Japan is now holding intergovernmental consultations with the United States for improvement in the way of implementing the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA for short, in order for police and fire authorities to enter the sites of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft in Japan, Foreign Minister Taro Kono clarified before the House of Councillors Budget Committee during its meeting on Feb. 7. He was replying to a question asked by Yoshihiro Kawano, a member of the Komeito party, a coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The SOFA pact stipulates that Japan needs the U.S. military’s consent to take such measures as searching or seizing the U.S. military’s assets. Based on this SOFA provision, Japanese investigative authorities and officials have not been allowed to enter the sites of U.S. military aircraft accidents. For instance, in October 2017, a CH-53 heavy-tilt transport helicopter belonging to the U.S. military’s Futenma airfield in the central Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan crash-landed and caught fire in a privately owned field in the island prefecture’s northern village of Higashi. At the time, the site was off-limits to Okinawa Prefecture’s police, government, and municipal officials.
Asked about entry into restricted areas for on-the-spot investigations after the occurrence of accidents, Kono stated: “We’ve conducted necessary investigations in the past as well. However, I’ve given instructions [to Foreign Ministry officials] so we can take even more appropriate measures, and we’re now holding working-level consultations with the U.S. government.”
Meanwhile, Okinawa Prefecture’s Governor Denny Tamaki welcomed the Japan-U.S. intergovernmental consultations upon his visit to the Foreign Ministry on Feb. 7. “We are asking for a revision of SOFA, but [at the very least] I want to ask the government to make efforts to improve the way SOFA is implemented,” Tamaki told reporters.