Thousands of people who live near the U.S. Kadena Air Base on Okinawa in southern Japan, today filed a lawsuit seeking damages over aircraft noise and a ban on night flights.
Roughly 22,000 residents from five municipalities filed the complaint against the Japanese government with the Naha District Court, according to Japan's public broadcaster, NHK TV.
Claiming that the aircraft noise disturbs their sleep and causes hearing problems, the plaintiffs are seeking about US$540 million in damages. They are also demanding that flights during the night and early morning hours be banned.
Kadena Air Base is the hub of U.S. airpower in the Pacific, and home to the U.S. Air Force's largest operational combat wing overseas in terms of the number of aircraft assigned.
About 100 aircraft are based at Kadena, including a fleet of 81 combat-ready aircraft, "to perform air superiority, aerial refueling, airborne warning and control, and combat search and rescue functions," according to the U.S. Air Force.
The plaintiffs will pursue the Japanese government's responsibility for providing the base to U.S. forces.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told NHK the biggest problem is that U.S. bases continue to exist unchanged more than 65 years after the end of World War Two and nearly 40 years after the reversion of Okinawa to Japan.
This is the third group lawsuit of this kind over noise from the Kadena base, following lawsuits filed in 1982 and in 2000.
In both the previous cases, the court ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation, but rejected the plaintiffs' demand for a flight ban.
NHK quoted plaintiff spokesman Shusei Arakawa from Okinawa City as saying that the noise pollution at Kadena has worsened regardless of residents' continued complaints.
Arakawa said that residents' anger at the worsening situation has led to the large number of plaintiffs, more than in either of the two previous lawsuits.
Both the U.S. forces and Japanese government have declined comment on the latest lawsuit.
There is extensive medical literature on increases in blood pressure and in frequency of heart attacks from exposure to environmental noise from living near airports.