After accident, the US Navy bans drinking on Okinawa

The US Navy banned drinking and restricted off-base activities, following the arrest of a American sailor for allegedly driving drunk, the latest in a series of crimes committed by US service members on the Japanese island.

Koji Harada/Kyodo News/AP
Protesters scuffle with riot police outside Camp Schwab, an American base, in Okinawa, southern Japan, in 2014. The US Navy on Monday banned all personnel from drinking following the arrest of an American sailor on suspicion of driving drunk.

The US Navy has banned drinking and restricted off-base activities for its personnel in Japan, after an American sailor was arrested Sunday on suspicion of driving drunk and crashing head-on with two other vehicles on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

The arrest of Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia comes just a month after a former US Marine was charged with the brutal slaying of an Okinawa woman, and is the latest in a series of crimes involving American service members on the southern Japanese island. Locals and politicians have insisted Americans leave the island. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been torn over meeting these demands, as Japan and the United States strengthen their military ties to combat Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

Ms. Mejia was arrested Sunday after she drove the wrong way on a freeway, colliding head-on with two other vehicles. Two people in the other cars were slightly injured, according Takashi Shirado, a police spokesman.

The next day, the Navy banned all its personnel in Japan from drinking, and restricted them from leaving the base unless to commute from an off-base home to work or for errands. US personnel were already banned from drinking off-base and were required to abide by a midnight curfew, after a former Marine was arrested in May in relation to the abduction of an Okinawa woman who was later found dead. Sunday’s crash occurred within the 30-day mourning period for the the woman’s death.

"For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole," Rear Adm. Matthew Carter told Retuers. "These measures are not taken lightly."

Only after the military carries out training and feels soldiers understand “responsible behavior” will the orders be lifted, the Navy said in a statement.

The order also comes amid a 20-year struggle by locals and politicians for the Americans to move their base off Okinawa entirely. Although the island of Okinawa makes up less than 1 percent of all Japanese land, the American bases on the island constitute nearly 75 percent of all land occupied by the US military in Japan.

Japanese and American officials agreed more than 20 years ago to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location in a crowded city center to a less populated corner of the island.

Since then, a series of US military personnel have been charged with crimes against the Japanese. In addition to the abduction of the 20-year-old Japanese girl, a 12-year-old girl was also raped.

Despite public outcry, Prime Minister Abe has been reluctant to have the American base moved off Okinawa. Meanwhile, his regime has reinterpreted Japan’s pacifist constitution to be an equal partner in Japanese-US efforts to address security threats such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.  Those actions haven’t been well received by the Japanese public either, as Molly Jackson reported for The Christian Science Monitor last October:

Locals interviewed by the Japan Times report feeling "repeatedly betrayed" by the national government, part of a long history of distrust worsened by the last days of World War II, when up to 25 percent of civilians died during the Battle of Okinawa – many of them allegedly ordered by Japanese troops to commit suicide,” wrote Jackson.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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