Language | BILINGUAL

How to express the ups and downs of a tax hike

by Kaori Shoji

Contributing Writer

It has been a month since the 消費税の値上げ (shōhizei no neage, consumption tax hike) kicked in and, so far, it doesn’t seem to have caused too much fuss.

With 台風19号 (taifū jūkyūgō, Typhoon No. 19, aka Typhoon Hagibis), 即位礼正殿の儀 (Sokuirei Seiden no Gi, the Ceremony of Accession) and the ラグビーワールドカップ (ragubī wārudo kappu, Rugby World Cup) going on, there was a lot to distract us. Now that’s all passed, though, we’re waking up to the uncomfortable fact that 以前より物価が高い (izen yori bukka ga takai, things cost more than they did before).

The media is calling it 高値感 (takane-kan, the feeling that things are expensive) or even 痛税感 (tsūzei-kan, the painful feeling of taxes).

過激な増税ではなく、8パーセントから10パーセントへの引き上げです (Kageki na zōzei de wa naku, hachi pāsento kara 10 pāsento e no hikiage desu, It isn’t a steep tax, just a rise from 8 percent to 10 percent). Still, we all knew what was coming, hence the 駆け込み需要 (kakekomi juyō, last-minute surge in demand) that resulted in a lot of panic buying before the rise took effect on Oct. 1.

Along with the hike, a 軽減税率 (keigen zeiritsu, reduced tax rate) kicked in, enabling 消費者 (shōhisha, consumers) to buy 食品 (shokuhin, food) and keep their newspaper subscriptions at the rates they were at before. Most everything else has gone up, including college fees, which is a bummer for students and their parents.

The language of tax and finances hasn’t changed much since Japan made the shift to capitalism in the late 19th century. There is a tendency, though, for the Japanese to describe the rise with 増える (fueru, to increase) when talking about 税金 (zeikin, taxes), and 高くなる (takaku naru, become higher) when talking about 物価 (bukka, prices in general): 税金は増えるし物価は高くなるし、暮らしにくいですね (Zeikin wa fueru shi bukka wa takaku naru shi, kurashi-nikui desu ne, With taxes going up and prices getting higher, daily life is becoming more difficult). Note the double “shi” that comes at the end of “fueru” and “takaku naru.” This double “shi” is deployed to emphasize a situation, in this case, how 暮らしにくい (kurashi-nikui, difficult it is to live) these times are.

Speaking of bad times, 不況 (fukyō, recession) and 増税 (zōzei, tax hike) are like best friends that tend to be found in the same sentence. When the 消費税 (shōhizei, consumption tax) went up from 3 percent to 5 percent in 1997, it triggered deflation and that, in turn, helped bring on a major recession, popularly dubbed the デフレ不況 (defure fukyō, deflation recession). この増税が不況を呼び込まないと良いけれど (Kono zōzei ga fukyō o yobikomanai to ii keredo, Hopefully, this tax hike won’t become the catalyst for a recession).

The consumption tax may be painful for the 消費者 but many economists point out that the real enemy is the 大増税 (daizōzei, massive tax hike) that’s hiding in the shadows of the recent rise. One hike leads to another, and now that the consumption tax is up, so are the 社会保険料 (shakai hoken-ryō, social security premiums) taken out of 月給 (gekkyū, monthly salaries).

つまり、増税により社会保険料も増えるため、手取りの額が減るでしょう (Tsumari, zōzei ni yori shakai hoken-ryō mo fueru tame, tedori no gaku ga heru deshō, In other words, due to the tax rise, social security premiums will also increase and the amount of take-home pay will be reduced). Wages remain stagnant, so the average Japanese will have less cash in their pockets and won’t be so inclined to spend it on big-ticket items, eating out or travel: “給料は同じでも手取りが減った” (“Kyūryō wa onaji demo tedori ga hetta,” “Even if my salary remains the same, my take-home pay has decreased.”)

The verb 減る (heru, to decrease) is the opposite of 増える and is also most often used to describe money and money related words like taxes and salaries. It’s not used to describe things that are cheap, however, that would be 安い (yasui, cheap) as in 値段が安い (nedan ga yasui, the price is cheap) or このテレビは安くなった (kono terebi wa yasuku natta, this television has become cheaper).

Analysts are predicting a dip in earnings in the restaurant sector, even as we head toward 忘年会 (bōnenkai, year-end party) season. The trend now is to buy food and hold your 忘年会 in the office, which is much cheaper and less time consuming.

With economists fretting a 消費減退 (shōhi gentai, consumption decline) across the board, the government has formulated a キャッシュレスポイント還元 (kyasshuresu pointo kangen, cashless points reduction) system. This enables shoppers to access up to a 5 percent-return on their purchases, provided they opt for キャッシュレス決済 (kyasshuresu kessai, cashless payments) via credit cards or apps on their smartphone. This rebate will last until June and is an effort to bring Japan in line with other countries as a キャッシュレス社会 (kyasshuresu shakai, cashless society).

Many older Japanese prefer 現金 (genkin, cash), however, and feel put out by the move to a キャッシュレス社会. Their concerns have contributed to a 不公平感 (fukōheikan, feeling of unfairness) left in the wake of the 消費税の値上げ, and the prevailing idea that 貧富の差が開いています (hinpu no sa ga hiraite-imasu, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider).

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