MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Off-base residents here considering a move or car purchase better hustle.

Starting Oct. 1, all Status of Forces Agreement personnel living off base must prove they have an exclusive parking space — and pay a one-time fee of about $52 at vehicle registration.

The new rule applies only to car owners who move off base after Oct. 1, relocate to a different address in the Misawa community, or purchase a car after the deadline, said Maj. Joe Milner, 35th Security Forces Squadron Commander.

Anyone currently living off base who does not move or buy another vehicle is exempt.

“For us, truthfully, it’s not that big of a deal,” Milner said, since parking is relatively ample in the Misawa area and most off-base residences have assigned parking.

Until this summer, SOFA personnel in Japan and Okinawa, both on and off base, were excluded from obtaining parking certificates. But in July, after six years of debate with the Japanese government, the U.S. military agreed to comply with the Japanese law that requires car owners prove they have assigned parking.

The 1962 law is intended to prevent vehicle owners from parking on streets and to reduce road congestion.

The Japanese government also wants on-base car owners to pay, but the U.S. military so far won’t allow it.

For most Japanese prefectures, the change for off-base SOFA members went into effect Sept. 1. Officials at Hachinohe Land Transportation Office, where Misawa personnel register their vehicles, told the base the new rule wouldn’t affect base personnel, Milner said.

On Aug. 30, however, they said there would be no waivers and Misawa personnel must comply. Base officials balked at the Sept. 1 deadline, since they had no time to notify car owners, Milner said.

For off-base residents who register a vehicle or move after Oct. 1, the new parking certificate requirement adds several steps, a waiting period and additional cost.

Car owners must get a signed consent form from the property owner verifying a parking space and draw a two-sided map of the assigned spot; both documents are provided to Japanese National Police. Milner said one side of the map is to help JNP find the residence, while the other is to present a more detailed drawing of the parking space. JNP will verify the parking spot exists and measure it to ensure it’s large enough for the owner’s vehicle. The police agency has five days to do this, Milner said. JNP charges about $20 per vehicle to process the parking pass and about another $5 for the actual decal.

At the Hachinohe Transportation Office, off-base residents then pay another $27, approximately, for the final processing of the parking application.

Parking fees — which must be paid in Japanese yen — are separate from other vehicle registration charges, which vary depending on engine size and other factors.

Though the extra cost may seem high, Milner said it’s important to keep it in perspective.

“We are still paying significantly less to drive a car here than in the United States and practically anywhere else in the world,” he said, noting the Japanese government gives SOFA personnel a “big break” on road tax fees. This is “just another part of supporting our local community and not being separate. Car registration is now the same,” he said.

Car owners who fail to obtain a parking certificate can be fined nearly $300.

Base officials plan to produce brochures outlining the vehicle and parking registration process; they’ll be available at the Pass and Registration and Housing offices by Oct. 1. Information will also be distributed via squadron commanders, first sergeants, agency directors, EDGE radio 1575 and the commander’s access channel. Residents may call Pass and Registration at DSN 226-3995 with questions, but Milner said base officials are still trying to formulate answers to various scenarios, such as someone who buys a car while in billeting and then moves off base after Oct. 1.

“If they can just give us a little bit of time, I think we’re going to be able to answer their questions,” he said.

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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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