A month-long prohibition on alcohol for sailors in Japan ended prematurely on Tuesday as the US Navy rescinded the ban, imposed on June 6, after several incidents involving US personnel on Okinawa.
The ban was imposed after American personnel were implicated in a series of crimes and other incidents, heightening existing tension over the US military's ongoing presence in the country.
"Over the past few weeks, the performance of Sailors across Japan has been outstanding," Read Admiral Matthew Carter said. "They recognize that liberty is a mission, especially here in Japan. They know their performance in this mission area has a direct impact in preserving the vital strategic relationship with the Japanese."
Effective immediately, sailors can drink alcohol at off-base establishments, with a curfew of 10.00pm. Low-rank personnel have to be accompanied by a "liberty buddy," another sailor who they sign in and out with, and keep each other out of trouble if they're planning on drinking at all.
On June 6, just days after an American sailor was arrested for an alleged drunk-driving accident in Okinawa that left two locals injured, Carter announced the ban on alcohol consumption and off-base activity. Despite the close proximity of the events, the ban was actually the result of another American civilian arrested for the murder of a Japanese woman.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people gathered for what was the biggest demonstration against the US military presence on Okinawa for two decades. The event marked a new low in the already strained relations between Washington and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the island. Protesters were calling for a review of the US-Japanese security agreement, which requires that Okinawa host the majority of American troops in Japan.
The US has 18,600 sailors stationed in Japan.
The renewed anger among Okinawa residents about the US presence threatens a plan to relocate the US Marines' Futenma Air Base to a less populous part of Okinawa. The relocation was planned in 1996, after American military personnel raped a Japanese schoolgirl.