Japanese Residents Sue Government For Noise Pollution At U.S. Air Base

DECEMBER 8, 1997

The AP Worldstream reports that nearly 3,000 Japanese living near a U.S. Navy air base filed suit Monday, demanding that the government pay for allowing the noise of the base to disrupt their lives.

According to the report, an official at the Yokohama District Court said the 2,823 plaintiffs are requesting 2.25 billion yen ($17.3 million) in compensation plus a monthly payment of 23,000 yen ($177) per person while the noise persists above a certain level. Unlike in past similar suits by residents around Atsugi Naval Air Facility south of Tokyo, and other bases, plaintiffs in the new suit include children who say the noise hinders their education, as well as infants and the elderly, the official said. The plaintiffs include 455 who are aged 20 or younger 16 percent of the total, said Yuji Nakatomi, a representative of the plaintiffs.

The article says television footage showed a group of plaintiffs marching in front of the court in a light rain with a banner reading: "For Peaceful and Quiet Skies." Kyodo News agency quoted plaintiffs as saying they are trying to get everyone in the area to sign on, and that the group may exceed 5,000 by early next year. A similar suit at Atsugi succeeded partially in 1995, when the state was ordered to pay 69 plaintiffs a total of 106 million yen ($815,000) in compensation. But a demand for a ban on night and early morning flights was rejected.

The story says that to date, the Japanese government has spent 374.7 billion yen ($2.9 billion) to install thick window glass and other material to lessen noise for 164,000 households near the Atsugi base, a Defense Facilities Agency spokesman said. Another noise suit at Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo, was thrown out in March for naming the U.S. military as a plaintiff. Japanese courts say they don't have jurisdiction over the U.S. military. The latest suit does not ask for flight restrictions, and only names the Japanese government for allowing military forces of both countries to conduct exercises at Atsugi, said the court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The United States maintains about 47,000 troops in Japan, and the Tokyo government is required by a post-World War II mutual security treaty to provide land for them.