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Updated: May 21, 2021

Japan has amassed significant soft power, which I would argue is only increasing. Even those that have no real interest in the country can’t get around the increasing omnipresence of anime and will have heard of Samurai and Geisha. Those flocking to the country will likely know other famous cultural icons like ‘the great wave’ by Hokusai, the infamous Shibuya crossing, cosplay culture and zen gardens on tranquil temple grounds. All these icons serve as paragons of the Japanese image as projected abroad. Yet there’s also obscure wonders that are not as well known, unsung heroes of Japanese culture that only reveal themselves when one has spent time in the country. These are the heroes that cemented my gradual falling in love with Japan through small but meaningful experiences travel guides generally pass over, and it is time they have their moment in the spotlight.

Downtown wonders

What has charmed me from the moment I first laid eyes on it and will forever continue to do so is the general street scene of Japanese cities. Of course there’s the usual suspects such as the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto and Asakusa in Tokyo which are, of course, famous for a reason. But in my opinion nothing elicits that feeling of adventure and wonder, of being in a different world altogether than a walk ‘downtown’ in any given major Japanese city. Especially if you’re mostly used to European cities like I am.

The first thing that struck me was the general clutter and shabbiness of streets, the contrast this has with the Japanese image of ‘slick and clean’, the clash of the old and futuristic in a single view, the lack of architectural uniformity. Unsightly grey apartment complexes stand next to semidetached houses with a European air and right opposite true castles of traditional Japanese mansions. Every skyscraper can have centuries old temples lurking in its shadow. Dead smack in the middle of the bombardment of stimuli generated by pachinko parlors, endless light signs and seas of people there may be an oasis of tranquility in the form of a Japanese garden. On the 4th floor, above an adult video store and behind a massive billboard one may find the best restaurant they’ve ever eaten at.

While presentation often equals the message in Japan, buildings are a very important exception to this rule: what you see outside holds no bearing on what you may find inside, especially as every inch of every floor tends to be packed with different establishments. The result is just so much to accidentally stumble upon that there’s always room to wander and wonder; far more than I’m used to in Europe at least. The little alley that you never even noticed before holds what will become your new favorite Izakaya. By going to the second floor of an unassuming concrete slab of a building from where you heard some strange noise, you might wind up in an arcade with installations that baffle the imagination.

Perhaps my favorite are the super niche hole-the-wall bars you may find downtown in big cities like Osaka and Tokyo. One example is Mittera Kaikan, a particularly seedy-looking building in Amerika Mura of Osaka. While there’s some signs sprinkled around it with occult names, nothing else implies that it houses over 20 crazy theme bars, each the size of a shoebox, deep within its bowels. In most countries entering a seemingly abandoned, dimly lit building in the middle of the night would be a recipe for disaster; not Japan! During my time in Osaka almost every step off the beaten path was rewarded. And even as I grew to know the city better, that feeling of constant enticement remained, always pushing me to be curious.

This blog was contributed by Tom de Hoop on April 19, 2021.

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I bet some of you may have seen your friends in Japan, posting insta-story of receiving boxes of Japanese Amao strawberries for FREE, hash-tagging #Furusatonozei and wondering how you can sign up for it? Not only that, maybe some of them posted pictures of Kobe beef, sacks of freshly harvested rice, mouthwatering huge scallops, or even the famous samurai swords Japanese knives!

So what’s the hoo-ha about FurusatoNozei/ Hometown Tax?

Simply put, it is a tax scheme that converts parts of your residential tax to the rural governments. So instead of paying tax to your residential area, say Tokyo Ota-ku, your tax money goes to a small town in Kagoshima, for example, as you apply for goods from that area. With the same amount of tax money you need to pay, you get gifts produced locally in return, for supporting the rural communities in Japan, they get tax money from taxpayers living in other parts of Japan. It’s a win-win!

And yes, foreigners living in Japan ARE ELIGIBLE to apply for it!

"Say no more, how do I sign up for it?", one may ask.

Here are three simple steps:

1. Calculate how much you can “donate”.

There are many websites for it, you can simply google “furusato nozei calculator”.

Simply insert the following items and the amount of tax money that you are eligible for

the furusato nozei scheme will be calculated!(See Figure 1)

  1. Annual salary amount

  2. Marital status

  3. Dependents

Furusato Tax Calculator
Figure 1. Furusato Tax Calculator

2. Shopping time!

With the amount computed from step 1, you know how much to “spend” beforehand.

There are several websites for it but one I’d recommend is Rakuten, as you can redeem

points from your shopping ;)

Figure2-7. Simple Shopping Guide Using Furusatonozei

3. Tax Filing

Here comes what many people may think as the tedious part.

  1. If your company does your tax filing for you You would want to apply for one-stop exception system, when you do the shopping, as shown in figure 4. However there are two conditions for the system:

    1. Annual income not exceeding 20 million yen

    2. Donate to no more than five municipalities in one year

The application form for “one-stop exception system” will be mailed to you by the

municipality to which the donation was made, together with a “Certificate of

Receipt of Donation”. You will need to return the mail with a copy of the special

application form and My-Number card to the municipality to which you are

donating, by Dec 31st for the tax exemption for the following year.

b. If you do your own tax

You first do your hometown tax donation and then claim back what you donated

later for the following year.

Besides donating to multiple municipalities. you can also choose the causes to which your tax money contributes to, as shown in Figure 3! Why not make use of this system and redeem the rare products from certain regions for free? You may thank me later ;)


For more info, here are some cool sites you might want to check out:

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On Friday, March 12, 2021, Osaka Koritsu [Public] University announced a decision to change its English name from “University of Osaka” to “Osaka Metropolitan University.”

Our university’s official English name is "Osaka University"; however, as “University of Osaka” had already been used as a synonym for “Osaka University” overseas, we asked Osaka Koritsu University to reconsider the English name for the university that they had announced last year. We were concerned about the possibility that the name they had announced might cause confusion among researchers and students overseas and cloud the futures of the two universities.

Osaka University is deeply grateful for Osaka Koritsu University's deliberate decision to reconsider and change its English name. On the occasion of this announcement, Osaka Koritsu University and Osaka University have agreed to discuss the conclusion of a comprehensive cooperation agreement and aim at building a successful partnership.

We are delighted that this issue has been resolved in a favorable manner in which both universities have agreed to promote their global development and deepen mutual understanding moving forward.

Osaka University once again expresses its sincere appreciation for your understanding and support.

NISHIO Shojiro Osaka University President


Source: Osaka University Website


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