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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.

When and where to pay this year’s road taxMisawa Air Base

Road taxes can be paid April 16-20 in the Mokuteki Community Center Ballroom. Vehicle owners pay on the day corresponding to the first letter of their last name: A to E, April 16; F to L, April 17; M to R, April 18; S to Z, April 19.

Times are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 16 to 19, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 20, which is a make-up day. Call the pass and registration office at DSN 226-3995 for more information.

YokosukaNaval Base, Ikego Housing Area

Representatives of the Kanagawa tax office will collect this year’s road tax on base at the Fleet Theater March 29 and 30, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and April 9, 10 and 13, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Negishi Housing Area

Road tax for vehicles can be paid at the Negishi Morale, Welfare and Recreation classroom in Building 19045 on April 24 and 25, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Residents can pay road taxes April 2-30. Japanese tax officials will be on station April 11-13 at the Provost Marshal’s Office pass and registration section.

SaseboNaval Base

Residents can pay taxes April 17-19 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m. through 3:30 p.m. at the Security Training Building No. 340 behind the Main Security building.

Yokota Air Base

Road tax collection begins April 1 with walk-in service at the pass and registration office from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Special payment sessions will be held at the Taiyo Recreation Center April 16-20 for regular four-wheeled vehicles and April 19-20 for mini cars and motorcycles. Times have not been announced.

Those unable to make it to the Taiyo may bring all registration/ownership paperwork, current JCI and liability insurance policies to pass and registration. A road tax slip will be issued and regular vehicle road taxes may be paid at an off-base bank or post office. Mini car and motorcycle owners may pay at Fussa or Musashimurayama city hall.

After payment, people must stop by the pass and registration office with the receipt and ownership paperwork to pick up a new USFJ decal.

CampZama

Taxes can be paid April 3-6 at the Camp Zama Community Club’s Firelite Lounge from 9-11 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m. daily. Sessions are broken down by the last names of vehicle owners: April 3 (A through E), April 4 (F through K), April 5 (L through R), April 6 (S through Z, as well as motorcycles and mini cars with yellow plates).

Otherwise, taxes must be paid off-post in the Sagami Land & Transportation Office, or the office on Route 51.

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.

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