As of Sept. 1, parking-space certificates requiredof off-base SOFA personnel in Japan and Okinawa
July 23, 2004
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. servicemembers who live outside base gates in mainland Japan and Okinawa soon will be coughing up a little more money to register their vehicles.
On Tuesday, the U.S. military agreed to comply with a Japanese law requiring all car owners to prove they have assigned parking, said Air Force Col. Victor Warzinski, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman.
Beginning Sept. 1, all Status of Forces Agreement personnel residing off-base must produce certificates showing they have an exclusive space and pay a one-time fee of about $25 at the time of registration.
A joint U.S.-Japanese committee that addresses issues related to the alliance struck an initial deal Tuesday, Warzinski said. Discussions will continue on other matters associated with the parking dilemma, including whether the law also applies to on-base residents.
“Our contention is it does not,” Warzinski said. “We have parking places that we can prove. There’s no reason to obtain certification.”
The 1962 law is designed to ensure that vehicle owners don’t park on the streets and to alleviate congested roadways. Under its provisions, people must file a certificate verifying an exclusive parking space at the time of vehicle registration. The application costs $25 to $30, Warzinski said, depending on the rate set by each prefecture.
For six years, the two sides have wrangled over the issue, with the U.S. military arguing it should be exempt under the SOFA. The Japanese government maintains the law applies to all SOFA-status personnel.
Of the 58,000 private vehicles owned by 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. Most are in the Sasebo area.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said Wednesday that all SOFA members with primary parking spaces off-base would be required to obtain the proper documentation starting Sept. 1. Those who registered before that but change addresses also would have to pick up the certificates.
U.S. military bases in Japan must implement the new policy through their individual pass and identification and vehicle registration offices, Warzinski said. Officials hope to have procedures for obtaining the certificates in place by Sept. 1.
He was unclear whether documentation of a parking space provided by base officials would be sufficient for local authorities to issue a certificate.
“Each base and installation has different circumstances,” Warzinski said. “Some might step off the base and see that the prefecture doesn’t even require a certificate.
“We’ll continue to let folks know. We’re responsible for keeping the commands informed of how the talks are progressing.”
Enforcement likely would fall to Japanese authorities, he said, and possible penalties for failing to comply have not been determined.
The Japanese government hopes to resolve the dispute involving on-base vehicle owners by the end of July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official added.
“For those who have parking space within U.S. military bases or areas, we will continue to discuss the matter and to agree as soon as possible,” she said.
Warzinski offered no deadline for settling that contention but said USFJ relented on its previous off-base stance through a desire for resolution.
“We always intended to reach some satisfactory resolution on this issue,” he said. “We asked for translation and interpretation of the law to try to figure out what it stated. Do we have certain rights and privileges under SOFA?
“We’ve committed to try to resolve this ... in a rather quick manner. We still have a ways to go, but this is progress.”
— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.