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Japan: Is a Sightseeing Trip by a Member of the U.S. Military Part of “Official Business”?

(Oct. 22, 2009) Japan's Board of Audit decided to recommend to the Ministry of Self Defense (MSD) that the MSD investigate the use of highway toll passes by members of U.S. troops stationed in Japan and define the “official purposes” for which U.S. troops are entitled to move between facilities free of tolls. Under article V of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Japan and the United States, for U.S. troops and their dependents stationed in Japan, certain “access to and movement between facilities and areas by United States military vehicles shall be free from toll and other charges.” (SOFA [Agreement Under Article VI of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America, Regarding Facilities and Areas and the Status of United States Armed Forces In Japan, promulgated and in force on June 23, 1960], Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website, (last visited Oct. 21, 2009).)

In practice, U.S. military authorities in Japan issue the passes to the troops, who fill in the names and car identification numbers and hand the passes over to toll gate attendants. Toll administrators claim the tolls from MSD. MSD has paid about 900 million yen (approximately US$9.9 million) annually. According to the Board of Audit, MSD has never examined whether the tolls should have been paid by it under the SOFA or clarified the cases in which it should pay the tolls. The Board of Audit stated that such MSD practices may violate Japanese accounting law. The Board of Audit found that many of the passes were used for long drives with the use of rental cars on holidays, so that it is assumed they were used for private, leisure trips. The U.S. military in Japan stated in an interview with a Japanese newspaper that it issued toll passes for personal trips by their personnel using rental cars, but those private trips also fall into the category of activities with “official purposes” because these rental cars are run by the U.S. military's welfare organization and belong to the U.S. military. (Beigun no kōsoku dai nō chekku, bōei shō ga nen 9 oku hutan [No Checking on High Way Tolls Claimed by U.S. Military, MSD Pays 900 Million Yen Annually], YOMIURI NEWSPAPER, Oct. 19, 2009, available at