Higher ‘sympathy budget’ eyed from next fiscal year

The Japanese and U.S. governments are considering increasing the so-called sympathy budget — Japan’s share of the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan — with more money going toward things that help to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The increases would apply to such areas as joint training from fiscal 2022 onward, and the total annual budget is expected to be tens of billions of yen more than the ¥201.7 billion allocated for fiscal 2021. According to Japanese officials, the government plans to finalize the details of the sympathy budget in the near future and include the related expenses in the initial budget plan for fiscal 2022, which will be approved by the Cabinet in December.

The sympathy budget covers costs that would otherwise be paid by the U.S. military, such as water and other utilities at U.S. military facilities in Japan and labor costs for employees.

While emphasizing the importance of U.S. allies, the administration of President Joe Biden has called on them to pay an appropriate share of defense costs. The United States has particularly strong expectations that Japan will help to counter China, which the United States sees as its only competitor, and is therefore calling for an increase in the sympathy budget.

At the end of last fiscal year, the sympathy budget was due for a regular five-year review. However, due to the U.S. presidential election and the inauguration of the Biden administration, time for negotiations was limited.

In February of this year, the two governments agreed to maintain the previous year’s level for fiscal 2021, and to negotiate again regarding fiscal 2022-2026.