Japanese merchants are eager to be ‘base friendly’

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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — What do a dress shop, a music store and a Mexican restaurant all have in common? A yellow sticker on the window welcoming American customers from Yokosuka Naval Base.

As of this week, 42 local businesses within a 15-minute walk from the base are sporting “base-friendly” stickers.

Restaurant owner Hiroshi Watanabe got his just last week and was trying to find the best place for it on Thursday.

“I hope the word spreads (about the stickers),” said Watanabe, who worked at Yokosuka’s Port Operations for 30 years before opening Mike’s Mexican restaurant.

Besides being one minute from the base’s main gate and having an English menu, the restaurant is base-friendly because it has “big portions,” Watanabe said.

The “base-friendly” movement grew out of discussions between the base, the City of Yokosuka and the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said base community relations specialist Kyoko Sugita.

For the base, it’s a “quality-of-life issue,” Sugita said.“Some people are afraid to go outside the gate because they can’t communicate,” she said. “In my position, Japanese business owners willing to interact with Americans would ask me for advice like ‘What do Americans like?’?”

On the flip side, Americans also wanted to pick her brain about “the best place to eat” or where to “take their visiting families,” Sugita said.

“I think both groups have a degree of need for something like this, and I’m happy we were able to create this cooperation,” Sugita said.

Masae Nakaya, of the Yokosuka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, works with the businesses.

There are no requirements for the “base-friendly” designation beyond being within 15 minutes of the base and “wanting to serve American customers,” she said.

Businesses also must belong to YCCI’s “Yokosuka Ichiban” Web site, which provides information in English about local businesses, from pubs to mineral ore pebble bathing.

Site membership costs businesses 500 yen a month, Nakaya said.

“Base-friendly” businesses can also get help translating menus into English.

Membership also includes conversational English instruction on phrases like “We do not accept credit cards” and “Please come back again!”

The next order of business is making the sticker easily recognizable to Yokosuka’s American population, Sugita said. The sticker features the Yokosuka City mascot “Sukarin” with a new creation, “US Navy Fay.” Both smiling creatures are holding hearts. “We want people to be very happy to see this sign,” Sugita said.

For more information on base-friendly businesses, visit http://sukaichi-e.com/pc/.

By Allison Batdorff, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, September 13, 2008 

 

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