Japan tax story
The fiscal year in Japan begins and ends on March 15th, but my personal income tax payments, declarations and returns are based on the calendar year. I have to file by March 15th all my documents for the previous calendar year. I dislike it because it involves a highly technical level of language that I cannot speak. I can speak everyday Japanese. I can talk to students and school staff, to shopkeepers, to my doctor and dentist, to police officers, etc. But I hate to visit the local City Hall because their level of technical talk is way above my proficiency.
But that’s what I did on Friday, February 24, 2017. I visited the local Nakano City Hall (“Nakano kuyakusho,” also called the Nakano City Office, the Nakano Borough Office, or the Nakano Ward Office) to ask for help with my income tax (“shotokuzei”). Actually, it wasn’t the tax itself that I needed help with. The tax is automatically paid by payroll deductions. What I needed help with was to file for a refund (a “shinkoku”). The staff at the Information counter just inside the building’s doors said that they didn’t handle income tax, they only handle the local Ward Residence Tax (“juminzei”). I knew that, but I didn’t know where else to turn, and I figured they’d know.
They directed me to the Income Tax Bureau in a building across the street. Oh, great. So I went there and said the same thing that I just said to the people at the Information desk of the City Hall. They said that they only handle completed tax forms. If I needed help to fill them out (naturally) then there was an e-Tax center in Shinjuku open every weekday from January 1-to-March 15 that could help me. I knew that, too. It’s the same thing every year. The problem is finding out where the Tax Center office is, because it’s a temporary location that changes every year.
So on Monday, February 27, 2017 I went, as instructed by the tax office in Nakano Ward, to the 5F of the NEWoMan building on the Shinjuku Station South Terrace. There was a guard at the building’s Ground Floor door and I asked him if I was in the right place. Yes. Escalators up. I asked a woman at an Information counter at the top of the escalator if I was in the right place. Yes. Where do I go from here? Go this way. Okay. Use your head, give yourself plenty of time, look at the signs, watch what other people are doing and try to use as much language as you can and things usually turn out well.
Use your head, give yourself plenty of time, look at the signs, watch what other people are doing and try to use as much language as you can and things usually turn out well.
Now, I’ve done my taxes before this way, using the temporary tax center in Shinjuku to file my income statement and refund calculation online, so I had a User code and a PIN number. Those are essential. Next, I needed the new “My Number,” a new personal identification number introduced in 2015 which acts like a Social Insurance Number in Canada. Next, I needed “gensenchosusho” from each of my work places. “Gensenchosusho” is translated as “Withholding Statement.” It is essential. It is an official statement of one’s total income and the tax that was withheld from it. It is especially important for certain kinds of visa-holders because it is proof of one’s gainful employment and it’s a required document for visa-renewal. The document might also include your employment transportation costs, your Employers Health Insurance (“shakaihoken”) deductions (if you have Employer’s Health Insurance, which I do not. I have the National Health Insurance, called “kikuminhoken”). Next, you need the official receipts for your National Pension payments, plus an official receipt for any other insurance you might have, such as Life Insurance. I have Life Insurance. In addition to all of that, you ought to have your bank Passbook with you so that arrangements can be made to deposit your refund directly into your bank account.
So with those basic documents plus my User code and my PIN number I went to the Tax Center at 8:30 a.m. with a puppy dog “please help me” demeanor. Long story short, I left the center 90-minutes later with my income declaration filed online, and my refund calculated. (Payment into my bank account in six weeks’ time.)
The tax center occupied a big convention-size space, all roped off with different areas labeled A, B, C depending on the kind of tax one was there to deal with, and Japanese-language instructions posted all over the place. God help me! There were almost a hundred laptop computers for online filing, and a large staff scurrying around helping everyone. The people in white jackets were for general assistance. The blue jackets were the technical tax wonks. I got a friendly non-English speaking woman in a white jacket and forced her to do everything on the computer for me, because I’m like an adult baby and the computer is all in Japanese. I literally cannot do it without assistance. Six times she held up an orange card to get the attention of a blue jacket for a tax detail query.
When I get the money I cannot spend it on stuff. Not at all. I have to hold onto it because even yen of it is going straight back to the government to pay the series of bills that always come in the Spring: National Pension (“nenkin”) comes first; then National Health Insurance and Nakano Ward Residence Tax come almost simultaneously. I call those the Big Three. I like to pay them off in a single lump sum payment. Get them out of the way immediately rather than be harassed by them throughout the year by monthly bills. If I pay the Health Insurance in one lump sum then there is a small discount than if I pay it in twelve monthly instalments. I figure these things have to be paid even if I die today because these are not bills for this year, 2017. These are the bills for last year, 2016. We pay them after the fact. If I died today then my estate would still be taxed based on my income this year up until the time of my death. So the Big Three have to be paid one way or another. I feel better getting them settled as quickly as possible.
Maybe some people are lucky enough that their employer’s accountants do their Income Tax for them. I mean, people who have a single employer. Maybe their single employer deals with all of this on their behalf. But if that’s true, I’m not one of them. I’m an ordinary guy, but I have several sources of income which means that I have to take the documents they provide and declare my income and file for a refund by myself.