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NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — Atsugi officials backed away from a plan to charge for on-base parking at this weekend’s Cherry Blossom Festival to avoid a perception that they were charging for base entry.

Atsugi collected 1,000 yen per car last weekend at the Naval Radio and Receiving Facility Kamiseya’s Cherry Blossom Festival, said NAF Atsugi spokesman Brian Naranjo.

They were going to charge at Saturday’s event at Atsugi — which drew an estimated 10,000 people last year — but changed their minds after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called with a concern, Naranjo said.

A MOFA official said Friday that the agency called Atsugi to check into the matter, but added the agency doesn’t believe that charging for services on base during a once-a-year event is prohibited under the status of forces agreement.

Still, Naranjo said the base doesn’t want any “confusion” so it rescinded the parking charge. There will be about 2,000 spaces open for cars on the apron’s flight line, he said.

However, losing the parking fees may mean fewer open-base events in the future, Naranjo said.

“We’re not funded for these events and we thought parking would offset the costs,” Naranjo said. “We thought the parking money could be used for the next event, and not being able to collect does inhibit our ability to do these events.”

In previous years, Japanese guests parked off-base, causing a perennial problem of clogs and bottlenecks of illegally parked cars at big base events, Naranjo said. Many others walk on to the base or take local transportation, he said.

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