National

Rain-hit western Japan cities experience sharp increase in hometown tax donations

Kyodo

Donations to municipal governments in western Japan have risen sharply since torrential rains pounded the region in July, with the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture collecting ¥119.78 million the same month — 45 times more than a year earlier — through furusato nozei (hometown tax donation system).

The donation system launched in fiscal 2008 provides tax deductions to people who donate to a local government of their choice. While the program has widely drawn attention because of attractive gifts offered by local governments in return for donations, many people in Kurashiki’s case decided to offer funds as “disaster reconstruction aid,” meaning such items won’t be given in return.

According to the city of Kurashiki, more than 70 percent of the ¥119.78 million, or ¥86.27 million, was donated for disaster reconstruction. Including the funds that have been offered via five other municipalities outside Okayama Prefecture, the total sum of hometown contributions to the city was expected to reach ¥310 million by early August.

In July last year, hometown donations to Kurashiki totaled about ¥2.68 million.

In Soja, also in Okayama Prefecture, where some residents had to evacuate due to a large explosion at an aluminum plant amid the rain disaster, hometown donations more than doubled from last year to about ¥162.05 million in July. An official of the adjacent city of Takahashi said it has yet to come up with a tally, but added, “It is clear that donations have increased. We have put up the messages we received from people who made contributions at the corridor of our city office and it is very encouraging.”

“I think we are seeing a culture of donation taking root in a way it should be, with people not just lured by lavish gifts,” said Takero Doi, a professor of finance at Keio University in Tokyo, while noting that the change seems to have been observed from around 2016 when strong earthquakes shook Kumamoto Prefecture.

The ability for people to make donations online also seems to be encouraging the increase, Doi said.

Other rain-hit municipalities are also getting more contributions. In Hiroshima Prefecture, the donation total in Kure in July showed a forty-fivefold rise to about ¥90 million, while Higashihiroshima enjoyed a fortyfold gain from a year before to ¥20 million.

In Ehime Prefecture, the cities of Ozu and Seiyo collected ¥33.53 million and ¥69.89 million, respectively, up from ¥530,000 and ¥3.24 million in July last year.