Japanese taxpayers foot American military’s noise bill

Photo credit: Somchai Kongkamsri

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

How much has it cost the Japanese government to host American troops at five United States military bases? Well, hosting these bases has brought a great deal of noise into the lives of people living near these bases. As a result, the cost for compensating these residents has been $466 million.  

Under an agreement dating back to 1960, the U.S. is required to pay 75% of damages from its troops’ actions; Japan was set to pay the other 25%. When both nations were at fault, each was to pay 50%. However, according to an opposition Constitutional member, the U.S. has not met its financial obligations. It is then not surprising to learn that Okinawa residents are angry for two reasons: they have to live with noise and Japanese taxpayers are financially responsible for noise made by the U.S. military.

In 2020, lawsuits seeking noise relief from the bases (from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) were turned down. Instead, payments were made to people living near the five U.S. bases. The largest payout, $286 million, went to people living near the Kadena Air Base. Beyond noise, Japan also had to pay for decontaminating a large segment of land at a former U.S. military airport.

One might ask: “Why hasn’t Japan pressured the U.S. government to pay its fair share of compensation to people who are being exposed to aviation noise at American bases?” A Tokyo University professor said in the article that Japan is not pushing the U.S. because supporting American troops can be seen as a “security burden.” He added that this is important because if Donald Trump is elected as president, he might ask for more money under the countries’ mutual security treaty.

The title of this article states that Japan has paid lawsuit damages “over aircraft nuisance.” And, aircraft noise is being treated as a “nuisance” in this article. However, noise is more than a “nuisance.” It is a health hazard and it affects the mental and physical well-being of the individuals living near the military bases. Studies by Kozo Hiramatsu and his associates found that noise from one of the bases, namely Kadena, has impeded the hearing and health of individuals living nearby.  

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