Hokkaido city repays ‘hometown tax’ donors with crab and other seafood, sees donations soar


The Hokkaido city of Nemuro has been receiving a flood of donations from across the country after it started sending crab and other local seafood to repay the generosity of donors, who have given close to one-third of its tax revenue in the current fiscal year.

“We are surprised at the magnitude of the reaction” to the addition of seafood in June 2015 to the list of gift items people can select in return for making donations to Nemuro under the furusato nozei (hometown tax) donation system, said Yasuyuki Shiobara, 32, an official of the city’s general policy division.

Before the addition, Nemuro had been sending bookmarks to donors, and donations had been dwindling in recent years.

As of Dec. 10, the city received 23,000 donation offers worth ¥450 million from April last year, the start of the fiscal year, and the amount for the whole fiscal year through March could be larger than ¥1 billion ($8.3 million), almost a third of Nemuro’s municipal tax revenue of ¥2.8 billion.

The ¥1 billion would be 75 times the average ¥13 million the city received between fiscal 2008, when the central government introduced the donation scheme, and fiscal 2014.

Nemuro, on the easternmost tip of Hokkaido, is known for its seafood and the introduction of crab, saury and fresh sea urchin as the gifts apparently motivated “foodies” to donate to the city.

According to the city, the donation offers surged at the end of last year, the season when Japanese customarily send each other end-of-year gifts and prepare for special New Year meals.

The hometown tax system started as a way of easing the disparity in tax revenues between urban and rural areas by allowing people living in urban areas to donate to their rural hometowns. The donors using the scheme receive tax cuts. In addition, many municipalities send gifts, like Nemuro, to express their gratitude to the donors.

Donors don’t actually have to send to hometowns, and can contribute to any municipality of their choice. Municipalities hit by natural disasters tend to see the amount of donations soar.

In Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 2015, the year when the hot springs resort town was rattled by growing volcanic activities, the donations it received over 12 months jumped to ¥520 million, nearly 100 times the ¥5.48 million in the previous year.

Many donors sent messages, such as “please beat volcanic eruptions and hang in there,” to the town, local officials said.