Hashimoto proposes hosting Osprey training flights near Osaka

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto proposed Thursday to the government conducting some training exercises of the U.S. military's MV-22 Osprey aircraft near Osaka in a bid to reduce the burden on Okinawa Prefecture, home to the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan.

"It's important to study whether it is feasible" for some training to be conducted in Osaka Prefecture, Hashimoto told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the premier's office.

"We don't know whether it is really possible...but the important thing is to get started on a feasibility study," Hashimoto said, adding a final judgment should be made by the Japanese government and the U.S. military.

Hashimoto, who co-heads the Japan Restoration Party, suggested at the meeting that training exercises for the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft deployed at a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa should be conducted outside of the prefecture for 120 days, and that Yao Airport, located southwest of Osaka city, could host some of them.

Ichiro Matsui, the party's secretary general who doubles as Osaka governor, said Abe told those at the meeting that sharing Okinawa's burden with people on the mainland of Japan would be "natural."

Other proposals include making revisions to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement by enabling Japan to exert jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel when they commit a crime off duty, and to have the authority to keep them in custody together with the United States.

The proposals were made at a time when the party has been trying to contain the political repercussions of Hashimoto's recent remarks that Japan's wartime system of military brothels was necessary to maintain discipline, raising ire from South Korea and elsewhere.

The outlook for implementing the proposals remains uncertain as Yao Mayor Seita Tanaka has expressed his objection. In Okinawa, Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine criticized the move as "irresponsible," because local consent had yet to be obtained in Osaka Prefecture.

Japan's top spokesman Suga told a press conference after the meeting that Tokyo would "examine" the party's proposals and that it had a responsibility to the people in Okinawa.

"We genuinely welcome the proposals as both Japanese and U.S. authorities are now considering whether it is possible for Ospreys to conduct flight training outside of Okinawa, and Japan as a whole needs to think about reducing the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bases," Suga said.

Twelve Ospreys have been deployed at the U.S. Marine Corp's Futenma Air Station in Okinawa since last year despite strong local opposition and safety concerns after a series of accidents overseas. The U.S. military has already started low-altitude training on the mainland.