Residents near Futenma base in Okinawa win ¥754 million in damages over noise


The Okinawa branch of the Naha District Court ordered the government on Thursday to pay some ¥754 million in damages to residents near the Futenma air base because of aircraft noise.

Some 2,200 plaintiffs who live close to the controversial U.S. base in Ginowan complained of mental distress, poor sleep and disruption to their daily lives.

In seeking about ¥1 billion in damages from the central government, they also said they feared aircraft crashes, according to lawyers representing the plaintiffs and their lawsuit.

“The noise damage suffered by the plaintiffs is serious and widespread,” presiding Judge Satoshi Hikage said in the ruling, adding that the court found that the damage reached an unacceptable level.

The judge acknowledged that the base serves the interest of the people in the country, and that it can only be served with the sacrifice of a minority of people. But he said that does not mean they should accept the damage. The use of the air base by the U.S. military therefore “violates the rights of the plaintiffs.”

The ruling comes as Japan and the United States are seeking to move Futenma to a less densely populated area further north on Okinawa Island and return the land at Ginowan to Japanese control. Local opposition is running high, however, and many people in Okinawa want the base moved outside the prefecture altogether.

“I’m relieved that damages were awarded,” said Sogi Ganaha, a plaintiff in the suit who lives about 300 meters from the base. “Whenever I hear the roaring of a helicopter circling above my head, I remember the war 70 years ago. I’ve wanted to get compensated for my daily suffering.”

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, an opponent of the plan to relocate Futenma within the prefecture, hailed the ruling as “meaningful.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga argued the government had failed to fully explain its arguments to the court.

“We will adequately deal with this after coordination among the ministries and agencies concerned,” he said at a news conference.

The suit follows a similar one filed by local residents in October 2002. In that case, the Fukuoka High Court ordered the government in July 2010 to pay about ¥369 million in damages to the plaintiffs. But it rejected their plea to suspend early morning and evening flights.

The latest suit was filed in 2012 by individuals who were not plaintiffs in the earlier case.

During the trial, the government sought an exemption and to reduce the sum of compensation, arguing that some of the plaintiffs had moved to the area knowing that an air base existed there, and that the government had taken measures to reduce noise, such as funding noise abatement work on homes.

The plaintiffs’ damages were reduced as the court recognized that the government’s noise abatement measures had been effective, to some extent.

The court also dismissed the claims of around 80 plaintiffs who lived in areas where the noise level is below 75 on the Weighted Equivalent Continuous Perceived Noise Level, or WECPNL, an internationally recognized index for aircraft noise.

The decision was in line with the 2010 Fukuoka High Court ruling, in which the WECPNL of 75 or above formed the benchmark for ordering government compensation.

The court did not acknowledge the suffering the plaintiffs said was caused by low-frequency sounds from helicopters, citing a lack of evidence.

  • Glen Clancy
  • JimmyJM

    What a racket (no pun intended – well maybe a little). Move close to an air base and then sue the government because it’s too noisy. Look at photos of the surrounding area of the airbases from pre-war and just after and see how sparsely populated that area is. So the huge majority of the people who moved there did so knowing that an air base was nearby. Another clue might have been how cheap the land was in comparison to other areas further away.

    • Testerty

      The Okinawan has only one small island. Everywhere in Okinawa is close to the airbase. Perhaps you want to tell the Okinawan to move into the sea…

      • JimmyJM

        And Naha Airport is very near Futenma. Why didn’t they sue the transport ministry for the noise from Naha Airport? Everyone wants to live in the city. There are airports in the city.

      • Testerty

        When they build Naha Airport, everybody living nearby were compensated. In Okinawa, the Americans just took over the island and ruled Okinawa for 30 years.

      • JimmyJM

        Not so. Only those owning the land that the Naha airport was built on received compensation. No one nearby received compensation for noise. The Americans took the existing Japanese bases at the end of the war. At that time, there were very few people living near them or near what was to become Naha airport. The people in this article received your and my tax money for having the foresight to move near the bases and then sue the government because of the noise. The court let them get away with this scam.

      • Testerty

        The American and Japanese government build a massive military airfield right in the middle of a small Okinawa island where the population are are evacuated by force, and you call the victim Okinawan scammers?

      • JimmyJM

        I don’t think you’ve got the facts on that air base (which island? when?) but no, I’m not calling them scammers, I’m calling the people about whom this article was written “scammers”. If you’re not sure who I’m talking about, go back and read this article again.

      • Testerty

        You are calling legitimate plaintiff’s against the American airfield as scammer. How can they “scam” when it is the Japanese court that took their case and awarded them the victory? In fact, people who called them “scammers” are actually scamming them of their rights.

      • JimmyJM

        You again miss the whole point. They moved near the base knowing it was there. Most people know that airports and air bases come with aircraft noise. It’s to be expected. They moved there knowing that and planned to sue to get money to compensate them for the noise that they knew would be there. The court went along for political reasons. It’s the same as if you moved near a garbage dump and then sued for compensation because of the bad smell. The government should appeal to a higher court but probably won’t because of the publicity.

      • Testerty

        Who said they moved ? You?

      • JimmyJM

        So you believe all the people who sued for noise lived there before the base was built?

      • Testerty

        Well, the court agrees with their version. So who are you to question the Japanese court, unless you think they are corrupted or politically incline.

  • Chuck

    It’s good to hear that “ignorance” is alive and well on “the keystone of the pacific”! I can’t wait to hear their cries for help from the US when China becomes a little bolder. LMAO

    • Helmut Kostreba

      If they do, they might finally be heard through the noise.