Okinawa car rental companies wary of Chinese tourists with improperly obtained permits

Believing that it would be convenient to drive around Okinawa, a Chinese woman in her thirties decided to access a major online shopping site before her 2016 trip to obtain a valid driver’s license. in Japan, since Chinese permits are not allowed. in Japan.

The license was issued in the Philippines and obtained through an agent listed on the website for around 40,000.

The woman was worried about the legality of the process, but her friend reassured her that she would have no problem.

After sending her photo and a copy of her Chinese driver’s license to the officer, an international driver’s license was mailed about a month later to the woman’s accommodation in Okinawa in December 2016. Along with the license, she rented a sports car and drove around. the main island of the prefecture, where public transport is scarce.

But she realized that she should no longer use the permit after seeing reports in Japanese media in January that highlighted the problem of international licenses obtained by Chinese tourists in the same way.

Chinese driver’s licenses cannot be used here because, unlike Japan, China is not a party to the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. The treaty is designed to facilitate international road traffic and increase road safety by establishing standard rules between signatories.

The Japanese road traffic law states that foreign drivers must have: a license issued in Japan, or an international driver’s license based on the Geneva Convention or a license from countries or regions recognized by Tokyo to have similar systems for driver’s licenses, such as Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan. The Philippines is a party to the convention.

Holders of false licenses could be charged with driving without a license, police say. These license dealers could not be found when a reporter for the Okinawa Times searched China’s online shopping website on May 18 for agents offering international driver’s licenses issued in the Philippines.

An employee of the Chinese tourism industry in Okinawa said the number of such dealers fell sharply after media reports in January.

According to a 2016 survey of foreign tourists conducted by Okinawa Prefecture, 11.1% of 349 Chinese visitors surveyed said in a multiple-choice question that they were traveling by rental car.

Car rental companies in the prefecture fear that international driver’s licenses presented by Chinese tourists may have been obtained illegally online. But they say it is difficult to find out about these permits because Chinese drivers can legitimately acquire international permits if they are staying in countries that are party to the Geneva Pact, including South Korea and the Philippines.

The National Police Agency said it was aware of the problem and was investigating the situation in cooperation with other central government agencies and the All Japan Rent-a-Car association.

At a Luft Travel Rent-a-Car Co. outlet near Naha Airport, several Chinese customers presented international driver’s licenses issued in the Philippines since last September, but the company refused to rent them cars. . When asked by staff if they had been to the Philippines, some gave incomprehensible answers and others said they did not directly follow the procedures to obtain the licenses. Others appeared shocked to learn that they had been cheated, according to the company.

Times Mobility Networks Co., which operates Times Car Rental offices across Japan, improved its system in late April to check incorrectly obtained licenses, requiring staff to confirm whether holders of international driver’s licenses issued in countries other than theirs actually went there. resignation.

In March, the Okinawa Rent-a-Car Association distributed flyers to member companies saying they could refuse to rent cars to customers if international driver’s licenses are suspected of having been obtained illegally.

But an association official said: “There is no way to verify the authenticity of (international) licenses.”

As some Chinese passport holders may have legitimately obtained local and international driver’s licenses while in Geneva Convention member countries, the official said the association cannot ask companies to interview all Chinese customers on how they obtained their permits.

An official from the All Japan Rent-a-Car Association also said companies are not required to pass judgment on the authenticity of international driver’s licenses.

Yasushi Nakamura, vice president of Okinawa Tourist Service Inc., a major travel agency in the prefecture, suggested that Japan and China sign a bilateral agreement to allow Chinese tourists to drive rental cars in Japan.

But he added: “We aim to create an environment in which tourists can enjoy Okinawa without renting cars,” noting that more traffic jams and accidents could occur if there were more car drivers. rental on the road.

This section features Okinawa topics and issues covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on May 19.

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Pamela W. Robbins

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