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Unforgiving system leaves family mired in debt

Couple say that advice from local city officials to defer paying health insurance payments left them owing millions and facing asset seizures

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Aside from the fact that they are in an international marriage, there is nothing that really makes Taka Hirano and his American wife, Brandy, stand out from the other families in their suburban neighborhood in Wakayama Prefecture. Like most of their friends, they are just doing their best to juggle work and family commitments and keep their heads above water in the current economic climate.

However, the couple have recently found themselves entangled in a stressful battle with the local city office over health insurance payments. Shell-shocked from the events of the past year, they decided to share their story with The Japan Times in order to draw attention to a system that they say has left them feeling like criminals.

Finances have always been quite tight for the family and they are used to living frugally. Taka is some years older than Brandy and his age has meant that employment options are limited. He currently teaches English and does freelance translation and consulting work. Brandy limited her working hours so that she could be home for her children when they were smaller, but now she too works long days as an English teacher.

Paying their health insurance premiums started to become a problem after the birth of their third child. Since neither Taka nor Brandy are salaried employees, they are enrolled under the national health insurance scheme (kokumin kenkō hoken) for the self-employed and their families. Enrollment in one of the country’s health insurance programs is mandatory for all Japanese citizens, as well as foreign nationals on long-term visas.

“I went down to city office to explain the situation and said we couldn’t pay the full amount each month. It was about ¥25,000 per month at that point as I recall,” explains Taka. “They were understanding, and told me, ‘Just pay whenever you can, hopefully monthly,’ and so we were paying ¥5,000 to ¥10,000 each month.”

As the children grew and Brandy was able to work more hours, the family’s financial situation improved and they gradually increased payments. However, the unexpected arrival of their fourth child, now an elementary school student, threw their family finances into confusion again. Around this time, the family’s health premiums suddenly shot up.

“We were shocked when the health insurance bill more than doubled to almost ¥60,000 a month at one point,” Brandy recalls.

The health insurance bills are a complicated mix, based on both the total residence tax paid by the household and the number of insured members. A “nursing care premium” payment is added once a person turns 40. Calculations vary by municipality.

In 2013, the couple were surprised to receive a rather ominous letter from the Health Insurance Division demanding that they pay the amount owed to date in full.

“I went down to see them yet again.” Taka says. “Every time we got a letter of warning or went in for a consultation if we were having problems, we got the same response: Pay what you can.”

Things carried on in this vein until summer last year, when another letter arrived from city office, notifying the Hiranos that because they had failed to pay the amount owed, their case had been handed over to a debt collection agency. A few weeks later a notice came from the agency informing them they had two weeks to pay up in full or their assets could be taken.

Hiroyuki Shimokusu, manager of the Taxation Department at the Hiranos’ local city office, responded to questions with an emailed statement. He explained that there is no set figure at which delinquent payments are handed to the collection agency.

“It varies by municipality,” he wrote. “In addition, the decision is based on a comprehensive review of the case, and not just the amount in arrears.”

In Taka and Brandy’s case, they were presented with a bill for ¥3.4 million.

“Half of this amount was interest!” says Brandy. “We understand that we have a duty to pay the amount we owe, but charging us interest on top of this?”

The couple say the debt collection agency then tried to put the hard word on them.

“They said, ‘Other people manage to pay up. Why can’t you? Borrow the money from your family or friends,’ ” says Brandy. “However, we weren’t prepared to do that. It was our responsibility and we had to figure it out.”

The agency authorized to deal with the Hiranos’ case is known as the Wakayama Local Tax Collection Organization, one of a network of governmental agencies throughout Japan that are charged with following up on delinquent payments.

The situation took a more serious turn in the autumn when a bank called Taka to inform him that the debt collection agency had come in and cleared all the money out of his two accounts.

“We were told this was legal. It had never crossed our minds they could do this,” Brandy says.

“One of the accounts was for paying our bills, while the other was one in which we tried to set aside money for the children. We had been hoping to use that for when our son entered college. It was like they were saying, ‘Go ahead, have kids and try and raise them — but we’ll keep kicking you.’ ”

The couple’s next step was to seek free legal advice for citizens.

“We got some sense of relief when we were told they could not take any money in my wife’s accounts,” Taka explains. “They would only target me, as the head of the household. And if they did come to our house, they would only take my items, not those belonging to Brandy or the kids.”

Considering there were dependent children in the household, the couple asked the lawyer if there was a system in place to safeguard the family’s income. In fact, tax law stipulates that a family must be left with ¥100,000 as subsistence-level income, plus around ¥45,000 for each member of the household. However, this only applies to income earned as salary (kyūryō). For freelancers like Taka, remuneration is generally categorized as “reward” (hōshū) and there is no such provision, making it fair game.

In separate email statements, representatives from both the Wakayama Prefectural Office and the Hiranos’ local city office confirmed the difference in the law based on income type. However, they declined to comment on the fairness of the situation in relation to the Hirano family on the grounds that they could not discuss a citizen’s personal information.

At the beginning of this year the agency approached Taka’s employers, demanding that any income be sent directly to the agency.

“His employers were sympathetic but it was very stressful, with the workplaces wondering how it would affect their businesses. What if they hadn’t wanted to deal with it and refused to give him more work? Our position would have been made even worse!” Brandy says indignantly.

The couple originally shared their story with The Japan Times in mid-June, at which point they hadn’t heard from the collection agency for several months. They were cautiously hopeful that it was end of the matter, but unfortunately, their ordeal was far from over.

Three weeks ago, six employees from the agency suddenly showed up at the Takanos’ home in two vehicles, brandishing a copy of a law that allows entry to a citizen’s home. The agents then proceeded to search the entire house.

“I had been keeping some money in my pajama drawer — money that I had saved up for my children’s school expenses, and the recent kodomoteate (child-raising allowance) money we had received, as well as some rent money my oldest daughter gave us. They took it all, and claimed there is no way to determine whose money it is, and therefore they were able to claim it,” Brandy says.

“Towards the end of the visit, our daughter came home from her part-time job and asked them why they were taking the money she had given us to help pay the bills, and they again said that because money can’t be labeled as to whom it belongs to, they are allowed to take any cash they find.”

The couple now feel as if they are in limbo.

“We can’t put money in my bank account and I hesitate to look for new work in case the debt collection agency harasses a new employer. This has seriously affected our ability to plan for the future,” Taka says.

“We looked at different options,” Brandy adds. “We couldn’t declare bankruptcy for this kind of public debt. At one point, Taka suggested I should just divorce him and take our youngest back to the USA but ultimately we decided to face this together.”

When asked for advice on what citizens in a similar situation can do, Hiroyuki Kunibe of the General Affairs Department at the Wakayama Prefectural Office says, “If you cannot make payments, we advise prompt consultation with your municipal tax department to plan a course of action to resolve the issue.”

Ironically, this is exactly what the Hiranos have been attempting to do all along. Taka and Brandy reiterate that they never tried to get out of paying what they owe and want to do the right thing as citizens.

“I feel that the root of the problem is the current setup of the national health insurance, which uses the same uniform method of calculating premiums regardless of whether citizens are wealthy or poor,” says Taka.

Brandy adds: “If they could have forgiven us the interest and worked with us, we could have negotiated a payment plan. We can’t pay anything right now.

“I feel like I’ve lost the will to move forward. Knowing that government tipped our lives into disarray like this — it destroys something within you.”

Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy. Your comments and story ideas: comunity@japantimes.co.jp

Where to go for help

According to figures released in January by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, some 3.6 million households nationwide, or about 17 percent of the total, fell behind in health insurance payments at some stage last year. Of these, 260,000 (7.2 percent) were subject to seizure of assets, like the Hiranos were, suggesting that it’s a fairly common occurrence.

A spokesperson from the Japan Federation of Labor and Social Security Attorneys Association suggests that foreign residents who find themselves unable to pay their health insurance premiums should first speak with their local city office.

“It may, however, be difficult for the average person to know where to turn,” the spokesperson said. “In this case, the best thing might be to consult with an expert on labor and social insurance laws (sharōshi).”

The federation’s website (Japanese): www.shakaihokenroumushi.jp

  • zer0_0zor0

    Like the student loan scenario in the USA regarding the collection agencies and usury interest.

  • John

    Why don’t they just get the F out of that predatory country and move somewhere where the gov’t treats people decently.

  • Carl MacIntyre

    Perhaps they should of thought of their finances before they had their fourth child.

    • R0ninX3ph

      Honestly, this is the only point I got from this. Yes, they’re in a crappy situation now… But, if they weren’t financially stable for multiple children, why did they have multiple children?

    • Yo Han

      Exactly, I fully agree with your comment.

      Man (Japanese) and wife (USA) – both with low and irregular income – creating a family of 4 children!

      How can they be surprised to get an invoice by the Japanese National Health Insurance of a monthly premium of yen 60000,- (about USD 500,-) for a family of 6.

      They decided to pay a little and sometimes maybe even nothing over years and now the invoice including interests is over 3 Million Yen and of course this is all the ‘fault of the Japanese system’.

      In Japan salaries are not so low and if you are willing to work whatever work is available, it should be possible to pay for your health insurance on time.

    • Philip

      If you read the article, you will find that they did think this through.

      The problem is not tied to the number of children, but rather that they are being denied the chance to go with the “pay what you can pay” program at some point. And when they had more money coming in, they were able to pay back more than before.

      However, the bill they received was based on back pay and interest. The interest has nothing to do with the number of children. It has to do with the fact they were being charged interest despite the fact that they were making steady payments.

      Atop of that, they took money that even their oldest daughter contributed. As in the fact that they were able to pay more as she was contributing to the rent. As well as the fact she had money put aside, and is now told that she cannot save any because of this.

      So again, this has nothing to do with the number of children, but rather the fact that they are denied a Government service. As in everything that is stated beyond the point where they ended up having a fourth kid. And other things you have failed to pick up on.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Of course it has everything to do with the number of children and if you don’t recognize the simple fact that health insurance costs, et al, increase with the number of kids and that they indicated that their finances were OK until the (presumably) last child arrived, your either stupid or a member of one of those religions who attempts to increase their membership through procreation (and yes, it’s redundant). They put themselves in the position to get screwed and certainly deserve the lion’s share of the blame. The husband is Japanese and should be well aware of the ramifications of their decisions.

      • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

        Gosh so much anger here— why?

      • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

        Gosh so much anger here— why?

      • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

        “et al” = “etc.” (et al. is an abbreviation of et alii — meaning other people — not of et alia — meaning of other things)

        “your either stupid” = “you’re either stupid”

        “those religions who attempts” = “those religions which attempt”

      • Philip

        Carl, lets assue that you have any abilities to show any real intellect and emotion. Because I still do not know what is worse: Your inability to comprehend the whole scenario, your inability to act like a human being, or your inability to do basic math.

        All the factors state is that the family of 5 were paying less than ¥30,000 a month. So lets say that the total is the full ¥30,000. Taking into the account that there are two adults, and one having an additional premium that comes with being 40+, you are looking at: ¥8,000 + ¥7,000 + ¥5,000 + ¥5,000 + ¥5,000.

        This equals to the full ¥30,000.

        The article states that their bill has more than doubled. Which is now up to a rough estimate of ¥60,000. Based on your “logic,” the fourth child is worth around ¥30,000 in medical premiums. Which is 6 times the amount of the other three. Which does not make sense.

        Because based on the new premiums, the addition of a fourth child now makes it around the following rough estimate: ¥16,000 + ¥14,000 + ¥7,500 + ¥7,500 + ¥7,500 + ¥7,500. Do you see the discrepancies here? Or shall I continue by pointing out the following bill that includes both what they owe and interest?

        Add these factors, as well as the fact you have one portion of this branch offering them the “pay what you can afford” policy. And you have another ignoring that. Then add the fact that despite the fact they cannot touch his wife’s money, as well as their daughter’s money, they have claimed they can.

        Why? Because much like your own dismissal for facts, they claimed that they cannot tell what monies belong to who. Which denotes the fact that all evidence belies on the fact that their region’s share of the Government is corrupt in some way, or there is a huge misunderstanding between them, the portion of this branch that told them what to do, and the portion of the branch doing this because money is owed.

        Either way, your own ignorance shows me that you calling me an idiot, much less questioning my reading comprehension skills, dictate that you have no regard for any portion of this story. And if you did care, you would not be the one sounding like an ignoramus. ;)

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Of course it has everything to do with the number of children and if you don’t recognize the simple fact that health insurance costs, et al, increase with the number of kids and that they indicated that their finances were OK until the (presumably) last child arrived, your either stupid or a member of one of those religions who attempts to increase their membership through procreation (and yes, it’s redundant). They put themselves in the position to get screwed and certainly deserve the lion’s share of the blame. The husband is Japanese and should be well aware of the ramifications of their decisions.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        And, evidently, you have reading comprehension issues. Here’s a quote from the article, “However, the unexpected arrival of their fourth child, now an elementary
        school student, threw their family finances into confusion again.
        Around this time, the family’s health premiums suddenly shot up.”

      • Carl MacIntyre

        And, evidently, you have reading comprehension issues. Here’s a quote from the article, “However, the unexpected arrival of their fourth child, now an elementary
        school student, threw their family finances into confusion again.
        Around this time, the family’s health premiums suddenly shot up.”

    • Philip

      If you read the article, you will find that they did think this through.

      The problem is not tied to the number of children, but rather that they are being denied the chance to go with the “pay what you can pay” program at some point. And when they had more money coming in, they were able to pay back more than before.

      However, the bill they received was based on back pay and interest. The interest has nothing to do with the number of children. It has to do with the fact they were being charged interest despite the fact that they were making steady payments.

      Atop of that, they took money that even their oldest daughter contributed. As in the fact that they were able to pay more as she was contributing to the rent. As well as the fact she had money put aside, and is now told that she cannot save any because of this.

      So again, this has nothing to do with the number of children, but rather the fact that they are denied a Government service. As in everything that is stated beyond the point where they ended up having a fourth kid. And other things you have failed to pick up on.

    • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

      heartless

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Responsibility, what a concept.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Responsibility, what a concept.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Being a Catholic Priest, you probably don’t appreciate that responsible couples can use birth control and break the cycle of poverty. It’s not heartless, it’s responsible.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Being a Catholic Priest, you probably don’t appreciate that responsible couples can use birth control and break the cycle of poverty. It’s not heartless, it’s responsible.

    • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

      heartless

    • kayumochi

      An abortion used to be about 90,000 yen (not sure what it is now) and condoms are much cheaper. Am sure it will be at least a passing thought next time the couple has sex.

    • kayumochi

      An abortion used to be about 90,000 yen (not sure what it is now) and condoms are much cheaper. Am sure it will be at least a passing thought next time the couple has sex.

    • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

      “should of thought” = “should have thought”

  • Jay

    He should have divorced his wife and allowed her to leave with the kids for the States. Then he should have declared personal bankruptcy. When the dust had settled, he could have left to rejoin his family abroad. The whole situation smells immoral: debt collectors are sharks with a single purpose, and they don’t care if you starve. Lawyers are not necessarily helpful because they too are looking for their slice of the pie. The shocking truth here is that the government sanctions all this.

    • Philip

      Problem is that even if he did that, it does not solve anything. It just creates new problems for both him and his family, as he would have to start over and hope that they can make a fraction of what they make now.

    • Philip

      Problem is that even if he did that, it does not solve anything. It just creates new problems for both him and his family, as he would have to start over and hope that they can make a fraction of what they make now.

    • Erinn LaMattery

      From what I understand, you cannot declare bankruptcy for this type of debt. You can declare it for any other type of debt, but not for this type. But I do wonder if divorce ever came up as a possibility for them, and why they decided to remain together rather than divorce?

    • Erinn LaMattery

      From what I understand, you cannot declare bankruptcy for this type of debt. You can declare it for any other type of debt, but not for this type. But I do wonder if divorce ever came up as a possibility for them, and why they decided to remain together rather than divorce?

  • Starviking

    They could at least inform the police about the collection agency stealing their daughter’s money.

  • Scott Durand

    I just want to offer my support for the Hiranos. I respect how they have placed the importance on their family relationships before taking the easy way out. Mr Hirano must know that his wife really loves him and his family. That thought must be comforting to him as it would be a very stressful time for both of them.

    Japan must reform the taxation system. The wealthy must pay more tax. Japan wants to have a world class health sytem, but doesnt want to tax people at an appropriate amount. Look at the Scandinavian coutries, high taxing but high standard of health care.

    The Japanese people really need to understand that the Liberal Democratic Party and many (but not all) bureacrats do not have the peopels interests at heart, but are more interested in their own position.

    I hope they can find a solution to this problem, perhaps the city they live should realise that people would pay if they could afford it, and work a solution before setting the collecation agency onto them.

    Good Luck

  • Ben

    Uhh…if money was always tight, then why have so many kids? The Hiranos have no one to blame but their libido and a lack of common sense. Sorry but there is little sympathy for people like this.

    • Philip

      I have to question if you read the article. Because despite the fact that they do have 4 kids, one of those kids was contributing to their rent. They were also told to “pay what they can pay” by the local office. And, atop of that, a large percentage of what they now owe is based on interest.

      As in… Their rates are also based on the fact both are over 40, which you should blame them for being that old… They are trying to pay what they can pay, as advised… And that branch of the Government is making it hard for either one of them to find extra work.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Let me guess, you’ve never lived here and are completely clueless about Japan aside from those books you’ve read.

      • Carl MacIntyre

        Let me guess, you’ve never lived here and are completely clueless about Japan aside from those books you’ve read.

      • Ben

        I did read the parts that said money was always tight, and they were having problems paying their bills after their third child was born. And then they went off and had another baby. If you can barely support three children then why have another? We don’t live in the 18th century. There are many forms of inexpensive birth control that would have prevented a further deterioration of their income. It’s inexcusable for them to expect to live off teat of society.

      • Ben

        I did read the parts that said money was always tight, and they were having problems paying their bills after their third child was born. And then they went off and had another baby. If you can barely support three children then why have another? We don’t live in the 18th century. There are many forms of inexpensive birth control that would have prevented a further deterioration of their income. It’s inexcusable for them to expect to live off teat of society.

    • Philip

      I have to question if you read the article. Because despite the fact that they do have 4 kids, one of those kids was contributing to their rent. They were also told to “pay what they can pay” by the local office. And, atop of that, a large percentage of what they now owe is based on interest.

      As in… Their rates are also based on the fact both are over 40, which you should blame them for being that old… They are trying to pay what they can pay, as advised… And that branch of the Government is making it hard for either one of them to find extra work.

    • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

      so many heartless comments here

      • Erinn LaMattery

        It’s shocking how callous people can be.

      • Erinn LaMattery

        It’s shocking how callous people can be.

      • Yo Han

        Why heartless? It is not heartless to tell them the truth. I agree however the truth hurts.

        Japan is not a cheap place and to create a family with 4 children while facing financial problems is very irresponsible.
        Most Japanese are aware of their future problems and have only 2 children or sometimes prefer even to be a full-time working couple with no children at all.

      • Yo Han

        Why heartless? It is not heartless to tell them the truth. I agree however the truth hurts.

        Japan is not a cheap place and to create a family with 4 children while facing financial problems is very irresponsible.
        Most Japanese are aware of their future problems and have only 2 children or sometimes prefer even to be a full-time working couple with no children at all.

      • Ben

        And so any comments based on emotion…

      • Ben

        And so any comments based on emotion…

    • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

      so many heartless comments here

    • Garry Firth

      they are producing kids better than families that dont ,with taxes and city tax it all adds up ..

    • Garry Firth

      they are producing kids better than families that dont ,with taxes and city tax it all adds up ..

    • Tsunam1

      Did you know that there can be unplanned pregnancies? I know this is difficult to understand but yes, it happens (if you think otherwise, then you are naive). Obviously they didn’t plan to have that 4th child and some people do not feel morally right to have an abortion.

    • Tony Alderman

      Well said.

  • Firas Kraïem

    The only problematic thing I see on the administrations’s side is that it’s unprofessional (to say the least) to tell people “pay what you can” when it’s obviously not true. That said, the Hiranos have been naive in thinking they got a free lunch. When the bill comes, you’ll have to pay it sooner or later, and the more you wait, the more the ball keeps rolling.

  • J.P. Bunny

    While not excusing the Hirano family having more children while being financially non-secure, a large part of the blame should lie with the city office. The city office is the local government, and it was this local government that said it was okay to pay less than what was due. The city office should have told the Hirano family that lesser payments would be accepted, but eventually, some sort of legal action will be taken to collect the back payments. At the very least, the penalty interest should be dropped.

  • J.P. Bunny

    While not excusing the Hirano family having more children while being financially non-secure, a large part of the blame should lie with the city office. The city office is the local government, and it was this local government that said it was okay to pay less than what was due. The city office should have told the Hirano family that lesser payments would be accepted, but eventually, some sort of legal action will be taken to collect the back payments. At the very least, the penalty interest should be dropped.

  • HK Matt

    The Hirano family was financially “broke” at the time when they became incapable of paying for the National Health Insurance from the first place (regardless of having another child). It is a mandatory taxation everyone pays! (and of course it will come with penalty for not paying on time. everybody struggles with that and that is why normal people try to stay on the job and makes sure there are healthcare coverage.)

    National Health Insurance is not the same as some foreign health insurance “premiums” the author implies. If Hiranos are not happy with the taxation system, they should drop the rights to receive the National Health Insurance all together like some foreigners do.

    It is puzzling to see why they are still resisting to consider themselves “broke” and take the necessary action. Procrastination is what made this financial crisis to get worse. They shouldn’t waste any more time.

  • HK Matt

    The Hirano family was financially “broke” at the time when they became incapable of paying for the National Health Insurance from the first place (regardless of having another child). It is a mandatory taxation everyone pays! (and of course it will come with penalty for not paying on time. everybody struggles with that and that is why normal people try to stay on the job and makes sure there are healthcare coverage.)

    National Health Insurance is not the same as some foreign health insurance “premiums” the author implies. If Hiranos are not happy with the taxation system, they should drop the rights to receive the National Health Insurance all together like some foreigners do.

    It is puzzling to see why they are still resisting to consider themselves “broke” and take the necessary action. Procrastination is what made this financial crisis to get worse. They shouldn’t waste any more time.

  • Philip

    Reading this raises up a few additional concerns for me. I am currently turning 39, and currently engaged to a Japanese citizen. And at the current pace, I should be 40 when I am there full-time. Which means I have that I have to look for numerous means of obtaining work, as we both currently plan to have children. And it also means that in the end, we will be paying for 3-4 family members, and said premiums for the fact I would be turning 40. And based on what I am reading here, I also have to hope that they will allow us to “pay what we can pay,” which is what they should be allowed to do.

    But we shall see. Right now, I am doing a campaign for hopes to gain money for our honeymoon. And to ease up on all budgets, I am hoping to be frugal on my wedding ring. Plus, with them, they may want to look into a ‘Go Fund Me’ campaign like me, or even try to do a tshirt campaign in hopes of both raising awareness and making as much as they can in the process.

    • Carl MacIntyre

      The health insurance program, a single-payer system, is not a “pay what we can pay” system. I’m not familiar with any country that has such ideal as a foundation for health care. That’s certainly naive, to say the least, on your part. And, your personal choices about weddings, rings, etc, should be your responsibility.

    • Carl MacIntyre

      The health insurance program, a single-payer system, is not a “pay what we can pay” system. I’m not familiar with any country that has such ideal as a foundation for health care. That’s certainly naive, to say the least, on your part. And, your personal choices about weddings, rings, etc, should be your responsibility.

    • MeTed

      Phillip,

      If you are a professional (even teacher), and you can line up work in your profession (preferably a transfer, or arranged before leaving), you’ll probably be fine. If you are going to come and start teaching English and see what you can find, I’d say, ‘forget it’.

    • MeTed

      Phillip,

      If you are a professional (even teacher), and you can line up work in your profession (preferably a transfer, or arranged before leaving), you’ll probably be fine. If you are going to come and start teaching English and see what you can find, I’d say, ‘forget it’.

    • Ben

      So in essence you are hoping to sponge off of society as much as you can. Thanks!!

    • Ben

      So in essence you are hoping to sponge off of society as much as you can. Thanks!!

    • kayumochi

      The Japanese health care is effective and reasonably priced. Don’t let these horror stories get to you. I do recommend supplemental insurance however.

    • kayumochi

      The Japanese health care is effective and reasonably priced. Don’t let these horror stories get to you. I do recommend supplemental insurance however.

  • Philip

    Reading this raises up a few additional concerns for me. I am currently turning 39, and currently engaged to a Japanese citizen. And at the current pace, I should be 40 when I am there full-time. Which means I have that I have to look for numerous means of obtaining work, as we both currently plan to have children. And it also means that in the end, we will be paying for 3-4 family members, and said premiums for the fact I would be turning 40. And based on what I am reading here, I also have to hope that they will allow us to “pay what we can pay,” which is what they should be allowed to do.

    But we shall see. Right now, I am doing a campaign for hopes to gain money for our honeymoon. And to ease up on all budgets, I am hoping to be frugal on my wedding ring. Plus, with them, they may want to look into a ‘Go Fund Me’ campaign like me, or even try to do a tshirt campaign in hopes of both raising awareness and making as much as they can in the process.

  • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

    No wonder people are jumping under the Chuo Line and burning themselves to death on the Shinkansen.

    • Carl MacIntyre

      Sure, that’s exactly why people commit suicide. Are you always this stupid?

    • Carl MacIntyre

      Sure, that’s exactly why people commit suicide. Are you always this stupid?

    • Yo Han

      People are committing suicide also in other countries worldwide, and Japan is clearly not the leading country, check out WHO or Wikipedia. Suicide rate are high in South Korea, Russia, India, Hungary. Japan is holding rank no. 17.

      And your point is?
      If life is so much better in USA for them why are they not moving over to the States with their 4 children?

    • Yo Han

      People are committing suicide also in other countries worldwide, and Japan is clearly not the leading country, check out WHO or Wikipedia. Suicide rate are high in South Korea, Russia, India, Hungary. Japan is holding rank no. 17.

      And your point is?
      If life is so much better in USA for them why are they not moving over to the States with their 4 children?

    • http://nisekodesign.com/ miso

      Hang on! You’re the same person who wrote above “So many heartless comments here”, and then you offer this up! You’re particularly vile…

      EDIT: if he deletes / edits this comment – here it is for the record: “No wonder people are jumping under the Chuo Line and burning themselves to death on the Shinkansen.”

  • http://josephsoleary.typepad.com Joseph

    No wonder people are jumping under the Chuo Line and burning themselves to death on the Shinkansen.

  • Tsunam1

    For a country that desperately needs children is sure not giving any breaks to families who are contributing to the population. Not just in this case but all around.

    City hall is at fault here for giving information that was incorrect, the system should’ve just lowered the Hirano families payments. At least they were willing to pay something which is more than many people.

    Once again Japan tries to fit everyone into a mold and never using common sense to work out problems.

    • Yo Han

      It is quite a difference if any seasonal worker from a rural area in his 60s is owning 100.000 yen or so over the winter period as there are no jobs at all in his area or if a couple in their 40s, both working ‘something’ as freelancers are owning more than 3 million yen over many years, are unwilling to change their lifestyle and do not want to accept a regular job which is more lucrative than those of occasional English teachers.

      If they fail to earn enough as freelancers, they have to look for a regular job as employee in any company which offers better payment. Is this not common sense? It is said, one child, already a teenager, is working part-time to help with their financial problem.

      I would like to see more information about their income and how they are spending their money.

      Why should the system lower their payments? They are 6 persons, and the amount is about yen 60.000,- (about USD 500,-) for the entire family.

      How much will this family have to pay for health insurance in USA?
      Is USA so much cheaper than Japan? I don’t think so, medical bills are known to be a great headache for many US-citizens. Same with student loans and other expenses.

    • Yo Han

      It is quite a difference if any seasonal worker from a rural area in his 60s is owning 100.000 yen or so over the winter period as there are no jobs at all in his area or if a couple in their 40s, both working ‘something’ as freelancers are owning more than 3 million yen over many years, are unwilling to change their lifestyle and do not want to accept a regular job which is more lucrative than those of occasional English teachers.

      If they fail to earn enough as freelancers, they have to look for a regular job as employee in any company which offers better payment. Is this not common sense? It is said, one child, already a teenager, is working part-time to help with their financial problem.

      I would like to see more information about their income and how they are spending their money.

      Why should the system lower their payments? They are 6 persons, and the amount is about yen 60.000,- (about USD 500,-) for the entire family.

      How much will this family have to pay for health insurance in USA?
      Is USA so much cheaper than Japan? I don’t think so, medical bills are known to be a great headache for many US-citizens. Same with student loans and other expenses.

    • kayumochi

      You make a good point: if the Japanese government is serious about stabilizing the population it has to promote family-friendly policies.

    • HK Matt

      The common sense is that everybody pays tax on time??

  • Tsunam1

    For a country that desperately needs children is sure not giving any breaks to families who are contributing to the population. Not just in this case but all around.

    City hall is at fault here for giving information that was incorrect, the system should’ve just lowered the Hirano families payments. At least they were willing to pay something which is more than many people.

    Once again Japan tries to fit everyone into a mold and never using common sense to work out problems.

  • husin tempoyak

    Their biggest mistake is to have four kids.
    Case closed.

  • husin tempoyak

    Their biggest mistake is to have four kids.
    Case closed.

  • John

    OW! That really hurts when someone is smarter, handsomer and better-informed than I. OOOH!

  • John

    OW! That really hurts when someone is smarter, handsomer and better-informed than I. OOOH!

  • kayumochi

    With the rising poverty rate in Japan I suppose stories like these will become more and more common. Two things surprised me: 1) they couldn’t afford the modest 25,000 yen per month and 2) interest was added to the final bill. I once knew a foreigner in Japan who didn’t ever once pay the monthly premium over the course of many years in Japan (don’t know if his Japanese wife paid hers but I suspect she did). Later, for whatever reason (I think he was opening a bar) he went to City Hall to fess up and make amends and was told he simply had to pay what he would have had to pay over the years … without interest. Collection procedures must vary …

    Recently I discovered Germany has a similar system but even more ruthless: assets not only will be seized by the government but if a patient has a medical bill due the government will also go after relatives who DO have the financial resources to make payment.

  • kayumochi

    With the rising poverty rate in Japan I suppose stories like these will become more and more common. Two things surprised me: 1) they couldn’t afford the modest 25,000 yen per month and 2) interest was added to the final bill. I once knew a foreigner in Japan who didn’t ever once pay the monthly premium over the course of many years in Japan (don’t know if his Japanese wife paid hers but I suspect she did). Later, for whatever reason (I think he was opening a bar) he went to City Hall to fess up and make amends and was told he simply had to pay what he would have had to pay over the years … without interest. Collection procedures must vary …

    Recently I discovered Germany has a similar system but even more ruthless: assets not only will be seized by the government but if a patient has a medical bill due the government will also go after relatives who DO have the financial resources to make payment.

  • keratomileusis

    Never seen such a hot topic with SO many opinions. The discussion is reasoned, measured and largely polite. I will add my personal observations. I can’t understand why insurance premiums for non full time contract employees are calculated on an annual basis. This means if you make money one year and not the next your premium is much higher for the year that your income is lower. You’d think that in an age of IT there could be a way to calculate it on a monthly basis for people working for companies part-time. This is how the national tax is handled.

    When my income dropped, I went down to the city office, but rather than tell me, “Pay what you can.” They asked me, “What can you pay?” I told them and within a few minutes new payment vouchers were created. This is perhaps the Hiranos’ fatal miscalculation, amongst personal choices they made in their family.

  • Al_Martinez

    Sounds like someone in the Wakayama tax office made the decision to turn the Hirano’s debt over to the collection agency precisely because they weren’t salaried workers–thus, easy prey. Probably even received a kickback of some sort.

    I’ll be sure to hide my money well should I ever get into any kind of trouble such as this.

  • bsulejman1

    Blame the poor for their poverty
    Hell, why don’t we just have them all castrated

  • jcbinok

    My heart goes out to this family. I also have deep-seeded fears about the Japanese health plan. I have visited my municipal city hall many times, but always leave with more questions than I had when I came in the door.
    Also, in a country where the typical bank interest rate is about 0.01%, charging people 50% interest on money owed sounds like a naked money grab.

  • jcbinok

    Jessica, I like your style.

  • wanderingpippin

    ““We were shocked when the health insurance bill more than doubled to almost ¥60,000 a month at one point,” Brandy recalls.”

    Why were they shocked? It is no secret that the national health insurance premiums are based on amount of resident tax paid which in turn is based on the previous year’s income as well as the number in the household. That’s why people with irregular incomes put money aside during the better years to make sure they can pay in case they have a dip in income the following year. This family chose to set aside money for future expenses when their children would be in college rather than use that money for the debts they already have. Why? Going to college is not a legal requirement in Japan whereas having health insurance is.

  • HK Matt

    Why are you encouraging violence? That’s Yakuza’s tactics.

  • tomado

    This is terrifying. I’ve never joined the system and have lived here for years. I know they’d want me to pay 3 years back pay… Gosh if there were an amnesty I’d probably join up. Maybe have to anyway. I wonder what can be done to me. They can wipe out your entire bank account? I had no idea!

  • Heln

    It seems to me that the couple were paying what they wanted to, not what
    they could afford. It’s not that they didn’t have money, it’s that they felt that other things were more important, like saving for their children’s education. They use the health care system but don’t wish to pay for it. It’s just an abuse of the system and an avoidance of responsibility.

    It would be very informative to find out what the couple’s average yearly income has been for the past 10 years rather than be told that their income is unsteady.

  • Toolonggone

    Is this the main reason why some millions of people in the US don’t want Obamacare?

  • blondein_tokyo

    I have had similar problems when dealing with the ward office. The answer to your question will often depend on who it is you are talking to, and if you happen to get advice from the wrong person, the blame falls solely on you for breaking the rules.

    The article says that they make decisions on a case by case basis, yet looking at the circumstances of this family, it doesn’t seem as though they took their individual situation into consideration.

    This kind of thing infuriates me. It’s unfair, unjust, and innocent children are going to suffer because of it. Japan wants a higher birth rate, but they also don’t seem to want to do anything to actively support people in having large families, even if it is just allowing them to make payments over the long term and forgiving interest.

    This family isn’t asking for handouts. The parents are both working full time and are willing to work with the city on a payment plan. It is the bureaucracy that is being inflexible and unreasonable.

    I would like to see a GoFundMe made for this family. I would contribute.

  • Carl MacIntyre

    I stand by my initial assertion that you are an idiot, but now I also sense that you have serious psychological issues or even perhaps Asperger syndrome.. I suspect that if you make it to Japan, you’ll become another one of those damaged lost souls who can’t function successfully in their home country, but because of the foreignness, they can hide in Japan. BTW, here’s a free bit of advice. If you seriously think that you can make a living as a freelance writer, I suggest you look for another plan. Your prose appears to be an unfortunate reflection of that muddled mind of yours.