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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 November 14 - 20  > US military uses ports, airports, and highways in Japan for free under SOFA
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2018 November 14 - 20 [US FORCES]

US military uses ports, airports, and highways in Japan for free under SOFA

November 18, 2018

The U.S. military is exempted from paying tolls or charges for using ports, airports, and highways in Japan under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The Japanese government makes the payment for use by the U.S., claiming that this is a necessary measure to ensure their freedom of transportation.

U.S. military-related vessels stayed in Japanese ports 48 days in total in 2016 and the Japanese government paid 2.6 million yen for the toll, according to the Defense Ministry.

Transport Ministry data shows that U.S. military aircraft in 2017 made 324 landings at civilian airports all across Japan. The amount of landing charges that Japan shouldered was not disclosed, but it must be fairly large, given a 2012 Defense Ministry document which indicates that per-landing charges at Nagoya Airport were 103,650 yen for a C-130 transport airplane and 96,330 yen for an F-15 fighter.

Article 5 Clause 3 of the SOFA stipulates that when U.S. military vessels enter Japanese ports, “appropriate notification shall, under normal conditions, be made to the proper Japanese authorities”. However, the Japanese government in the minutes of meetings that the two governments had concerning the SOFA consented that the U.S. military should be allowed to skip the notification in exceptional cases, in which, for example, to give notification could affect the safety of the U.S. military. This agreement effectively leaves the U.S. to decide whether to give a notification or not.

On top of that, in regard to landings at civilian airports, the U.S. military does not have to notify local municipalities. As a result, municipal governments sometimes receive no notification at all and are usually given a unilateral notice from the U.S. just before a landing.

Concerning highway tolls, U.S. military personnel, civilian personnel, and their families are exempted from paying the fees. The Japanese government annually pays 700-800 million yen for toll fees. Self-Defense Force personnel do not have such privileges.
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