A 24-year-old US serviceman was arrested on suspicion of raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa, where delicate negotiations are under development to relocate a controversial US military base.
Okinowa, the site of a bloody World War Two land battle between Japan and the United States but is now considered a strategic linchpin supporting the two countries’ decades-long security alliance.
Okinawa accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan’s total territories but hosts over 70 percent of US bases and stationed more than half of the 47,000 American military personal in Japan.
The suspect, identified as Justin Castellanos, seaman at the US Marine Corps Schwab Base on the island, denies the allegation, the police said.
Castellanos, arrested on Sunday, allegedly raped the woman earlier the same day while she was unconscious at a hotel in the Okinawan capital city of Naha, a spokesman said.
There was no immediate comment about the incident from US military officials in Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government's top spokesman, told reporters that the alleged incident is "extremely regrettable."
Suga said the Japanese government had "expressed a strong protest" to the US side, adding he hopes that police can solve the case.
"The US side said it would be a very disappointing incident if the allegation was true and that they're taking this matter seriously," he added, referring to what he described as the US response to Japan's protest.
Takeshi Onaga, the governor of Okinawa, expressed anger at the alleged rape.
"It was a serious crime in violation of women's human rights and can never be tolerated," he said, according to local media outlet.
"I feel strong resentment."
According to Japanese media, the sailor found the woman, who was visiting Okinawa, asleep in the corridor of a business hotel and took her to his room.
The two were staying at the same hotel, but were not acquainted, local media outlets said.
In 1995, a rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl on Okinawa by three US servicemen, sparked massive protests, which led the US government to pledge efforts to strengthen troop discipline to prevent such crimes and reduce its footprint on the island.
But continued crimes by US personnel remain an irritant in Japan-US relations and a rallying point for Okinawans opposed to the bases.