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United States Marine Corps
PSC 561 Box 1862
Figuring out the best way to get around is important when you’re in a new installation. It’s useful to understand the various regulations, local laws as well as license and registration requirements. Whether you need a driver’s license, transport a car overseas or want help buying a car, there are people to assist you at your new installation. Check out the topics below to find information and regulations on vehicles and registration at your base.
Japan definitely offers a distinct driving experience. Unlike the United States, people drive on the left side of the road, which requires some getting used to. The slow lane is on the left, and the fast lane is on the right, although there usually is not a significant difference between the two.
All speed limits are marked in kilometers per hour and all traffic signs here conform to international standards many roads are much narrower than standard American roads; traffic congestion is more the rule than the exception. Needless to say, careful, defensive driving is an absolute necessity.
All MCAS Iwakuni personnel who plan to operate a motor vehicle in Japan must complete the Welcome Aboard and the Status of Forces (SOFA) briefs and pass a written driver's test to obtain a SOFA license.
MCAS Iwakuni personnel who own a motor vehicle in Japan must comply with all Japanese vehicle registration and licensing requirements including annual road tax, supplementary insurance, and Japanese Compulsory Insurance (JCI). In addition, all motor vehicles must be registered with Installation Pass and ID.
All vehicles owned by US Forces personnel assigned to Iwakuni must be registered through the Vehicle Registration Office. Vehicles are registered under the sponsor's name and there is a limit to the number of autos registered at one time.
The Air Station order which outlines registration of vehicles is a punitive order. Anyone who fails to register a vehicle, drives a vehicle with expired (or nonexistent) insurance, or violates any other section of the Station Order could face a dishonorable discharge, confinement for two years, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and reduction to E-1.
Before registering a vehicle, personnel should fully understand what is required to operate and maintain a motor vehicle here in Japan. Lack of knowledge or negligence on the part of the driver is not an acceptable excuse.
Drinking and Driving -- Drinking and driving and illegal drugs are dealt with very severely by both Japanese and Military authorities. Driving with a blood alcohol content of .03 percent, on or off base, will result in an automatic DUI offense. If a driver of a vehicle is stopped by the Japanese Police and signs of intoxication are observed or an odor of alcoholic beverage is present, the driver and all passengers can be charged with alcohol-related offenses under Japanese law.
Seatbelts/Child Safety Seats -- Seatbelts must be worn at all times while driving on and off base. Department of Transportation approved car seats are required for children under 45 lbs. and/or 6 years old.
Vehicle Checks -- Japanese police perform periodic vehicle and driver inspections to ensure the vehicle conforms to safety standards and the driver is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In order for active duty personnel, civilian or family member to drive on mainland Japan, you must obtain a valid USFJ-4A, US Forces Japan Operator's License.
All active duty personnel under the age of 26 will be required to complete a Drivers Awareness Training. Prior attendance at an accredited Driver's Improvement Course in CONUS is an acceptable substitute.
Sergeants and corporals must wait 45/90 days respectively and Lance Corporals and below will have to wait 1 year before they can apply for a license to operate privately owned vehicles.
Permission for the license must come from the individual's squadron commander. Squadron commanders may make exceptions to the requirements for special circumstances, such as personnel with dependents living off base or emergency consideration such as medical care of family member.
Each individual must attend the Base Safety SOFA class and pass a written test to receive a SOFA license. Each person must possess a valid stateside driver's license and have it in your possession upon arrival in Japan. SOFA license renewals are based on current stateside license, please ensure you have a state license to cover the duration of your tour in Japan.
Check with your state Department of Motor Vehicles to see if they have a military extension policy and what you must do to get the extension. Individuals under the age of 18 years are strictly prohibited in driving anywhere off base. If you are between the ages of 16 years and 18 years, you are permitted for on base driving only.
Active duty military E-5 and below must present Vehicle Registration Office a letter from their respective commanders authorizing them to be licensed based on the criteria mentioned previously same subject. SOFA License -- Driving or registering of vehicles requires each individual to possess a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) license. Family members must be listed on travel orders and area clearance.
SOFA class and testing are held on Mondays in Sakura Theater after Welcome Aboard orientation from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. All personnel must attend course and pass the written test presented in the classroom. Please contact Provost Marshal Office at 253-3161 for further details.
Study materials can be found in the Station Library. Driving without a SOFA license, without JCI, without paying road tax or without insurance are serious violations which could result in revocation of driving privileges. Attendance of the Welcome Aboard orientation is mandatory and attendance will be validated along with the Base Safety SOFA course with successful completion prior to issuance of privately owned vehicle (POV) driver's license. Personnel in possession of a current SOFA license when moving from one base in Japan to another will also be required to attend the Welcome Aboard orientation and SOFA licensing course in Iwakuni.
All permits are valid to the date on the license unless the person PCS's, attends college out of Japan or allows the license to lapse.
Personnel whose stateside license is not renewable through the state DMV should contact Pass and Registration to understand how to obtain a SOFA license.
The operation of privately owned vehicles (POV) within Japan is considered a privilege agreed between U.S. Forces Japan and the Japanese Provincial Government. Like all high-level agreements of this nature, adherence to local laws and regulations are critical to ensure the agreement remains in good standing. Driving privileges can be revoked through formal Traffic Court adjudication or simply through command administrative action based on the desires and needs of the commander.
The operation of a motor vehicle within Japan carries similar responsibilities and consequences as operating a motor vehicle in the U.S. with few exceptions. A significant difference under Japanese law involves categorizing anyone with a motor vehicle operator’s license as a “professional driver.” While driving in the U.S. is more or less taken for granted these days for anyone 16 years of age or older, Japanese citizens must devote considerable time and money toward obtaining their license through a government approved professional driving school. As such, traffic accidents that result in personal injury or death frequently lead to criminal prosecution under article 211 of the Japanese Penal Code, “Injury or Death through Occupational or Professional Negligence.”
Penalties can be costly and severe as at-fault drivers will typically be subject to the Japanese traffic law. SOFA licensed drivers are subject to steeper fines and more severe penalties for non-injury related traffic offenses such as DUI/DWI, speeding, and illegal parking.
Traffic Signs. Traffic signs used throughout Japan are considered international standard road signs.
Motor vehicles in Japan undergo a periodic safety inspection, and with few exceptions, the initial inspection is renewed every two years in conjunction with initial registration or re-registration requirements.
You must obtain a SOFA operator's license to drive a SOFA vehicle in Japan. Registration requires possession of an operator's license. The U.S. Forces, Japan Operator's License For Civilian Vehicle (USFJ Form 4EJ) is the only authorized license. You cannot register a vehicle on MCAS Iwakuni unless you possess a valid MCAS Iwakuni USFJ Form 4EJ.
The price of a car depends on the year, make, model, condition of the vehicle, etc. Unlike buying a car in the United States, the price of a car in Japan may vary with the amount of vehicle inspection, if any, which remains on the vehicle at the time of purchase.
Under Japanese law, anytime you get behind the wheel of a car or drive a motorcycle, you are responsible, and held to a higher standard of care than a pedestrian or bicycle/moped rider. Even if the other person was partially at fault, as a professional driver, you will always be held liable for the injuries or damage you cause.
You could be charged with professional negligence causing bodily injury under Japanese law. The professional negligence standard also applies to accidents between automobiles.
Hands-free devices must be used while operating a motor vehicle on ALL military installations worldwide.
Vehicle owners in Japan are required to pay an annual road tax. Mini-car (four-wheeled automobiles with an engine displacement of 660cc or less) and motorcycle road tax is a city tax paid to Japanese city offices in April. The city tax office is in Iwakuni, located near the Iwakuni Police Station downtown.
All other road taxes are prefecture or state taxes paid to the Prefecture tax office personnel. The Iwakuni office is located in the Symphonia Iwakuni building.
Payments made by U.S. forces personnel are discounted. The collected money is matched with Federal funds of the entire payment for road improvement. The amount of tax is determined by the registration categories of the vehicle, which is indicated on the vehicle's number plate in small numbers to the right of the kanji for Japan.
In addition to Japanese Compulsory Insurance, JCI, current military regulations require all U.S Forces vehicle owners to purchase and maintain supplementary insurance.
The minimum insurance required is ￥3,000,000 for property damage to the other party for which you are legally responsible, and ￥30,000,000 bodily injury to the other party for which you are legally responsible.
The cost of this insurance varies with the Military member's rank, age, the type of vehicle purchased and length of insurance policy.
Note: Both JCI and Secondary insurance must be maintained on SOFA status personnel vehicle registered in Japan.
Registration of a motor vehicle in Japan also requires JCI. There must be sufficient JCI to cover the entire inspection period.
The policy normally covers two years and pays for bodily injury or death of the other party, for which you are legally liable. The limits of JCI are up to ￥30,000,000 for death or permanent disability and up to ￥1,200,000 for injury of each person per accident.