March 15th Deadline & You May Get Money Back!
(Originally published in Tokyo Today Magazine, "Tax Attacks", March 1991, written by Paul Abramson)
Well folks, it's that special time of year again. No, not Christmas - it's tax time! We are fortunate to live in a day and age when world communications are almost instant; the cure for the common cold is just around the corner; and when the "tax man" can somehow find and tax you no matter where you go.
If you live in Japan and made at least l5 million yen last year or had multiple employers or special deductions, you may need to file a tax return with the Japanese government. For the majority of foreign residents these procedures are not necessary, your employer's payday deductions are good enough evidence of your compliance. However even if you are not required to file you may want to file to claim a refund of any over-withheld funds. This often occurs with multiple employers.
The Japanese government has handily published an English booklet entitled, "1990 Income Tax Guide for Aliens". Even with all its tables, explanations, and rules, you'll still need the separate fold-out newsprint-page instructions entitled, "How to Fill Out Your Final Return" for a column by column English description of a Japanese tax return. It you've been here a very long time they'll probably find you and send you this fine publication, free of charge. However if you need more information you can either go to the tax office (zaimusho) in your ward or to the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau Office (Otemachi Station, exit C2; walk north one block to Government Bldg. No. 2, on your left). The filing deadline for the previous year is March 15.
Depending on where you hail from, you may need to file some kind of return with your home country as well. For U.S. citizens, the U.S. Embassy has a special phone number and they will be more than happy to hear from you (03-3224-5466). The U.S. does not ordinarily require a tax return filing if your income was less than the equivalent of $70,000 and if you were outside of the US for at least 11 months of the year, so you shouldn't owe any U.S. taxes (but again, you could have a refund coming if some of last year's income was earned and taxed in the US).
For Canadians, call your Embassy (03-3408-2101) and ask for the Income Tax Department. Evidently Canada and Japan have a special agreement whereby if a citizen pays income taxes to the one country they don't have to pay (again) to the other. Not a bad deal. In any event, Canada still requires a form stating that you paid in Japan, and if you call your Embassy they'll send you the proper materials.
Naturally your humble reporter also contacted the British Embassy - or tried to anyway. I ended up being transferred and passed around more times (... well, almost) than a radioactive football at a tag-team rugby match played by professional jugglers. - If you're a British subject, good luck getting definitive information from them (03-3265-6340).
One other thing you 'should know about taxes in Japan: If the day ever comes when you fold up your futon for the last time, wash that last rice bowl, and finally put your shoes back on - never to take them off again - then you'll probably want to contact your local tax office and fill out a partial year income tax return. It would be best to initiate this process several weeks before you depart. (You could get back up to 100,000 yen or more - depending on how much has been deducted up until then.) You'll need an address or account where they can later forward the refund to. If your Japanese isn't very good then try taking a couple of recent wage statements along with your plane ticket when you go on down to the tax office. They should get the idea.
(Originally published in Tokyo Today Magazine, June 1991, written by Paul Abramson)
The following (slightly enhanced) story was transcribed from a recent Tokyo Today tent meeting. -We know that after reading this - you too will believe!
"Well, well, well!", boomed the barrel-chested tax preacher as he strolled across the stage, gripping his microphone in one hand and cradling an empty offering plate in the other, "Now folks, I didn't come here to Tokyo, all the way from, Arbuckle, Missouri, just to sing, just to ask for your donations, just to give you an evenin' to tell your grandchildren about. No, I didn't." He pauses, looks up to the bleachers in the back, down to the folks sitting on folding chairs up in front, then continues strolling and preaching.
"Now, I know the tax article in the March issue affected some of you. It touched your lives. And for some of you...", he stops to look out at the crowd of inquiring faces. Spoken with a hush, "...For some of you, it made you whole." Then out loud with a broad sweep of his long arm, "Didn't it!?" Approving nods and verbal affirmations rise throughout the big tent. (Yes, it was set-up in Roppongi, just north of the train station, where we usually hold such T.T. staff meetings.)
The preacher sets the offering plate down on a nearby lectern/typing table and steps to the front of the plywood stage. He holds the mike dearly while stretching his free arm forward, welcoming anyone to come on up. His weathered face beams from ear to ear, "Friends, I know we've had some recent converts. You filed taxes with the Japanese government, got money back, and now you feel fulfilled. Am I right?"
The crowd responds positively. A man in the third row calls out, "You are right tax preacher, you are right!"
The preacher wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead, nods kindly to the gentleman, then continues, "I want to hear from you. I want you to come forward. Come forward and tell of wondrous-" He spots a raised hand several rows back. The tax preacher acknowledges it, "Yes, you, ... yes, please come on up here."
A boy with shiny black shoes and a half-untucked white long-sleeve shirt stands up and makes his way to the aisle. The preacher smiles, "A young man with a testimonial. Yes, come on up to the front of the tent." As the adolescent-looking boy comes forward and up onto the stage the preacher prepares the crowd, "He's a fine looking lad. You know, so many of our youth ... with the TV, the rock and roll ... it's sad."
The boy tucks in his shirt while getting up beside the big preacher. "Hello son.", he notices that the boy's shaggy hair is sticking up in back so the preacher smooths it back with his hand, drawing him and the mike in closer, "Son, tell us all who you are."
"M-my name is Jesse, sir.", says the fine lad.
"I see, Jesse. And do you go to school near here, Jesse?", the preacher warmly inquires.
"Ah, no, I teach English, and do narration, and proofreading on the side," Jesse says.
"My, my, that's somethin'. You know back when I was your age, just a sprout, I was only delivering newspapers, boxing groceries, and-", the preacher is cut-off in mid-reminiscence.
"Well, actually sir, I'm a little older than how I'm being anonymously portrayed in this story." Jesse looks a little miffed, "In fact, the part about the shiny black shoes and untucked shirt...." Jesse is frowning.
The preacher looks nervous, hastily apologizes, and wants to go on, "-Yes, ah, I'm sorry about that. I, ah, ... well, well anyway - everyone would, I'm sure, really like to hear your testimony. So please, ah, go ahead and tell us your story now. Tell us all what happened."
The preacher smiles nervously and motions for Jesse to look out at the gathered crowd as he speaks. Jesse lets up from his frowning and speaks into the microphone which the preacher holds in front of him, "Well, it all started when I read the tax article in the March 1991 issue. It was called, Tax Attacks. And at first I thought, 'no, this doesn't apply to me.' I thought it was something for other people; that it didn't include me. At first I just didn't believe it."
The preacher scans the crowd. His knowing look is met with nods from all over the tent. Everyone listens as Jesse continues, "But then I thought, 'what if it does apply to me? What if I filed taxes with the Japanese government, and really could get money back? What if it's true! Jesse is starting to sound excited.
The preacher warmly pulls the mike back and makes sure the audience stays on track, "I think we remember. We remember that there was a time in all our lives when we were in darkness. Before we knew what we now know. A time when we experienced what young Jesse here felt, just 3 months ago. Now Jesse, how did you feel when this was happening to you?", he moves the mike back to Jesse.
"Well I was kind of confused at first. I didn't know what these new words meant at first. I wasn't sure if I should m-make that step.", Jesse pauses. The preacher nods approvingly for him to continue.
Jesse takes the mike into his own hand. His tone changes. The testimonial sounds deep and sincere, "But I did. I gathered together my 1990 wage statements, I found my local tax office, I pushed the door open, and I went in!"
The crowd is riveted to Jesse's words. Jesse grips the mike tightly with both hands. The preacher glances over at the empty offering plate, smiles down at Jesse, then smiles out to the crowd, wanting Jesse to continue.
Jesse sounds emotional, "I went in ... not sure w-what to expect. But I figured that if the advice was in Tokyo Today, well, it must be good advice.... So, I took in my statements, I waited in line, and when I was in front the man took my wage statements and started filling out a long form. I was nervous. But it was too late to turn back; I just had to trust in the words I had read. Jesse hesitates. The preacher nods and tries to pat Jesse on the head. Jesse casually takes a step away and continues, "I stood there. And when the man was done the form said I'd get back 350,000 yen. I couldn't believe it! It was money, for me. Over withheld money. Probably because I hold down more than one job. It was something I hadn't expected. And now ... !", Jesse throws his arms out wide, trembles slightly, and practically yells, "...I want you all to know!" inhaling deeply, then yelling with all his might, "...I BELIEVE!!"
The ecstatic crowd immediately starts clapping! Many people are on their feet. During the wave of applause, the preacher gets the piano player's attention. He sees that it might take a minute to get the microphone back - so he gestures for the beginning of a rousing chorus....
The previous excerpt is based on fact. "Jesse" did indeed file his 1990 taxes, and receive 350,000 yen back. - We hope that next February-March or (if you will be leaving Japan with a partial year's return) later this year, that you too will soon nod knowingly, will sense that wonderment, will get money back, and that you too... will believe!
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