If paying taxes is one of life’s two iron-clad inevitabilities (the other being death), why not make a game of it? Paying taxes for fun and profit – that’s what an initiative known as "furusato nozei" (hometown tax) amounts to. It’s a boom, says Shukan Post (April 17).
“Furusato” (hometown) is actually a bit of a misnomer. The idea, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first administration originally proposed it in 2007, was to stimulate languishing rural economies with contributions – tax-deductible – from all across the country. Pick any locality you like – it needn’t be your hometown – and remit a greater or lesser percentage of your resident's tax to it instead of to your actual place of residence, receiving in return – here’s where the fun and profit come in – a gift, usually a famous local product, as a token of thanks.
Off to a modest start in 2008, the program has since burgeoned. Local governments are vying ever more creatively with one another, offering ever more novel and original gifts, to draw contributors looking for something new in their tax lives.
Gifts started out predictable – local beef, sake, sea food products and so on – but predictability gets you only so far. A promotional idea in a world brimming with promotional ideas must startle if it’s to click. How about this: send us your tax money and we’ll send you paragliding over the sand dunes! Sand dunes? Only one locale in Japan boasts them – Tottori Prefecture, and the brainwave is Tottori City’s. Half a day’s paragliding over Tottori’s famous sand dunes – that’s the reward for a tax contribution of 10,000 yen or more. The sand is so soft it’s safe for anyone aged 3 to 80, though you do have to insure yourself, at a cost of 1,000 yen.
Or this: for a contribution of 40,000 yen or more, receive a tablet computer, worth 20,000 yen, made by local factories in a city bristling with them – Iiyama, Nagano Prefecture. That offer proved so popular when introduced in January that it had to be suspended. It is set to resume later this month.
Ninohe City in Iwate Prefecture is in the heart of apple country. Apples are nice, but ever so slightly unexciting, unless…. what about apple trees? Pay 100,000 yen in tax, become owner of a local apple tree. The average yield at the November harvest would be, depending to some extent on meteorological caprice of course, in the neighborhood of 36 kg.
There’s more, so much more it’s hard to know where to go from here – to Kurayoshi City in Tottori Prefecture, with its hand-carved Buddhist statues? To Hirado in Nagasaki Prefecture with its sea food? To Tendo City in Yamagata Prefecture with its soccer team? Hirado’s sea food gifts might seem to err on the side of caution, but civic leaders there know what they’re doing. Hirado, says Shukan Post, is number one nationwide in terms of "furusato nozei" income – 1.46 billion yen over the past six years. "Furusato nozei," in fact, nets Hirado more income than local tax revenue.
Hand-carved Buddhist statues take us into an intensifying competition for high-income, big-spending participants. Kurayoshi City is famous for religious sculptures carved by three local masters. For a contribution of 500,000 or more, one will be carved especially for you.
Yamagata Prefecture’s Tendo City is home to the J1 soccer club Montedio Yamagata, and you, yes you – for a tax payment of 1 million yen or more – can become team president for a day, not only spending time with the players in the locker room but actually issuing them instructions. You’re the president, after all.
Is this the modern face of tax-paying? Like all great ideas, this one makes you wonder why no one one ever thought of it before. Once the bane of existence, being taxed now looks as much fun as shopping – and is so regarded by more and more people, Shukan Post observes, who spread their shopping nets nationwide and forget altogether that it’s the same old curse – the government’s hand in the people’s pockets.© Japan Today