Many Japanese city-dwellers still harbour strong feelings towards their furusato ~ their home town or rural area which their forebears may have left many decades ago during the country’s rapid urbanisation.
For some rural towns, the unexpected popularity of a scheme called furusato nozei, or hometown tax, is proving a windfall.
Seven years ago the central government began allowing city residents to divert a proportion of their income-tax payments to a furusato of their choice. The response has been overwhelming. In the last fiscal year rural towns earned ¥14 billion ($1.2 billion) from such contributions.
And some people choose a furusato not on the basis of any family ties, but simply because they like the area. Many select towns on Japan’s north-eastern coast that were devastated by the tsunami of March 2011. Sonoe Hasegawa, a 47-year-old accountant from Tokyo, says she wants to help revive the countryside. She has decided to give tax to Ishinomaki, a town in Miyagi prefecture where 3,700 residents drowned in the disaster, as well as five other places.
Furusato longings are a force the government cannot ignore. It has just expanded the scheme. A household with an income of ¥8m, for example, may now donate up to ¥142,000 in return for about 7% off its tax bill, up from 3.5% before.