Japan Reacts Strongly to Release of US Officer Who Killed Two

Japan Reacts Strongly to Release of US Officer Who Killed Two

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Ridge Alkonis
Picture: Canva
The release and subsequent victory lap media tour for Ridge Alkonis evoked a strong reaction from Japanese public officials and social media.

The release of an American Navy officer who was sentenced to three years in a Japanese prison and subsequently transferred to US custody has triggered a media storm in Japan. Waves of praise and waves of criticism clash over the internet’s comment section.

Transferred and freed

The Parole Commission released American Navy officer Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, 35, from federal prison on January 12th, less than a month after Japanese authorities handed Alkonis over to US custody.

Alkonis, previously stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base, had been serving a three-year prison term in Japan, sentenced in October 2021. The Japanese high court found him guilty of negligent driving over a fatal car crash killing two Japanese citizens and injuring one on May 29th, the same year.

Alkonis served 507 days, or roughly half his sentence, in Japanese prison before both countries agreed to his transfer under the terms of the International Prisoner Transfer Program. On December 14th, 2023, Alkonis arrived at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Los Angeles.

Thirty days later, authorities released Alkonis. He had spent 537 days, or more than 17 months, in Japanese and American prisons combined. The Parole Commission ordered Alkonis’ release based on US sentencing guidelines that would have recommended a prison sentence of 16 months for him had he been convicted of the same crime on US soil.  

American insensitivity

The swift release of Alkonis caught many in Japan by surprise.

“I can’t believe it. It’s too soon,” Fuji Television chief editor Hidetoshi Hiramatsu told reporters. “I can’t help but think [the Americans] asked for the transfer just so they could release [Alkonis].”

Advertisements

Shock at Alkonis’ release has been coupled with anger and disappointment towards Americans, namely Senator Mike Lee and ex-player for the Los Angeles Dodgers Trevor Bauer. On January 13th, in a post that has gained over 6.3M views, Sen. Lee wrote that “Japan owes the [Alkonis] family––and the U.S.––an apology.”

The “unforeseen medical emergency” Sen. Lee mentions in this post refers to altitude sickness. Alkonis says this caused him to lose consciousness and fatally careen into a parking lot on a drive down Mt. Fuji.

Family responds to Sen. Lee

Japanese authorities did not conduct a full medical exam while detaining Alkonis for 26 days before charging him. Without disproving altitude sickness as a possible factor, the Japanese high court denied Alkonis’ claims and ruled that he fell asleep behind the wheel. As a consequence, he killed an 85-year-old woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law.

The father of the son-in-law responded to Sen. Lee’s demand for an apology. “I’m angered by that comment. Of course, I’m sad. A kid died before their parents. Had the [accident] not occurred, we would still have a normal life.”

Japanese X users shared their thoughts on Sen. Lee’s post, highlighting the stark contrast between American and Japanese reactions to Alkonis’ release.

One user @roos2624 wrote on January 17th, “No matter how I think about it, I can’t accept it. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee posted a video of the Alkonis family on X. But how does the victim, who lost her husband and mother and was injured herself, feel about this? Isn’t it full of sad and regretful feelings? Her family will never be together again. Cruel.”

Athlete offends team country

Baseball player Trevor Bauer on the Yokohama BayStars team of Nippon Professional Baseball since 2023 came under heated criticism in Japan after commenting “Welcome home Ridge!” on a post by the Instagram account @bringridgehome uploaded January 12th, the day of Alkonis’ release.

Japanese commenters erupted into a firestorm, with comments like “This is the lowest a human can go,” and “Don’t you understand that two Japanese people died?”

On January 21st, Bauer issued an apology written in both Japanese and English.

Post-release victory made it worse

The media appearances following Alkonis’ release have drawn more attention to the case than the release itself, says Jeffery Hall, a special lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba prefecture.

“The pressure campaign to release Alkonis and his subsequent release received very little media attention in Japan,” Hall told Stars and Stripes, a daily American military newspaper funded by the Pentagon.

“If they had not decided to draw attention to themselves with a post-release victory tour in the US news media, this event probably would have been largely unnoticed in Japan.”

Alkonis appeared on CNN and Fox News on January 15th, expressing that his remorse over the incident “has never wavered.”

The friends and family of Alkonis have paid $1.6M to the victims’ families in restitution.

Meanwhile, he has been denied promotion to lieutenant commander, which he had been selected for prior to the crash, according to a Stars and Stripes report.

What to read next

Sources

[1] 「無神経に映ったことは理解」「子供だちを少しでも明るく…」バウアー、発言炎上→謝罪も賛否広がる. JCASTニュース

[2] 【波紋】遺族憤り「親よりも先に死んだ」居眠り運転で禁固刑のアメリカ人元海軍中尉…本国移送直後に仮釈放 米議員が日本に“謝罪要求も”. FNNプライムオンライン

[3] 【怒り】日本で日本人2人を事故で死なせ禁錮刑のアメリカ人が本国移送直後に釈放…米議員は日本に謝罪要求 遺族は憤り. FNNプライムオンライン

[4] Navy officer’s early prison release sparks digital discontent in Japan. Stars and Stripes

[5] Navy secretary denies Alkonis’ promotion; military legal experts say discharge may be next. Stars and Stripes

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy