Sunday, March 29, 2020

How Paying my Taxes Saved My Ass

-- Susan, every other Sunday

In late February of 2020, coronavirus panic struck Japan. A rumor spread through Tokyo that Japan would suffer a shortage of toilet paper because TP was made from the same raw materials as surgical masks. Although entirely false, the rumor caused a toilet paper panic of epic proportions, with shelves stripped bare--not only of toilet tissue, but anything and everything else one might use to replace it, too.

Who knew this would become the definition of "luxury"?

Almost simultaneously, the newspapers in Japan issued reassuring statements:

Japan's toilet paper is not made from the same materials as masks.

Japan's toilet paper is domestically made.

There are no shortages. There is plenty of toilet paper.

I believed them, and didn't join the buying panic. I had four rolls at home, and I didn't worry.

Five days later, there was still no toilet tissue on market shelves.

I was down to three rolls.

I grew slightly concerned.

Three more days passed, and although the news outlets had escalated their cries from "There's plenty of paper" to "Stop being selfish," and then "For the love of all that's holy, QUIT HOARDING TOILET PAPER!" there was still no toilet tissue on the shelves.

At this point, I had placed my penultimate roll on the hook, and I admit true trepidation had taken hold. My apartment has a fancy Japanese toilet (with both "back" and "front" bidets) but I didn't relish the idea of ending up in a "drip dry" situation.

Me, contemplating a world with no toilet paper.

I considered asking my mother to mail me toilet paper from the States (in a stroke of irony, she's now in need of some herself) but a flash of inspiration presented a more creative option.

Furusato nozei.

Since the system isn't well known outside Japan, please allow me a brief aside to explain the program.

Every person in Japan pays annual "residence taxes" (equal to approximately 10% of take-home pay, with no significant deductions allowed) to the city where they reside.

Almost 80% of Japan's population lives in urban areas, which results in dramatic inequities where taxes are concerned. Wealthy cities like Tokyo take in oodles of money, while many rural towns receive next to nothing.

In 2008, Japan introduced the "furusato nozei" program, which allows residents of Japan to pre-pay up to 40% of next year's residence taxes to any qualifying city, town, or municipality of their choice, in return for a dollar for dollar reduction in the taxes the donor has to pay next year (less a one-time annual administrative fee equal to roughly $18 USD).

Why would anyone choose to prepay taxes "just" to help a less wealthy part of the country?

The Japanese government thought of that part, too.

Everyone likes a gift!

Every city, town, or other municipality that participates in furusato nozei is allowed to offer a "thank you gift" (or gifts) to donors, valued at up to 40% of the tax donation the municipality receives. (And they can use wholesale/production values rather than retail, making the value actually higher.)

A thank-you box from a town in Hokkaido famous for growing soybeans

Donors can visit furusato nozei websites (my favorite, and the most popular, is furusato choice) to see the various thank-you gifts on offer (more than 250,000 different choices, as of March 2020), and select the gifts they want. The payments can be made online or by credit card, bank transfer, or at thousands of convenience stores across the country.

We can even choose the purpose for which the tax donation will be used. (Thus far, I have donated to enrichment activities for elderly people, jobs for people with disabilities, environmental protection, and educational programs for children.)

I started making furusato nozei donations late last year, to support some of the towns I visited during my 100 Summits climbs. In return, I received generous gifts of tofu (which I love), smoked sausages, and giant dekopon--known as "sumo oranges" in the States.

Orange you glad you know about furusato nozei?

So when the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 hit, I fired up Furusato Choice and typed "トイレットペーパー" in the search bar, hoping that at least one of the cities that make Japanese toilet paper would have a thank-you gift that could save my ... sanity.

Hello, Wakkanai.

The small port town in Japan's far north was offering 98 rolls of top quality, two-ply Nepia "Anemone" brand toilet paper . . . in return for a measly 10,000 yen donation (about $95 US).

And remember ... I get all 10,000 yen deducted from the amount of residence tax I have to pay next year, making that toilet paper free.

Me, after solving the problem.

I made the payment instantly, and five days later Yamato Transport (Japan's parcel delivery service) knocked on my front door with a waist high parcel wrapped in plain brown paper. Inside, I found the promised 98 rolls of toilet paper.

In my house, right now. This is enough toilet paper for two years.

Best of all . . . it's pink.

We have toilet paper back on the shelves in Japan now (and I hope the US and other places won't be far behind), but when the $#!& was threatening to hit the fan in a major way, Japan's residence tax donation system came through . . . and saved my ass.

And though this post has rolled on longer than my usual offerings, I hope it's provided a distraction and a smile in a difficult time. Stay safe, stay inside, and stay positive.

And please . . . don't hoard the toilet paper.


  1. What a wonderful story, Susan! And a happy ending. You see, by listening to the admonition not to hoard, you were rewarded with what you needed for free! There's a moral there...

    1. I actually agree with this Michael. Doing the right thing is not only its own reward, but also so often results in rewards from the universe as well.

  2. You know how much I LOVE this story, Susan. My supply is holding up for now. However, if I get panicky, I may be emailing you a prepaid shipping label for four rolls of yours. Let's talk again soon. STAY SAFE!

    1. Stay safe!! And I will HAPPILY send you TP if the need arises. Just let me know - and I'll send you more than just four :)

  3. Susan, I am struggling to overcome an irresistible urge to join in on the decidedly brilliant display of subtle puns, word play, and double entendre running through your post and its comments. I'm trying my best to pull it off, but as some would say in order for me to make it to the end will take a marcal. Stay Safe.

    1. Aww, come on Jeff. I'd have thought for sure, if anyone would bring the puns . . .'tissue....

  4. When Jeff gets on a roll, you know that something's about to hit the fan.

    Great story, Susan, and the tax system sounds fascinating!

    1. How did I know that would draw you out, EvKa, like Scarabaeius Viettei to their own unique game of roller ball.

    2. Thanks EvKa! I love the tax system - it makes me feel good about helping others, which is really what taxes SHOULD be about, when we get right down to it.

  5. Susan, I love the areas of contributions! The jobs for disabled and elderly enrichment are close to my heart considering that I am disabled and when I could work, it was as a CNA taking care of the elderly (mainly Alzheimer's patients. Thank you for brightening my day with your post!

  6. This is awesome! And did you know I inherited a vintage Seventies pink bathroom? I want in on the pink magic, so do please save a few rolls. (And we're running a tad low so I might need to also send you a pre-paid shipping envelope!)