Japanese lawmakers again are pressing the U.S. military in Japan to comply with a law that requires all car owners to prove they have parking and pay a one-time fee of about $25.

The domestic law orders car owners to file a certificate verifying an exclusive parking space at the time of vehicle registration. The certificate application costs from 2,000 yen to 2,200 yen (about $20 to $22), and another 500 yen (about $5) upon issuing.

Of the 58,000 private vehicles that belong to U.S. military personnel and their families in Japan, just 2,300 have the parking certificate, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

An agency official said Wednesday that most of the 2,300 are from the Sasebo area but would not say why the registration rules there differ, Kyodo News reported.

The Japanese Cabinet endorsed a government decision Tuesday to continue discussions with the U.S. government and resolve it as soon as possible.

Okinawa politician Kantoku Teruya, a Social Democrat and House of Representatives member, first questioned in 1998 why Status of Forces Agreement members weren’t complying with the law. He recently did so again.

“It is the result of inexcusable negligence on the part of the Japanese government,” Kyodo News quoted Teruya as saying. “It is unacceptable that Japan, as a state under the rule of law, fails to oblige (U.S. personnel in Japan) to comply with the domestic law.”

Six years ago, the old transport ministry notified U.S. forces in Japan, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that it would not process registration for vehicles without the parking certificate. But the military was given an undefined grace period “to prepare,” said a government official. The two sides have been discussing the issue ever since.

The 1962 law aims to ensure car owners don’t park on the street and to facilitate traffic flow and safe road usage.

The Japanese government maintains that the law applies to all SOFA-status personnel, said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official.

But Col. Victor Warzinski, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman, said Wednesday that “we have been asserting we have certain rights and privileges” under SOFA.

USFJ also questions the common sense of applying the law to its members: “Since most of our people live on installations and have parking places assigned, do we really need to go off base and prove that we have parking and pay the fees?” Warzinski said.

Under the law, vehicle owners must obtain a certificate from police proving they have a parking space and submit it to local offices of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport when they register their vehicle, according to Kyodo News.

Warzinski said questions on procedure still need answering. For example, would documentation of a parking space by base officials be sufficient for local authorities to issue a certificate?

To clear up questions on both procedure and whether the requirement extends to SOFA members, USFJ has asked for an English translation of the applicable law and regulations, Warzinski said.

“I think both sides are asking, ‘What are we trying to accomplish here?’” he said. “If the intent of the law is to preclude illegal parking, then I think we do that.”

But if the intent of the law is to collect fees and taxes, he said, the Status of Forces Agreement allows for certain fees to be waived.

“It’s obviously an issue that we want to work out,” Warzinski said. “We don’t want to make it a point of friction” between the alliance members.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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