Free medical care, junior high school students study abroad at the village’s expense… Surprising policies of a village that “ranks first in Japan in per capita hometown tax donations”. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Free medical care, junior high school students study abroad at the village’s expense… Surprising policies of a village that “ranks first in Japan in per capita hometown tax donations”.

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Every two years, all 2nd and 3rd year junior high school students are sent to “study abroad

Kitayama Village in Wakayama Prefecture ranked first in the amount of “Furusato Tax” donations per resident in fiscal 2010. Kitayama-mura, Wakayama Prefecture, ranked first with 2,101,588 yen per capita in donations in FY 2010, far ahead of the second-place Shiranuka Town, Hokkaido, with 1,660,945 yen per capita.

The amount of donations in FY 2010 was about 960 million yen, ranking 238th in Japan and 6th in Wakayama Prefecture in terms of the amount of hometown tax payments. The reason why the per capita amount is so large is because the population of the village is small.

says Hidehiro Nakata, who is in charge of hometown tax payments at the Kitayama Village Office.

Kitayama Village has a population of 395 as of the end of October.

Kitayama Village is the only “enclave” in Japan surrounded by Nara and Mie prefectures. The village is a small village measuring 20 km from east to west and 8 km from north to south, 97% of which is covered with mountain forests, and was once introduced on a TV program as a “modern-day unexplored region.

The city of Miyakonojo is the largest taxpayer in Japan, with 19.593 billion yen in 2010. However, with a population of approximately 160,000, the amount per capita is just over 120,000 yen.

What kind of goods does Kitayama Village offer as tax returns?

The main product is “jambara,” a specialty of Kitayama Village,” said Hidehiro Nakata (hereafter referred to as “Mr. Nakata”).

The jambara is a type of citrus fruit that grows wild only in Kitayama Village, and the flavonoids contained in the fruit are said to be effective in improving hay fever symptoms.

The “jabara” tree grows wild in Kitayama Village. It bears pretty flowers in spring.
Jabara has a more sour taste than yuzu. It is recommended to use it for dressing, to add to shochu (distilled spirit), or to put a few drops on grilled fish.

The amount of money raised by the village once exceeded its annual budget… Free medical care, school lunches at elementary and junior high schools, and daycare fees until the age of 18.

One newspaper reported, “The amount of money is not appropriate for a small village. There is a recognition that it is a waste to just hoard it,

The village has a “comprehensive strategy” and a long-term plan to make the most of hometown tax payments.

Furusato tax payment started in 2008. At that time, Kitayama Village was in financial difficulties with more than 50% of its residents aged 65 or older (according to the 2010 census), and the resident tax rate was decreasing year by year.

What saved Kitayama Village was the hometown tax payment. In 2005, the amount of tax payment exceeded 1.4 billion yen, which is amazing.

I was surprised that the amount exceeded Kitayama Village’s annual budget.

Kitayama Village as seen from Mt. Tourists come to the village in summer to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. We are planning to have visitors come in other seasons as well,” Nakata said.

What was the return gift at that time: beer, coffee, and rice. ……

I thought most people wanted something extravagant once in a while, but many wanted daily necessities.”

However, after that, only locally produced goods were allowed as returned gifts, and although the volume dropped to 179 million yen in ’19, it gradually recovered, reaching 897 million yen in ’21, and then 966 million yen in ’22. The donation was then used to fund the Kitayama Municipal Foundation’s activities in the village.

Kitayama Village has a long-term plan to use these donations as part of its “comprehensive strategy.

We have a variety of policies for childcare, welfare, tourism, and education, and among them, we are focusing on settling young people,” he said.

In addition to subsidies for renting and acquiring housing, Kitayama Village offers free medical care until the age of 18, free school lunches at elementary and junior high schools, and free childcare.

Perhaps these measures have been successful, as the percentage of residents aged 65 or older is now 45% (according to the 2008 census).

Sightseeing rafting can be enjoyed from Golden Week until the end of September. They are planning to offer winter activities in the future.
Kitayama Village also has hot springs. The aging facilities will be renovated thanks to the hometown tax payment.

A jambara processing factory is also under construction! What can be done only in a small village with a small population?

There are things that can be done because of the small population. Currently, we are distributing stockpiled food for disaster prevention and broadcast receivers to all residents, which we can do because of our small population.

In terms of education, we are putting special emphasis on English language education, and we offer home-stay programs for second and third year junior high school students as part of their study abroad program. The village pays for the entire cost of this program.

Kitayama Village also offers English conversation classes at its nursery schools, and sends students abroad to study as an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.

‘Currently, we have eight students in the junior high school, and we can only do this because of this number of students.’ We have been doing this since 2010, and it is thanks to the hometown tax that we can continue to do this.”

He also focuses on tourism.

Kitayama Village is located in a cedar production area, and cedars cut in the area were carried downstream on rafts. The rafting technique and the skill to maneuver the rafts have been passed down from one generation to the next. Rafting is also available on the same river.

There is also a campground and bungalows for lodging, but both are deteriorating. We need to renovate and repair these facilities, and it is also a comprehensive strategy for tourism other than the river.

Using tax payments from the hometown, a new processing plant for jambara has been constructed, and it is now able to produce many processed jambara products. It is also helping to create jobs.

Although some people criticize the taxation system, saying that it is just a way to save money, donations to Kitayama Village are definitely helping to build the village’s future.

A jambara processing factory built with tax donations. This factory has made it possible to produce a variety of processed jambara products.
Jabara processing factory workers. Furusato tax payment is also helping to create employment.

Click here for the website of Kitayama Village, Wakayama Prefecture

  • Interview and text by Izumi Nakagawa

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