Recently, my house has become full of products hailing from across Japan. I have beer from Osaka Prefecture in the refrigerator, sausages made in Hokkaido stored in the freezer, and fluffy towels produced in the part of the Kansai region known for this creation. In the past, I’ve loaded up on potatoes, apples and cheese from every corner of the country.
This is all thanks to Furusato Nozei, or the Hometown Tax Donation Program. Created in 2008 as a way to distribute funds to sparsely populated parts of the country, this scheme has gradually grown in popularity over the past decade.
Part of the appeal lies in how contributing to it lowers my annual taxes. But the real charm comes from the chance to procure goods from far-flung places that specialize in them.
Well, at least that’s what has drawn me to Furusato Nozei. The United States doesn’t really have anything resembling this program. You can get tax breaks by donating money to certain charitable organizations. But there’s no way to direct your money to specific regions, let alone use it as a way to nab specialty meats or liquor from the other side of the country.
I tried it for the first time a couple of years ago. Simply going through the online catalog listing all of the options available was a blast on its own. I might have spent an hour just looking at all the varieties of melon found in the “Fruits” category. Eventually, I settled on a variety box of meat and special ice cream hailing from Hokkaido. It felt like grocery shopping.
But then, only a few weeks later, boxes loaded with hamburger patties and little tubs of ice cream showed up at my front door. Each item was delicious, and the whole experience felt like a weekend vacation to Sapporo from the comfort of my living room. Better still, these purchases resulted in my annual residence tax going down a little bit come the spring. I was hooked.
There have been some weird moments, though. It’s common to come across certain regions offering up goods that have nothing to do with what they produce. For example, one prefecture offered a beer produced in Niigata, but this prefecture is located on the other side of the country.
This has become such a problem that the government is trying to make it so that places can only offer products made within their borders. But those cases are easy to avoid, and I’m already contemplating what and from where I should order next. And looking forward to paying less in taxes. (Patrick St. Michel)