On the surface, the U.S.-Japan security alliance might seem rosy: ever-closer defense ties, deeper cooperation and a shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region.

But a hero’s welcome home for an American military officer convicted of causing a fatal car crash has reminded the Japanese public of how uneven the relationship can be.

The case of Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis is a divisive one, which both the U.S. and Japanese governments have tried to keep quiet about. The facts that nobody disputes: In 2021, while driving home with his family from Mount Fuji, Alkonis lost consciousness. His car crashed into vehicles parked outside a restaurant, causing the death of an 85-year-old woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law.