Beginning in April, Japan’s sales tax will increase to 8 percent from the current 5 percent. The additional 3 percent will be added to everything from food items bought from the corner store to already expensive dinners at restaurants specializing in Kobe beef. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is implementing the hike, has thus earned the moniker “Japan’s Prime Rib Minister.”
Despite public concern that the higher rate will burden households and possibly cause an economic downturn, Abe has now unveiled a plan to charge a further levy on items not previously included, a move that will surely prove controversial.
Some say that the proposed increases, part of the “fourth arrow” in Abe’s popular “Abenomics” policy, are going a step too far. Dubbed the “language tax,” the new levy is aimed at word usage. Proper nouns such as Dokdo (instead of Takeshima) and Diaoyu (instead of Senkaku) will incur an 8 percent levy on their usage, based on their relative worth as listed in the 2014 word price-value index. The media, for example, may use the despised proper nouns, but must pay the price, each time, to do so.
In a recent government white paper concerning the language tax, in a section titled “All Islands, Big and Small,” the government makes it clear that all islands, islets, rocky outcroppings and their surrounding waters are, historically, integral parts of Japanese territory. “Thus we encourage a pro-Japan stance on proper nouns,” it reads. Large fines will be dealt to those who abuse the right to conservatively use disagreeable proper nouns.
Other highly taxable proper nouns include Yasukuni and Futenma, which when used in a positive light towards Japan will incur no tax, but if used negatively will be slapped with the aforementioned 8 percent fee.
The white paper also notes that junior-high and high schools will use the New Abe Dictionary in English classes, published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Geopolitics. Although the reference book has yet to be approved by the Ministry of History and Textbooks (due to a delay in the tomes being printed, bound and packaged in China), there is optimism that approval will be swift and dictionaries will be available for the start of the new school year.
The new dictionaries will supplement previous English dictionaries for high school and junior high, with the hope that they will further provide guidelines for English teaching in primary school and kindergarten, as well as in any future yet-to-be-invented methods of English teaching, including in-the-womb instruction. The ministry feels the newly revised dictionary will better reflect the government’s view on the English language.
The new dictionaries promote abeigo, words recommended by the Abe administration. “Abeigo” is a word combining the prime minister’s name and the Japanese word for English, eigo. Abenomics is the most widely known example of an abeigo. Abeigo words are tax-free, and liberal use is encouraged. Those using abeigo positively can apply for a rebate on their overall income tax at the end of the year by filling out a special language-tax form.
The following are some of the changes highlighted in the new dictionary: The words “whaling” and “dolphin slaughter” have been replaced with the more euphemistic abeigo “whale admiring” and “dolphin hugging.” The word “cove” has been replaced with “aquatic nook.”
Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, is pushing for a new educational TV program — to be called “Whale-a-Vision” — that will focus on Japan’s humane treatment of whales, and will seek to set straight common misunderstandings abroad, such as that Japan serves McWhale burgers in school lunches.
Further changes in Abe’s dictionary include the deletion of all references to the Constitution’s Article 9. The word “self-defense” will no longer be associated with the martial arts and must be preceded by the word “collective.” The word “history” will no longer be a read-only concept but —following in the steps of Wikipedia — will now allow changes. Nuclear energy will from here on be referred to as “new-clear energy.” The term “comfort women” did not get a mention.
The new compendium is designed to be a teaching guideline and is not legally binding. However, those teachers who do not adopt the new abeigo dictionary will be docked up to 2 percent of their performance-based salary, as judged by a panel of experts who will evaluate their enthusiasm when singing the “Kimigayo” national anthem and hoisting the Hinomaru flag during school ceremonies.
The government does not consider the language tax extreme, stating simply, “If you don’t consume the wrong words, you won’t have to pay the tax.” Those in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Geopolitics — who are known to participate in the morning radio taisō (calisthenics) ritual — have added a section at the end where they mimic the gestures for “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
The government has decided against the previous ¥5 trillion stimulus package, which included payments to low-income households to help offset the tax increase, saying: “Such households could save much more (than they would receive in government welfare payments) by merely curbing their choice of words in conversation. Such a built-in tax break is a win-win situation.”
From now on, those using English will have to choose their words carefully, and Japanese-speakers should avoid loaded proper nouns that could prove costly. However, Japanese citizens are reminded that their cooperation and support in all aspects of the tax increase is key to delivering a successful 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when the whole world will be watching.
Many wonder how the government will keep track of individual’s word usage and how much they owe. Apparently, the current state secrets bill covers that.