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Man donates 100 million yen to Japanese city in return for subterranean shelter

Company president Atsushi Kawaguchi explains the shelter offered as a return gift for hometown tax donations using a model in Yaita, Tochigi Prefecture, on Jan. 21, 2022. (Mainichi/Seiichi Yuasa)

YAITA, Tochigi -- A company president from the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo has applied to give 100 million yen (about $878,000) to this city in eastern Japan in what is believed to be the largest donation by an individual under the "hometown tax" system.

    The company president made the donation in exchange for the construction of an underground shelter equipped with filters that can rid the air of radioactive and other particles. The man in his 50s learned about the shelter on a television program last year, and said, "I thought I'd come across something good, so I decided on that."

    The Yaita Municipal Government has offered the disaster-prevention shelter as a return gift since August 2020 in exchange for a donation of 100 million yen. The shelter is built and sold by the local company Mirai o Tsukuru, which manufactures and sells disaster-prevention products. Measuring 21 square meters, it is made of reinforced concrete and has 30-centimeter-thick outer and inner walls. It is equipped with an emergency power supply and an eco-friendly bio-toilet. Endorsing the shelter, company president Atsushi Kawaguchi said, "It can be used safely as a temporary evacuation facility in the event of a disaster such as a landslide or a tornado."

    Under the "hometown tax" system, people can donate to municipal governments of their choice, and receive local goods and tax breaks in return. According to the city, the shelter is the next most expensive product after a vacuum tube amplifier offered by the Yamagata Prefecture city of Yonezawa in northern Japan in return for a donation of 147 million yen (approx. $1.29 million). The shelter's price is said to fall within 30% of the amount of the donation -- the government's recommended upper limit. As of Jan. 25, there had been no applications to make donations in exchange for the tube amp.

    An official at the Municipal Tax Policy Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Local Tax Bureau expressed surprise at the latest donation, commenting, "We're not aware of every donation amount, but a donation of 100 million yen is not something we've often heard of."

    The man who made the donation says he will leave it up to the city's mayor as to how to use the money. Mayor Junichiro Saito commented, "I want to use it with care following discussions within the city headquarters." He added, "We'd like to develop new return gifts in the future."

    With the latest donation, the total amount received by the city between April and December 2021 is around 217 million yen (about $1.9 million), topping the previous year's amount during the same period by 120 million yen (about $1 million).

    (Japanese original by Seiichi Yuasa, Otawara Local Bureau)

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