By Yamaguchi Akihito
The Tokyo Shimbun found that in 2021, the U.S. military had employed a double standard in requirements upon entry to and departure from Japan. The U.S. military exempted servicemembers from COVID-19 testing when they entered Japan, but required testing when they returned to the U.S. or departed to another country for deployment. This situation lasted for at least three weeks until the end of 2021. Tokyo Shimbun asked the U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) headquarters the reason for these requirements, but the USFJ did not directly address the issue.
USFJ members had been exempt from COVID-19 testing when entering Japan from Sept. 3, 2021. At the request of Japan following the outbreak of a cluster in Camp Hansen (Kin Town, Okinawa Prefecture), testing was to be implemented again from Dec. 26, 2021. Qualitative antigen tests, which have low virus detection sensitivity and are not used in Japanese quarantine, were also to be utilized.
On the other hand, the Yokota Passenger Terminal at Yokota Air Base (Fussa City, Tokyo), which is used by USFJ servicemembers, announced on Facebook, “Passengers arriving in the U.S. need to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted three days before departure, effective December 6, 2021.” The post states that personnel need to be tested prior to arriving in the U.S., and also prior to boarding flights bound for South Korea, where the U.S. military is deployed, and British Diego Garcia, which hosts a U.S. Navy base. It clearly states that a PCR test is needed for South Korea.
Tokyo Shimbun asked USFJ Headquarters by e-mail why it was taking different actions on arrival and departure. The response only stated, “The important thing is that we are working together on this issue.” Asked about the relationship between the inadequacies in U.S. military quarantine and infection control system and the outbreak in Japan, the response did not directly address the issue, stating that “the high infectivity of the omicron strain has increased the number of cases around the world even if inspection and quarantine are strictly enforced.”
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said, “The Japanese government consults with the U.S. on U.S. military personnel entering Japan but is not in a position to specifically discuss personnel leaving Japan.”
USFJ personnel are exempt from quarantine when entering Japan because Japanese laws and regulations do not apply to U.S. military members, who fall under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. In January 2022, the two countries established the Quarantine and Hygiene Subcommittee under the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee and started discussions to ensure the consistency of the measures, but no conclusions have been reached to date.
Case reveals an attitude which disrespects Japan
Comment by Maedomari Hiromori, Professor of Okinawa International University: The USFJ may bring COVID-19 into Japan, but bringing it back to the U.S. is to be prevented. This testing scheme reveals that Japan was made light of. The U.S. military is reinforcing testing and quarantining for South Korea, another ally. The Japanese government does not lodge a protest with the U.S. military, so U.S. forces do as they please in Japan.