The government said Monday it has agreed to buy an uninhabited island in Kagoshima Prefecture with an eye to letting the U.S. military use it for takeoff and landing practice.
The ¥16 billion ($146 million) acquisition of 8-sq.-km Mage Island will pave the way for relocating the practice site for U.S. carrier-borne fighters from Iwo Jima.
"It's important to secure the site for field carrier landing practice from the viewpoint of security, so we will continue to try to build a permanent facility at an early date," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference. The agreement was reached Friday.
The U.S. used to conduct takeoff and landing practice at Atsugi air base in Kanagawa Prefecture, but the training site was moved to Iwo Jima in the 1990s on a temporary basis due to complaints about noise.
The fighters were all transferred further south from Atsugi to another U.S. base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, last year, making the flight to the island even longer. As a result, the United States asked Japan to prepare a more convenient and permanent location for the drill.
Mage Island is about 400 km from Iwakuni, while Iwo Jima is 1,400 km away.
Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda hailed the central government's announcement as a "big step forward."
"Building a permanent training facility is necessary to reduce worries among local people (in Iwakuni). We'd like to ask the government to have the facility completed quickly," Fukuda said in a statement.
With most of the land owned by a Tokyo-based development company, Mage became a candidate site under a U.S. military realignment accord between Japan and the United States in 2011.
In May, the landowner broke off negotiations with the government following a change of president. The two sides resumed talks this fall.