Curfew eased for servicemembers in Japan
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. Forces Japan adjusted the curfew rules Wednesday, pushing back the start by an hour to midnight for servicemembers below E-5 and dropping it for higher ranks.
Servicemembers of all ranks in mainland Japan are barred from drinking alcohol in public during the hours of the 12 a.m.-5 a.m. curfew, according to a USFJ statement.
The previous 11 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew was enacted after the alleged rape of a Japanese woman by two U.S. sailors on Okinawa in October. The charges inflamed tensions on the island, where demonstrators were already protesting against the deployment of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft.
Service-specific restrictions were imposed when alcohol-fueled misconduct continued. At one point, the Navy barred sailors from drinking in their own homes and barred some sailors with previous alcohol-related incidents from leaving base or wearing civilian clothing.
The rules were generally unpopular with servicemembers, though some said they understood how the restrictions could be seen as a political gesture to Japan in the wake of the rape allegations.
Under the new rules, servicemembers below E-5 must be on a U.S. military base, off-base in a private residence or lodging, or they must be performing official duties to comply with the curfew.
All servicemembers must also complete sexual assault prevention and response training, as well as an orientation course on Japan prior to being granted liberty, USFJ officials said Wednesday.
That rule effectively restricts newly arrived servicemembers to base, with exceptions for official business and transit between off-base lodging. While orientation courses vary among services, many under the current system do not have a chance to take one until a week or two after they arrive in Japan.
The orientation course requirement will also apply to servicemembers arriving in country on temporary duty, USFJ spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Honchul said.
“It is up to the services to find the best way to implement the training,” Honchul said.
Individual services were still reviewing the new USFJ policy before commenting. Navy officials said they would be ready to implement the new liberty policies by Wednesday afternoon, and would clarify any potential service-specific rules at that time.
Army officials in Japan said they were continuing to review the USFJ policy but were making preparations to notify their soldiers of changes. Soldiers in Okinawa will continue to follow the guidance of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, which imposed a public off-base alcohol ban there on Dec. 1.
All servicemembers in Okinawa also are barred from leaving bases or off-base residences with a blood alcohol content level of 0.03 or higher.
Prior to the October rape allegations, USFJ had no official liberty policy. The new rules came after consultation with each of the major service commands in Japan, USFJ officials said.
“We think we’ve established a policy we believe is appropriate in size and scope now,” Honchul said.
Reaction to the new rules was mixed at Sasebo Naval Base on Wednesday.
Some were happy about the later curfew, while others still felt like they were being treated like children. Sailors said the curfew has affected morale and would affect retention down the line.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Atiba Ferarydefreitas said he appreciated the extra time out, but since officers and servicemembers above E-5 were responsible for some of the behavior that led to the crackdown, the continued curfew should apply to everyone.
“I like that it’s a little more lenient,” he said. “But you’re basically saying they’re not being punished. It’s not just E-5 and below. Problems are coming from E-6 and above. [The midnight restriction] should be for everyone.”
Airman 1st Class Jose Cruz, 19, of Clarksville, Tenn., who is stationed at Yokota Air Base, shared similar sentiments.
“I don’t think you can narrow it to specific ranks or enlisted versus officers,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Matt Burke and Seth Robson contributed to this story.