On March 2nd, 2022, over 100 participants attended the YCAPS-SPF co-sponsored webinar presented by Captain Keizo Kitagawa (JMSDF). Captain Kitagawa discussed “The History and Strategic Importance of Sasebo, a Navy City.” Captain Kitagawa is the Chief of Operations Evaluation Office of the Maritime Staff Office in Tokyo. The webinar was moderated by John Bradford, Executive Director of YCAPS and was joined by a wide range of participants, including current and former service members, locals in the Sasebo community, scholars, and many others with a keen interest in Sasebo.
Captain Kitagawa began his presentation by providing an overview of Sasebo’s location, population, key industries, and significance to Japan, including its traditional role as an international gateway into Japan prior to its emergence in 1889 as a truly “Naval city.” The strategic importance of Sasebo’s location and abundant coal resources were some key factors that led to Sasebo’s strong naval connection. Captain Kitagawa continued his presentation, touching upon Sasebo’s modernization and rapid expansion including the challenges Sasebo has faced over the years, leading into its current position as an important base both for the JMSDF as well as the USN. Captain Kitagawa concluded his presentation with a discussion of how important Sasebo is as a community for both the US Navy as well as the JMSDF, particularly highlighting the strong relationship between service members and the local community that has been built up over decades to make Sasebo a unique and highly valued community to live and work in.
Captain Ed Thompson (US Navy, Ret.) provided comments about Captain Kitagawa’s presentation from the American perspective, and reiterated the strategic importance of Sasebo to the US-Japan alliance and highlighted the number of US ships and landing craft as well as the role Sasebo plays as a logistics hub for the USN in the region. Captain Thompson went on to further highlight Sasebo’s welcoming community as one that stands out for US personnel who are stationed there.
After Captain Thompson’s comments, the talk transformed into an open Q&A moderated by John Bradford. This included numerous questions for Captain Kitagawa, such as how Sasebo sits alongside Yokosuka and Yokota, the status of submarines in Sasebo and other bases, and what a possible expansion of GSDF into Sasebo might look like for the community. Other questions included the Japanese Coast Guard’s role in and around Sasebo, the long term posture of both the JMSDF and USN in the region, the protected nature of the harbor itself, and exploring why JSDF and USN personnel tend to prize Sasebo as a duty station. Participants remained deeply engaged in the discussion, as each question built upon the last.
Final comments from both Captain Kitagawa and Captain Thompson both highlighted the strong community in Sasebo, and the shared belief in the value of places like Nimitz park and how it brings the community together and their hopes to try to emulate that atmosphere in other bases around Japan.