Around this time of year, letters to the editors sections of the national newspapers are filled with tales of people filing income tax returns and coming away confused. One 65-year-old man wrote to the Asahi Shimbun recently about tax deductions for donations to charities and non-profit organizations. He brought receipts for four donations he made, and the tax office accepted two of them, one for UNICEF and the other for Doctors Without Borders, but rejected the other two, both of which were for contributions he made to local NPOs who worked with homeless people. The letter writer was understandably disappointed and quoted the well-know physician, Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, who is a strong advocate for a broad and transparent tax deduction system so that Japanese people will contribute more freely.
Japanese people donate about ¥260 billion a year to charities, while Americans donate about ¥20.4 trillion, or 8 times as much. Accordingly, Japan has been called, usually by the Japanese themselves, a “no-donation culture,” which makes it sound as if the very idea of contributing to charities were something they can’t get their heads around. This is a myth, or, at least, a convenient means of explaining the lack of structural encouragement for donations. Almost every day on the news you see people collecting money for immediate, specific needs, like earthquake relief or overseas surgery for some poor sick kid, and people always give, but in those situations we’re talking small change. On a larger level people don’t give because they are not encouraged to do so.