U.S. sailors in Japan once more allowed on the town after bar ban lifted

by Alastair Wanklyn

Staff Writer

Bars near U.S. naval bases in Japan expect business to return to normal after an in-town drinking ban for sailors was lifted Tuesday morning.

In a statement, the U.S. Navy said it lifted the ban imposed on June 6 for all personnel, saying alcohol awareness training is complete and off-duty sailors are permitted once more to decompress in bars away from naval bases.

However, a 10 p.m. cut-off time will be in force and individuals of lower rank must be accompanied by a designated drinking buddy, an expansion of a system that earlier applied only to those on temporary assignment to Japan.

An employee who answered the phone Tuesday afternoon at Buffalo’s, a bar near the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, said business has been difficult and “kind of boring” during the three-week ban.

“We don’t see any navy here right now, but we heard that they can come out so we are expecting to get them in the evening,” he said.

The navy imposed the nationwide ban on alcohol after several drunken-driving incidents, including one in Okinawa in which a sailor drove on the wrong side of the road and struck two cars, injuring two people.

Commanders in Okinawa are on edge following the apparent murder of a local woman. A U.S. civilian contractor has been arrested in the case.

Street protests indicate the incident has fueled anti-U.S. sentiment. It also drew sharp words from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a face-to-face encounter with U.S. President Barack Obama in May.

The U.S. Navy said all sailors have now received training on responsible drinking from their unit commanders. Civilian employees and family members are requested to observe the 10 p.m. cut-off time voluntarily, although orders of this kind cannot be enforced for nonmilitary individuals.

“I’m encouraged that our sailors have embraced the remediation training and understand the role they play in the alliance with Japan,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, said in the statement. “We’re on a good start, a good trend, and I want this to continue.”

Separately, Jiji Press reported Monday that Japanese officials aim to soften protections given to civilian workers under by the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement, a pact that limits Japanese jurisdiction over offenders depending on the employment status of the suspect and when the crime occurred.

Washington has said it is cooperating in reviewing the text, although discussions are thought to be at an early stage and the U.S. side has not said it will consent to changing the jurisdiction of civilian personnel.