“You know you’ve been in Japan too long when you think it’s cool to stand in the ‘Japanese only’ line at Narita airport.” The first time a foreigner comes to Japan, he stands in the line for gaijin with the other foreigners while his paperwork is processed. Visa-holders who leave Japan intending to return must get a special re-entry stamp in their passports, and if you have this you get to stand in the shorter line for Japanese — and this is what I did yesterday, after my 10+ hour flight from LAX to Narita, which brought me back to my cold, windy adopted country. After clearing customs, I took advantage of one of the great conveniences of Japan, Yamato Delivery Service, who will take a person’s heavy suitcase and deliver it to their door for around $15, saving me from lugging it onto the bus. Yearning for a taste of home, I bought a quick onigiri, a triangular ball of rice with nori seaweed on the outside and salmon on the inside, and some oolong tea, and got on the Azalea Bus (named after the official flower of our prefecture, Gunma) for home.
Whenever I flip between the U.S. and Japan I know I’m in for a little culture shock, whether it’s being amazed at the giant size of a “small” drink at McDonald’s in the States or the “short” capuchinos sold at Starbucks in Japan. This time I was struck by the cars I noticed on the road. For the most part, the cars in Japan are pretty much the same ones you see in any other country, although they often have funny names like Soarer, Town Bee, Bongo Friendee, Thanks Chariot and Super Saloon. But there’s one category of auto that’s almost totally missing from Japanese streets: the venerable pickup truck. While pickups by Ford, Toyota and other companies comprise a large percent of car sales in North America, the situation is quite different in Japan. Here, the very idea of a “truck” is a boxy, industrial thing, used by companies for hauling but never owned as an icon of convenience or style. Well, que sera, sera, or as the Japanese say, junin toiro, which literally means “ten people, ten colors” (e.g., everyone has their own unique preference).
In many ways Japan’s tax system is similar to the U.S., since the two countries follow the GATT, which governs how accounting rules between countries work. Japan’s version of the IRS is the Zeimusho (税務署）, the Ministry of Taxation, and every city has a Tax Office to organize the collecting of the various national, prefectural and city-level taxes. One difference I’ve noticed between the U.S. and Japan is that there’s a lot more “community building” here, with mechanisms designed to bring about a feeling of happy, patriotic spirit when it comes to paying of taxes for the national good. My mother-in-law is a long-time member of the local Kanzeikai, a formal union of business-owners, accountants and other professionals whose stated goal is the “encouragement of honest and accurate paying of taxes.” Last year the Kanzeikai members took a government-sponsored trip to Mongolia to see how taxes are collected in that country — the 15% sales tax there made Japan’s 5% consumption tax look very small by comparison. Another activity of the group is to stand on street corners and hand out pocket tissues (the kind you get with J-List orders) with slogans promoting the accurate declaration of income on tax forms as a person’s civic duty. They also have seminars to educate members about how important taxes are to society. At one function, my wife was shown an educational movie about what kind of world we’d live in without taxes. For example, if your house was on fire, the fire department would give you a choice of “speedy” or “economy” dispatch services and then charge your credit card before sending out the trucks. The picture above is this year’s feel-good “let’s all pay our taxes” idol, Yukie Nakama (see her calendar here).
We’ve got good news for fans of our 2006 calendars: about 30 previously sold-out calendars are back on the site, as we go through and remove old orders in the system. This is a great second chance to get that excellent anime, JPOP, Japanese actress, traditional or other calendar that was sold out before. But our stock is severely limited, so we recommend that you browse our calendars right away before the calendars you want are gone again.