in the U.S., he said.

In fact, with their bowling alleys, movie theaters and various McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell outlets, the installations provide a self-contained microcosm of Americana, he said.

“U.S. personnel and their families in Japan are forward-based far from home, specifically to support the defense of Japan, and they rely on these facilities, especially in countries that differ in language and culture,” Toyoshima of the Media Liaison Office said.

Japan earmarks about ¥200 billion a year to cover expenses for U.S. bases, including the salaries of Japanese employees, utility fees and construction costs of entertainment facilities.

The budget, which the U.S. calls Host Nation Support and Japan calls “omoiyari yosan” (sympathy budget), peaked at ¥275 billion in 1999, before falling to ¥188 billion this year.

U.S. bases in Japan also have open-house events several times a year to nurture friendship with local communities.

The occasions are often related to seasonal events such as cherry blossom viewing and Bon “odori” dances.

The Yokosuka base has three annual one-day weekend events open to the public — the Spring Festival in late March or early April, the Yokosuka Navy Friendship Day in early August and Omikoshi Parade CFAY (Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka) Yokosuka in September.

The date of the next Spring Festival is unknown, base spokeswoman Kyoko Sugita said.

The Yokota base has one such event a year, the Friendship Festival, a two-day weekend event usually held in August.

A Japanese woman, 24, who wished to remain anonymous, remembers visiting the navy’s Atsugi installation when she was a high school student, with her former classmate and the classmate’s father, who was a navy sailor.

She remembers going to one of the base’s restaurants and visiting a swimming pool, where a lifeguard tested whether she could float for a minute in the deep end, she said.

She returned to the Atsugi base with her Japanese friend for its Bon odori friendship open-house event Aug. 14 this year.

They waited in a line of about 30 people at Anthony Pizza, which had a tent on a street selling huge pizzas, much bigger than the large pizzas of off-base Domino’s and Pizza-La outlets.

Anthony Pizza is famous online because lots of Japanese have written about it on their blogs, she said.

“We ate one there and bought another to take home,” she said.