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Off Limits in Okinawa: The Tacit Discrimination Against Foreigners

By: Kotoko Chinen

Date Posted: 1999-10-23

A few weeks ago, our newspaper was among the first to announce that the Gate 2 Street curfew - hitherto known as "Off Limits" among local nationals - had been lifted. The lift was effective on October 6th after 4 years of enforcement. The curfew was imposed in 1995 October to prevent incidents caused by the US Military servicemen in the Kadena Air Base Gate 2 area.

According to military and city officials, the curfew achieved its goal during the four years of restrictiona, and brought about positive influences to the community. On the other hand, the negative effects of the ban became more remarkable as the years went by. The curfew went from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. every night. It caused serious economic damage to the area since late-night businesses such as clubs and bars - whose major customers were the military servicemen – contribute much to the commnunity’s economy.

Two weeks have passed since the clearance of the curfew. Have observers noticed any changes in the Kadena Base 2 area?

"There's a change. Big time.” said Dan Jankas, the manager of Hide Away, “Before the end of the curfew, everybody left the club by 12:45 a.m. and the club was empty. But, now, people stay until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.”

No major incidents involving servicemen have occurred so far; and Jankas sees only the positive effects of the lift on his club.

"Thank God!" Jankas exclaimed, unable to hide his happiness with the end of the curfew. According to Okinawa Police Department, there have been no major crime incidents since the curfew was lifted, except for an unrelated report of robbery.

INVISIBLE BARRIERS

The off-limits areas have cleared in Okinawa City, yet there are still hidden off-limits areas in other cities and towns of Okinawa; they were there even before the Gate 2 curfew was imposed. Worse still, they are likely to stay that way for very long.

Some clubs and bars on the island have been carrying out the private off-limits policy for years against foreigners. A few of them go as far as pasting the "No Americans" or "Couples Only" signs at their entrance doors. Although this discriminatory practice has been brought to public attention by the local media several times in the past, the situation does not seem to have evolved much. Some invisible barriers still exist in several places.

The manager of one of the better known clubs in Naha City explained why they set drastic restrictions for entry to their club. "Because of the incidents caused by US servicemen in the past," he said.

Outside of the club, there's no sign that clearly affirms entry limitations against foreigners. But they apply a “couples-only” policy that often concerns only foreigners, especially Americans. "We have applied the couples-only policy since I became manager here four years ago," the club manager, requesting anonymity, told Japan Update reporters. He also explained that there were no signs expressly barring foreigners because they also apply strict dress codes, even on Japanese nationals.

CJ Katsuya is another club owner in Naha City. His bar, known as New Birth, also applies the "Couples Only" policy on foreign customers. Recently, he gave a more detailed background to the initiation of that policy. According to him, some servicemen’s bad behavior in the past justifies their present attitude. " They took other customers' drinks from their tables and acted violently towards other customers. There were times when even our female customers were dragged to the bathroom and were almost raped by the young Marines, and we always had to call the police for help."

Nakatsu also told Japan Update that he was once a victim of incidents caused by young American servicemen. He got a cut in his neck while trying to stop a young Marine customer from running wild in his club.

"I was raised listening to American music, and I have many good American friends,” said Nakatsu, rather solemnly. “There’s no way for me to dislike Americans in general. But, when it comes down to business, I've got to do what I've got to do,” he regretted.

The Japan Times edition of October 13th carried a story about a Japanese jewelry store-owner in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, who was ordered to pay 1.5 million yen in damages to a Brazilian TV reporter, for throwing her out of his shop because she is a foreigner. The same "pick-and-choose" invisible regulations against foreigners have been quietly applied by some restaurant and bar owners for years here in Okinawa. It is such a paradox that such practices still go on, when Okinawa is expected to become the prefecture of international tourism, especially with the coming of the G-8 Summit next year.

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