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更新时间:2015-6-1 19:39:34 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

In Japan, You Get a Tax Break and a Side of Lobster and Beef

HIRADO, Japan — Tax breaks come in many forms. Charitable gifts. Health care expenses. Mortgage interest payments.


In this small fishing village, they come in a cooler.


It is part of the great tax giveaway happening across Japan.


Taxpayers who donate money to Hirado get a nice deduction and a shipment of slipper lobsters, spiral-shelled mollusks and oysters.


Don’t like seafood? Hirado has hundreds of other thank-you gifts, like a monthly vegetable delivery, a fold-up electric bike or a wedding photo shoot with formal wear and hotel stay included.


Donors — 36,000 in one year — now outnumber residents.


“I think of them as neo-citizens,” said Hirado’s mayor, Naruhiko Kuroda.

平户市市长黑田稔彦(Naruhiko Kuroda,音)说,“我视他们为新市民。”

Exploiting a quirk in the country’s tax system, scores of towns with dwindling populations are supplementing revenue by courting outside donors. The result is a sort of adopt-a-forest program for rural communities — albeit one where the forest reciprocates with gifts.


Local governments are offering things as diverse as marbled Wagyu beef and hot-spring vacations. Last month one city in central Japan, Bizen, attracted 56 million yen with a deal on tablet computers.


The tablets were available for a donation of 100,000 yen, or about $800. After the tax rebate, the cost to donors was just 2,000 yen.


This year, Japan sweetened the tax benefits. The government views it as a way of addressing stubborn wealth disparities between cities and the countryside.


Critics, though, say the system has come untethered from its initial purpose, which was to allow city dwellers to support their ancestral towns. The system is known as furusato nozei, or “hometown taxation.” But there is no requirement that donors have any connection to the places, and today few actually do.

不过,批评人士称,这套名为“故乡税”(furusato nozei)制度已经偏离了最初目的,即让城市居民为他们的家乡提供支持。但是,政府不要求捐赠者与受捐赠的地方有任何关系,而且目前很少有人真的与这些地方有关。

The cost of thank-you gifts is also rising steadily as local governments compete to attract patrons — leaving less to spend on civic projects. Urban areas, where most donors live, end up bearing the cost, according to Takero Doi, a professor at Keio University, since donors’ tax write-offs subtract from other cities’ revenue. “Ultimately, it’s a zero-sum game.”

在地方政府争相吸引捐款者的同时,礼品的成本也在不断上升,这导致了市政工程支出的减少。庆应义塾大学(Keio University)教授土居丈朗(Takero Doi)说,捐款的成本最终由大多数捐款者生活的城市地区承担,由于对捐款者的减税会导致其他城市的收入减少,“这终究是一场零和博弈。”

Playing the game has been a boon for Hirado.


The town’s heyday was four centuries ago, when it was a bustling trading hub that drew cloth and silver merchants from as far away as Europe. Today it has a cluster of aging tourist hotels, built by overly hopeful developers in the 1970s and ’80s, that sit mostly empty. The population has dropped by half since the 1950s.


While Hirado began accepting donations soon after the program began in 2008, it only recently started to earn serious money. Taking cues from online shopping, it set up a website where donors can choose gifts and a point system to claim rewards. It takes a donation of 10,000 yen, or $84, to get the seafood delivery.


The town earned 1.46 billion yen in donations in its latest fiscal year, which ended in March, or about $12 million — 7 percent of its annual budget. That was the most of any local government in Japan.


Some taxpayers are enjoying a windfall, too.


“My wife saw something about it on TV and said it would be a good way to save on taxes,” said Shigeki Kanamori, a wealthy real estate developer in Tokyo.

“我妻子在电视上看到的,她说这是节约税费的好办法,”富裕的东京房地产开发商金森茂树(Shigeki Kanamori,音)说。

Mr. Kanamori gave 3 million yen, or $25,000, to a total of about 200 municipalities. In return, he received gifts worth roughly half that amount. Out of pocket, the haul cost him just 2,000 yen, about the price of lunch at a Tokyo restaurant.


“My biggest problem is that my refrigerator’s full,” he said. He has written a book about where to find the best deals.


Mr. Kanamori expects to do even better this year. The government doubled the upper limit on tax deductions on April 1, to 20 percent of the value of the donor’s municipal tax bill. That, combined with increasingly assertive soliciting, could spur a big increase in donations, which hit 14 billion yen nationwide last year, about $113 million.


Some are concerned that the escalating extravagance of the thank-you gifts could hurt public support for the initiative.


“We want this to be a permanent fixture of the tax system, not just a kind of short-lived festival,” said Mr. Kuroda, the Hirado mayor. “I’m happy about our success, but I’m also worried.”


Hirado’s gifts cost the city a little less than half the money it receives, Mr. Kuroda said. All are from local producers, he said, for an additional economic boost.


But some towns are pouring 70 or 80 percent of the value of donations back into thank-you gifts, and are less focused on using local goods. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which supervises local governments, recently issued a directive calling for “self-restraint” in the selection of gifts.

但是,有些城镇把所获捐赠的70%或80%都用在了答谢礼物上,而且也不太坚持使用当地商品。管理地方政府的总务省(Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications)近日发布了一项命令,呼吁各政府在挑选礼物时进行“自律”。

Defenders of the system say its merits more than make up for its flaws.


Japan’s regions already depend heavily on outside subsidies — like revenue transfers from the central government, farm supports and public spending on rural roads and bridges. Much of the money is opaquely handled and poorly spent, experts say.


In contrast, furusato nozei is more personal and transparent, according to supporters. Recipients provide a list of proposed uses for donors’ money upfront and let them choose which ones to pay for. Hideo Kishimoto, the mayor of Genkai, said the competition it fostered was healthy and was spurring local innovation.

支持者说,相比之下,“故乡税”更加个性化和透明。接收者列出一个如何使用捐款的项目清单,让捐款者自己选择为哪项用途投钱。玄海町长岸本英雄(Hideo Kishimoto)说,它所引发的竞争是有益的,激发了当地的创新。

“It’s like crowdfunding,” he said. Popular causes include child care subsidies and computers for local schools.


Takayuki Fukuoka, an asparagus farmer in Hirado, said he was earning about 30 percent of his income from gift requests. He said he hoped the program would open farmers’ eyes to new ways of marketing their produce, instead of relying on the monopolistic wholesale system that dominates Japanese agriculture.

在平户种植芦笋的农民福冈孝行(Takayuki Fukuoka,音)说,他30%的收入来自赠送答谢礼物产生的需求。他说,希望该项目可以让农民们发现营销作物的更多办法,不再只是依靠在日本农业占主导地位的垄断性批发系统。

“This has been a very closed-off place until now,” he said.


Hirado town officials keep innovating. They are working on a smartphone-based system that would turn reward points into a virtual currency donors could spend at local businesses.