Record damages awarded over US army base noise in Japan

February 23, 2017 12:23 pm
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Lawyers representing residents near a US airbase in Okinawa: noise is a long-term source of complaint © JIJI PRESS/AFP / STR

, Tokyo, Japan, Feb 23 – A Japanese court on Thursday awarded record compensation for thousands of residents near a US military base over aircraft noise, but rejected their demand to suspend flights at odd hours.

An Okinawa court ordered the Japanese government to pay 30.19 billion yen ($266 million) in damages to about 22,000 residents near Kadena Air Base — more than three times the highest previous award over military noise.

Presiding Judge Tetsuya Fujikura rapped the government, saying the noise burden on residents had continued despite a separate 2009 ruling calling for improvement.

The damage has “caused mental pain, disturbance to sleep and an increase in the risk of negative health effects from developing high blood pressure”, he said, according to Jiji Press.

Residents near US military bases in Japan have long complained about noise levels, particularly take-offs and landings at night and early morning.

The 2009 ruling, which covered a different set of Okinawa plaintiffs, said “the government has a political responsibility to improve the noise situation” even if it has no control over the US military, Jiji said.

“The government’s argument was not accepted fully by the court,” top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters, referring to the compensation award.

He did not say if the government would appeal the ruling.

Residents near US military bases in Japan have long complained about noise levels, particularly take-offs and landings at night and early morning © JIJI PRESS/AFP / STR

The previous record damage award was 8.2 billion yen and covered the Atsugi Air Base, south of Tokyo, that is jointly operated by the United States and Japan.

In a victory for the government, however, the Okinawa court refused to order a suspension of early morning and late night flights, following previous rulings on US military noise complaints that have cited the government’s inability to control American military activities.

The US has several military bases in Japan and stations about 47,000 troops in the country as part of a joint security treaty.

Anti-base sentiment runs high on Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of Japan’s total land area.

But the southern island in the East China Sea hosts about 71 percent of land allotted for US bases in Japan and more than half the troop total.

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