Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hometown dues

Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com


Nostalgic twinges


COUNTRY folk in Japan often say that people in the big cities have forgotten all about them. Yet many city-dwellers still harbour strong feelings towards their furusato, or home town—that rural area which their forebears may have left many decades ago during the country’s rapid urbanisation. For some lucky rural towns, the unexpected popularity of a scheme called furusato nozei, or hometown tax, is proving a windfall.


Seven years ago the central government began allowing city residents to divert a proportion of their income-tax payments to a furusato of their choice. The response has been overwhelming. In the last fiscal year rural towns earned ¥14 billion ($1.2 billion) from such contributions.


Some people choose a furusato not on the basis of any family ties, but simply because they like the area. Many select towns on Japan’s north-eastern coast that were devastated by the tsunami of March 2011. Sonoe Hasegawa, a 47-year-old accountant from Tokyo, says she wants to help revive the countryside. She has decided to give tax to Ishinomaki, a town in Miyagi prefecture where 3,700 residents drowned in the disaster, as well as five other places.


Shrewd self-promotion by local governments has helped attract furusato money. Some have set up websites offering generous gifts of marbled beef, exotic seafoods and other goodies in return for a share of urbanites’ taxes. The biggest earner from the contributions, the town of Hirado in Nagasaki prefecture, has a glossy brochure of the local foods it promises to send as gifts. Several towns last year received more than double the amount they raised in levies from local residents.


After a website, “Furusato choice”, started listing the various offerings, it became clear that many towns were giving back in freebies half or even more of the value of the tax contributions they were raising. The central government has tried to crack down on the most lavish handouts, such as the gold ninja throwing-knives worth ¥400,000 that one city was offering in honour of its ninja spies. But furusato longings are a force the government cannot ignore. It has just expanded the scheme. A household with an income of ¥8m, for example, may now donate up to ¥142,000 in return for about 7% off its tax bill, up from 3.5% before.


Poorer regions are especially delighted. Many have been suffering financially as a result of ageing and shrinking populations. One small town in Hokkaido claims that 200 people, apparently fired by furusato fervour, have settled within its precincts. When Anan, a town in Nagano prefecture, began offering 20kg bags of prized local rice in return for tax donations, it received such an enthusiastic response that elderly residents who had given up farming their rice paddies began cultivating them again, according to Shigeki Kanamori, who has written a book on furusato nozei.


For Japan’s urban residents, such stories of rural revival are inspirational, feeding dreams of halcyon lives far removed from their harried city ones. There is probably little harm in it. At least, unlike earlier efforts to revive the countryside with large-scale public works, the scheme does not involve pouring yet more concrete.





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