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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — It’s that special time of year once again, when crowds admire the cherry blossoms and foreigners’ minds turn to romantic thoughts of … road tax.

Each spring, Japan collects a tax used to help defray the cost of maintaining the roads from owners of all private vehicles. And that includes Defense Department personnel.

Taxes are proportional to engine size; the bigger the engine, the higher the tax.

For first-timers, paying up can seem daunting. The thought of going to the local municipal office scares many, especially if they don’t speak the language.

But a little planning ahead and having paperwork in order makes the process simple. And Defense Department people don’t even have to go off base.

Bases in mainland Japan and Okinawa have set days and locations for people to pay their road taxes. Owners who are temporarily out of the country or just can’t make it can have someone else handle it with no need for granting power of attorney.

Off base, taxes are typically collected at municipal offices, banks and post offices.

Failure to pay the tax can result in unwanted attention from Japanese and military police, including vehicle impoundment and denial of base access.

“We use road tax season as a chance to verify that everyone has all their paperwork up to date,” said Lt. Mark Smigelski, a Yokosuka Naval Base security officer.

Road tax season also coincides with the expiration date of base decals, which have their own special requirements.

Obtaining new decals requires presenting the following items:

Proof of payment of your 2007 road tax.A status-of-forces-agreement drivers license.Liability insurance.Japanese Compulsory Insurance.A current base inspection sheet for your car.Japanese vehicle title.Military vehicle registration.Certificate of title of motor vehicle (DD Form 430).A valid SOFA ID card.A valid parking certificate (if applicable).And motorists whom Japanese police have cited for traffic violations must pay fines before they can get a base decal, according to Mamoru Hasegawa, the chief liaison officer between Yokosuka military and Japanese police.

The vehicle registration office maintains a list of servicemembers and SOFA-sponsored civilians with unresolved Japanese traffic citations.

“Some people think they can get away with not paying the 15,000 yen for a parking ticket,” Smigelski said. “I had one person who had 13 unpaid tickets.”

Owners of more than one vehicle also must get decals for all of them at the same time, Smigelski said. That is to prevent people from leaving one or more vehicles “off the books,” with outstanding road tax owed or without all of the proper insurance, he said.

Decoding the plate

The small numbers above the larger numbers on Japanese license plates denote the size of the vehicle, and annual road taxes are charged accordingly.

A 500 series is a “regular car,” defined as less than 4.7 meters long, less than 1.7 meters wide or less than 2 meters in height. It also has an engine displacement of less than 2,000cc.

Anything larger is considered a 300 series car and is taxed higher.

A 400 series is an SUV or small work truck, and a 100 series is a large truck.

Letters before the large numbers on plates also have meaning.

An “A” is a big motorcycle, while a “B” is a small motorcycle.

An “E” means the owner imported the vehicle to Japan, while a “Y” — the most common letter found on vehicles on military bases — means the vehicle was bought in Japan by an owner in the country under the status of forces agreement.

When and where to payThe schedule for the payment of Japanese road taxes on U.S. bases on Okinawa was released Wednesday.

According to the Joint Services Vehicle Registration Office, all taxes must be paid in Japanese yen and credit cards will not be accepted. A Community Bank representative will be at each site to convert currency.

Road taxes may be paid at the following dates and locations:

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