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Tissue boxes as return gifts driving force behind donation surge to east Japan city

A set of tissues added to the list of "hometown tax" donation return gifts for the city of Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, is seen in this screenshot taken from the website "Satofull."

SANO, Tochigi -- This east Japan city's fiscal 2021 "hometown tax" initiative is doing well thanks to the driving force of the "tissue box set" included in the list of return gifts to donors since September.

    The Tochigi Prefecture city of Sano had garnered some 548 million yen (roughly $4.79 million) as of Dec. 22 under the "hometown tax" system, in which people can donate to municipal governments of their choice and in return receive local goods and tax breaks, greatly exceeding the 71.36 million yen ($624,000) donated during fiscal 2020. The city expects the final amount to reach 1.1 billion yen ($9.62 million) -- 15 times higher than the last fiscal year.

    According to the city's policy coordination division, there are two types of tissue box sets provided by a paper company with a factory in the city: a set of 60 boxes of 200 two-ply tissues will be given to those donating 12,000 yen (about $100), and for a donation of 10,000 yen ($87), a set of 60 boxes each containing 160 two-ply tissues will be sent to donors.

    Both types of gifts are nearly 30% of the value of the donations -- the upper limit under the initiative. By the end of November, there were reportedly 13,086 applications for the 12,000-yen set and 4,385 applications for the 10,000-yen set.

    Looking at the number of applications for hometown tax payments by month, there were less than 1,000 from April to August, but the number spiked to 5,400 in September -- when the tissues were added to the list of return gifts -- 6,800 in October and 17,500 in November, bringing the total to about 49,000 applications as of Dec. 22. The figure is expected to reach 100,000 by the end of fiscal 2021.

    Sano's efforts such as expanding the variety of return gifts from 121 items last fiscal year to 202 and increasing the number of websites handling the goods have also helped the donation surge. A city official said, "Our hard work to improve our hometown tax payment scheme has paid off."

    (Japanese original by Yuzuru Ota, Ashikaga Local Bureau)

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