'AmericaFest' Canceled for US Troops in Japan after Okinawa Murder

Singer Usher performs on stage during a music festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 24, 2016 in Indio, California.( Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)
Singer Usher performs on stage during a music festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 24, 2016 in Indio, California.( Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

A July 2 Independence Day festival for troops in Okinawa, Japan, highlighted by a performance from recording artist Usher has been canceled after an American civilian allegedly murdered a Japanese woman last month.

The cancellation of "AmericaFest" was announced on a Facebook page for Kadena Force Support Squadron, which coordinates events and family activities for Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. The announcement cited a message from the Air Force's 18th Wing, headquartered at Kadena.

"While observation of our Independence Day is important, an open house, displays of military capability, celebratory fireworks, and concerts are not the path to healing," the message read. "AmericaFest has historically been a unifying experience, it has become divisive … I would ask all of you to take the time off during the 4th of July weekend to spend with your families and friends."

Military.com reached out to the 18th Wing and Kadena Force Support Squadron for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

The event was to include a fireworks display, multiple live performances, and food vendors, and was open to Japanese citizens as well as military personnel, according to previous announcements.

Its cancellation comes in tandem with a 30-day mourning period announced by military officials May 28, during which all concerts, celebrations and festivals would be postponed, they said. The July 2 event falls a few days outside of the designated mourning period, but indicates a heightened desire to be sensitive to the host nation.

Kenneth Shinzato, a civilian worker at Kadena and a Marine veteran, was arrested May 19 in connection with the rape and murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman, Rina Shimabukuro.

The incident prompted President Barack Obama to publicly apologize to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and promise cooperation to ensure justice was done under Japanese law.

The high-profile arrest was closely followed by at least one other incident in which a U.S. service member on Okinawa violated the law in a risk to public safety.

On June 4, a 21-year-old Navy petty officer was arrested after driving the wrong way on an Okinawa road, crashing into two cars and injuring two people. A breathalyzer showed the sailor's blood alcohol content at the time was 0.18 -- six times the legal limit for Japan.

In response, Navy authorities in Japan announced a crackdown on troops' activities, prohibiting troops from drinking alcohol and banning any non-essential travel off-base. As of June 10, that ban was replaced by a requirement that sailors file off-base activity plans with their chain of command.

These moves all underscore the sensitivity of U.S.-Japan relations regarding the basing of troops in Okinawa. Roughly half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are stationed in Okinawa, and that number doubles when counting dependents and American civilian workers.

Long-term plans call for the relocation of 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. In the meantime, plans to expand Camp Schwab, the largest Marine base on the island, in order to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, have been met with local protests.

The Okinawa prefecture assembly passed a resolution last month calling for the removal of all Marines from the island, The New York Times reported.

In the midst of all the uncertainty, some military spouses and family members expressed disappointment at the cancellation of an event that would have provided a taste of home.

"I'd say events are still unifying and cancelling all these events is making it divisive," one user commented on the announcement about the festival.

Another suggested the event could have promoted community relations.

"I think this is taking it too far," she wrote. "A lot of the Okinawans enjoy coming out to AmericaFest."

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