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Tax-deductible donations to local governments that allow people to receive local specialties in return have jumped sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, city officials and operators of donation websites say.

Under the furusato nozei program aimed at aiding rural economies, people can make donations to municipalities where they do not reside. In addition to receiving tax breaks, they can get items in return such as local food from their chosen municipalities. Such gifts appear to have become more attractive as people spend more time at home.

Operators of websites that mediate between municipalities and donors are projecting that the amount raised for fiscal 2020 through next March will top the record of ¥512.7 billion in fiscal 2018.

According to a survey conducted in October by Satofull Co., a hometown tax website, 59 out of 221 participating local governments said donations received under the program more than doubled between April and September from the same period the year before.

Searches for gifts on Satofull’s website rose for items such as dumplings, grilled meat and houseplants. A company official explained: “With restrictions on travel and dining out, it seems many people sought out special local products to enjoy at home.”

The city of Kyoto said it has already received a record amount of donations in fiscal 2020, reaching around ¥1.7 billion by the end of December, or 6.5 times more than the ¥250 million for fiscal 2019.

Around 40% of the donors chose traditional New Year’s osechi meals from high-end Kyoto restaurants as a gift, with a city official attributing the choice to people wanting to eat well while staying home.

According to Hanamaki in Iwate Prefecture, whose gifts include beef tongue and wine, this fiscal year’s donations have reached ¥1.8 billion so far, already triple the amount received the year before.

On the other hand, the workload of officials who process the donations has increased as inquiries by first-time donors have also risen, a city official said.

Hokkaido and Osaka Prefecture, meanwhile, have been asking for people to make donations without gifts in return since last April, saying the money raised will go toward supporting their medical institutions and staff as they battle the coronavirus pandemic. The prefectures have each raised more than ¥1 billion with the appeal.

“Usually donations concentrate at the year end, when people rush before the deadline to take advantage of the tax deduction. But coronavirus-related donations have continued throughout the last year, so the amount increased at a higher pace than usual,” said an official who manages the hometown tax website Furusato Choice operated by Trustbank Inc.

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