Taxes 2015: Advice and Links

Japan loves to tout it’s seasons.  Cherry blossoms in spring, festivals in summer, leaves in fall, and Anna and Elsa in winter.  There are even seasons here that some of us don’t have in our home countries, like rainy season or typhoon season.  But you know what season everyone has, no matter how far you run or how hard you try to hide?tax-season

That’s right, it’s time to dust off your calculator and get to work filing taxes!

Of course, tax season looks different for every JET Program participant.  Depending on your home country and length of stay in Japan, your tax situation will vary.  As such, it’s important to research your own country’s tax information to get the most accurate information.  However, there are a few things that all JETs should keep an eye on during this time.

Also, I see everyone else is doing it, so I’d better follow suit:  The Ishikawa JET Blog is by no means an authority or expert on tax matters.  (If you weren’t clued in by the Bugs Bunny picture above.)  The information presented here is to be used as a rough guide, NOT as an authoritative source.  Please do your own research when in doubt!

1. Know Your Home Country (A.K.A. Ask a Sempai)

As mentioned above, every situation is different.  (If only there were an acronym to express such a thing…)  If you don’t want to read through the troves of forms and databases on government websites while looking for the tax laws that apply specifically to you, a more popular strategy is to ask someone from your same home country who’s been in the program longer than you.  For you first-year JETs, the ideal target is a 2nd-year, because usually tax proceedures change for 3rd, 4th, and 5th-year JETs.

You can ask them what forms they filled out last year, where to find information, and whether or not they’re wanted for tax evasion back home.  Of course, the ultimate responsibility with getting your taxes done correctly lies with you and you alone.  But, it can’t hurt to ask around in an effort to save you some time.

For American JETs like myself, I was given a tax guide back in 2012 that’s helped me every year since.  I have added it under the “Downloads” tab above.

2. Don’t Throw Anything Away

This time of year, you’ll be getting a lot of forms and papers from your CO with lots of numbers and amounts on them.  It’s best to play it safe when in doubt and not throw them away.  The most important one is the statement which lists your total earnings from 2014 (For Americans, this is the equivalent of your Japanese W-2 form), and it looks a little something like this:

Tax Form

Keep this somewhere safe, as you’ll probably need it.

3. Don’t Procrastinate

Of course, none of us would ever think of doing this!  Doing your taxes here isn’t nearly as complicated you think it is.  In fact, the JET Program website even makes a point of saying how little paperwork is required on the Japanese side of things.  Carve a bit of time out of an evening or weekend and see how much you can get done.

4. Save a Little Bit for Summer

The taxes we’re dealing with now are usually income taxes from our home countries.  But, (and this again depends on where you’re from and where you currently live), you may have to pony up this summer and pay your Japanese residency tax.  This can be really expensive, so it’s a good idea to start laying aside some money just in case.

For some perspective, I received a bill in the mail last June for about 120,000円!  It was a great way to start off a Saturday morning, let me tell you.  I took it in and handed it to my supervisor, who in turn took it to the school office.  It turns out, they were footing the bill that time around.  But, I got a note later that month saying that in 2015, it’ll be up to me to cover that cost, and that it could be a different amount (they conveniently forgot to say if it would be more or less…)

If you’re worried, this is another good time to use the “ask a sempai” technique, as that will give you a baseline number.  However, the tax varies depending on where you live and how long you’ve lived there.  And hey, if you save up and it turns out that you don’t have to pay the tax, you can use that money for something fun!

Treat yoself!

 

6. Links and Resources

As mentioned above, I’ve added a useful tax guide for American JETs under the “Downloads” tab above.  In addition, here are some good resources:

Ishikawa JET Wiki (Scroll down to the “Taxes” heading)

JET Program website

Kumamoto JET Blog

Mie JET Blog (Ooh!  This one talks about Canadians!)

In addition, your “General Information Handbook” has more information.  Happy tax season, everyone!

Cultural Gap: A Mile in Their Shoes

I remember when I first emailed my predecessor in the summer of 2012 and asked about proper work attire at the school where I was about to start working.  Her explanation was mostly what I expected — guys wear cool biz in the summer, and a shirt/tie at the very least in winter.  But what threw me were her remarks about shoes.  She said that most teachers wear nice shoes to work, then take them off in the genkan and hop into sneakers, slippers, and sometimes even sandals.  Back then that sounded like crazy talk.  Why wear a suit and then slip into some Reeboks?  Of course now this seems like the most usual thing in the world.  Add that to the list of “Things I Have to be Careful Not to do When I Return Home.”

Actually, they may be onto something...

Actually, they may be onto something…

Living in Japan, we’re all accustomed to the sometimes strange shoe culture in here. But  I thought I’d use this installment of “Cultural Gap” to discuss a little more about the practices and implications of the Japanese view on shoes.

The tradition of taking off shoes originated from the time when Japanese households primarily had tatami floors throughout.  As anyone who’s ever spilled something on their tatami knows, those things are a pain in the neck to clean.  Combined with the fact that they’re easily damaged, very susceptible to rotting when wet, and a virtual playground for small bugs, it’s not hard to see why folks found it a good idea to strip off those gross, muck-covered, grass-stained shoes before climbing onto the fragile ecosystem that is a tatami mat.  (It is, however, difficult to see why something so temperamental would ever be used as a flooring material in the first place. But I suppose you could say the same for carpet…)

There goes my deposit.

There goes my deposit.

Another purpose for removing shoes is an obvious one — people like keeping their floors clean.  In asian culture, you get a lot more acquainted with the floor a lot more often than you would, say, growing up in a western culture.  Whereas most westerners grew up sitting at dining room tables in chairs or sleeping a comfy foot or two above the floor, folks in Japan grew up sitting around the kotatsu and sleeping on their futon, rolled right out onto the tatami.  As such, it’s much more important to keep those floors spotless!  Indeed, the tradition is not limited to Japan — many Asian countries like Korea and China observed similar etiquette.

So from this history, we arrive at the conclusion that shoes are dirty little monsters strapped to your feet, ready to soil anything they can get their treads on.  Which, logically, means there’s more etiquette attached to those foot coverings than most westerners are used to observing.

For example, you may have noticed that if a Japanese person needs to step on a chair or stool, (to reach a high shelf or help a cat out of a tree,) they’ll remove their shoes before stepping up onto the chair/stool.  This comes from the idea that shoes are dirty, and don’t belong where something so dignified as a butt belongs.  Okay, okay, to be fair, what if someone’s wearing really nice pants and you just trampled all over their chair?  Consequently, the act of kicking back and putting your feet up on a chair, while slightly impolite in the States (depending on the circumstances) is totally off-limits here.

Visa revoked.

Step 5B: Visa revoked.

And how about floors that shoes ARE allowed onto?  What results is a sort-of game of “The Ground is Lava,” that old elementary school favorite.  How many times have you visited a restaurant and put your bag down on the ground by your feet, only to have a  server emerge from the shadows and offer you a basket to place it in?  This happens all the time to my wife and I.  Last year, my school’s bonenkai was held in one of those fancy event spaces in a hotel downtown.  A few minutes into the revelry, I realized that every single woman in the room had placed her purse behind her on her seat, between her lower back and the back of the chair, in order to avoid placing her bag on the ground.  I asked a female coworker about it afterward, and she explained that she would never place her purse on the ground, because it’s so dirty.  I have since noticed that when she comes into the office, she hangs it on the arm of her swivel chair.

While westerners would probably avoid putting our belongings onto the ground in a fast food restaurant or a movie theater with sticky floors, I don’t believe I’d think twice about setting my stuff onto the carpeted floor of a ballroom in a fancy hotel.

You show 'em, Danny.

You show ’em, Danny.

This also gives rise to the custom of people squatting so much in Japan.  I was really surprised by that when I first came here.  In America, squatting is sort-of uncool over the age of six or seven.  But here, I’ll see businessmen in suits squatting in Kanazawa station, or women chatting on their cellphones squatting on the stairs.  Because the ground is dirty, they don’t want to sit on it (it doesn’t help that benches are virtually non-existant in public spaces, but that’s a subject for another time).

The one time I have noticed a loophole is with students.  Ahh, yes.  The bottom of Japanese society’s totem pole, students always seem to get the short end of the stick.  Whenever my school goes on a field trip to a museum or to visit the zoo, or anytime they have a fire drill and the students have to assemble on the school grounds, the teachers don’t hesitate for a second about telling the students to have a seat in the dirt, grass, or linoleum.  Poor souls.

So, how about you?  Do you have a story about shoe etiquette in Japan?  Want to add something I missed?  Feel free to comment below!  And stay tuned for the next edition of “Cultural Gap.”

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Daniel is a third-year JET living in Kanazawa.  He teaches at a junior high school and loves coffee, bike rides, and hanging out with his wife.

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Fall Events and Announcements

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The book was created a few years ago by real, live, Ishikawa JETs.  it includes bilingual recipes designed to be cooked by folks in Ishikawa using ingredients found in Ishikawa.  To give the best possible introduction, please see the words of the editor of the cookbook, Leah Zoller: Continue reading

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"You're welcome!" -Guy who never lived in Japan.

“You’re welcome!” -Guy who never lived in Japan.

Continue reading

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The 2014 AJET Primer

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ajetishikawa Continue reading