Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Legal Guidance
- General. While in Japan, all active duty military personnel, including reservists on active duty training, are subject to both U.S. and Japanese laws. Members of the U.S. forces in Japan have certain rights, privileges, and special protections which have been accorded by the SOFA. In return, the SOFA makes it the duty of all members of the U.S. forces to respect the laws of Japan and to abstain from any activities inconsistent with the spirit of the Agreement.
- Entry into Japan. All persons not on military orders must have a U.S. passport upon entry into Japan. Those in a tourist status are not required to have a visa and may stay in Japan up to 90 days. Individuals in a tourist status are not entitled to SOFA privileges and entitlements, even when accompanied by their military sponsors.
- Customs. There is no Japanese customs duty imposed on personal effects brought into Japan by members of the U.S. Armed Forces for their private use. For goods bought in Japan, there may be customs duty imposed by the U.S. Customs Service upon return to the States. Generally, articles with the total purchase value of $400.00 or less (based on the fair retail value of the item in the country where acquired) may be exempt from duties, except that only 1 liter of liquor and up to 200 cigarettes may be included in the exemption.
- Criminal Jurisdiction. Japanese authorities have the primary right to exercise criminal jurisdiction over members of the U.S. Armed Forces for most criminal offenses. A soldier who becomes involved in an incident should contact the nearest U.S. or JSDF MP office. Personnel apprehended off post by the Japanese police may be detained in Japanese custody for up to 23 days. The Japanese police are required to notify U.S. authorities immediately of such custody, but are not required to transfer custody. Narcotics offenses, including even small amounts of marijuana, are severely dealt with under Japanese law. If a U.S. military member is under investigation, he/she will be placed on administrative hold by the USARJ/9th TSC Commander, and will not be allowed to leave Japan.
- Driving. When operating a motor vehicle in Japan, a driver must possess a motor vehicle license that authorizes driving in Japan, issued by the local Provost Marshal office. Under Japanese law, every licensed driver is a professional driver. Therefore, all drivers are expected to exercise an extremely high standard of care. Drunk driving is a criminal offense. The United States has primary jurisdiction over vehicular accidents while in the performance of official duty.
- Claims. All incidents/accidents involving personal injury to, or death of a Japanese national, or damage to property belonging to a Japanese national must be thoroughly investigated and forwarded to the USAF. The USAF has single Service claims responsibility in Japan. The Japanese national(s) involved will be advised to contact the local DFAB.
- Demonstrations. If anti U.S./anti-exercise demonstrations are encountered, keep calm. Their intent
is to provoke U.S. personnel. Do not fall into their trap. Avoid confrontations. The Japanese authorities are responsible for keeping public order.
- Gifts. The following paragraphs provide information regarding ethical and regulatory requirements, and limitations on acceptance of foreign gifts (See also the paragraph on appropriate gifts in the section covering Japanese customs and courtesies below).
- Personnel will not solicit or accept gifts from a prohibited source (e.g., someone who has an interest in the performance of official Army missions) or gifts given because of the employee's official position.
- The following are exceptions to the general rule prohibiting accepting gifts from foreign government sources:
- (1) Gifts of minimal value. Gifts of minimal value may be accepted. "Minimal value" is defined as having a retail value not in excess of $245.00.
- (2) Gifts valued above $245.00 cannot be accepted, unless refusal of the gift would be likely to cause offense or embarrassment to the donor, or could adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States. Such gifts can only be accepted on behalf of the United States, become the property of the United States, and must be reported and deposited with the
Commander, U.S. Personnel Command, ATTN: TAPC-PDO-IP, Alexandria, Virginia 22332-0474, for disposal, official use, or forwarding to the General Services Administration.
- The recipient of a gift should keep a record of the circumstances of the presentation, including date and place of presentation, name and official title of the donor, and a brief description of the gift and its appraised U.S. retail value.
- Non-gifts. The term "gift" includes almost anything of monetary value, except:
- (1) Coffee, donuts, and similar modest items of food and refreshments when offered other than as part of a meal.
- (2) Greeting cards and most plaques, certificates, and trophies that are of little intrinsic value.
- (3) Rewards and prizes in contests open to the public.
- Foreign corporations and individuals not considered "foreign government" sources, are treated the same as American donors. If they are "prohibited sources" (e.g., having an interest in the performance of official Army missions) gifts cannot be accepted that exceed $20.00 per gift or $50.00 per year.
The above information is not intended to serve as a substitute for prompt and competent legal advice. Specific questions should be directed to the SJA Office, USARJ/9th TSC, Camp Zama (DSN 315-263 3156/7327).