• Kyodo, JIJI


Japan started collecting a ¥1,000 departure tax Monday from each traveler leaving the country in an effort to fund measures to attract more foreign visitors in the run-up to and beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The new tax, which applies to both air and sea travel, will be tacked onto transportation fares of passengers who bought tickets from Monday onwards irrespective of their nationality. Children under the age of 2 and transit passengers leaving Japan within 24 hours of arrival will be exempted. The levy will also not be imposed on those who depart after entering the country due to bad weather or other unavoidable circumstances.

The tax income will be allocated mainly for three purposes, according to the government’s policy. Those are said to be providing smoother travel services, facilitating access to information about the country’s tourist attractions, and improving visitor satisfaction levels by promoting tourism resources in regional areas on topics such as unique local culture and natural features.

The levy is the first new permanent tax to be introduced since the land value tax came into force in 1992.

In fiscal 2019 the government estimates revenue generated by the departure tax will reach ¥50 billion. It plans to use the money mostly for introducing more facial recognition gates at air and seaports for speedier immigration procedures and making more information available in multiple languages at cultural properties and national parks.

Japan has enjoyed a surge in the annual number of inbound tourists in recent years, topping the 30 million mark for the first time in 2018 according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

That growth was helped by a steady increase in Asian tourists, particularly from China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, government data shows.

Aiming to welcome 40 million foreign visitors by 2020, the government plans to use the tax revenue to attract more visitors from Europe, too.

Some Japanese taxpayers have expressed skepticism, however, saying it is not clear how they will benefit from a tax that is primarily designed to offer better services for foreign tourists.

Takuma Asai, 33, who was about to leave Kansai International Airport on a business trip to China, said Monday he was not aware of the start of the departure tax collection and said it felt like another financial burden on top of the planned consumption tax hike in October.

“(The new tax) is unavoidable, but I hope the revenue will be used to benefit Japanese citizens and foreign travelers in visible ways,” he said.

Maite Berst, a 21-year-old college student from Germany, also said at Tokyo’s Haneda airport that she was unaware of the new tax, but that it will not be a bad thing if the revenue is used for foreign visitors.

But concerns are growing in the tourism sector.

“Holidaymakers always go for cheaper packages, so even if it’s only ¥1,000 the rise in (tour) prices will be a huge burden for us,” said a 47-year-old tour conductor in Osaka.

“It will be necessary to check that the funds are not being used on less productive measures, but in ways that taxpayers find convincing,” said Hideaki Tanaka, a finance professor at Meiji University’s Graduate School of Governance Studies.

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