As supplies of face masks and sanitizers are running short amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, some Japanese municipalities have begun to offer such items as gift incentives for "hometown tax" donations rather than local products like meat or fish.
The government of Sennan City in Osaka Prefecture initially offered hand-made gauze masks as one such gift to attract tax-deductible donations, but suspended the item due to a surge in orders. Since adding a mask made of towel textiles earlier this month, the city has drawn more than 700 donations in about two weeks.
The mask, produced by local towel manufacturers who face increasing competition from low-priced Chinese towels, is said to be comfortable and absorbent.
"It is a product using traditional local technology. We hope that this will help ease a shortage of face masks," said Masaki Ito, a local official in charge of promoting the policy.
The tax program, launched in 2008 as a way to boost revenues for rural areas, allows taxpayers to make donations to their hometowns or other municipalities of their choice. In addition to receiving a tax cut, participants may also be lured by local gift offerings.
Following fierce competition among local governments that offered expensive gifts such as shopping vouchers and personal computers, the program was limited to gifts produced locally and with a value of less than 30 percent of donations.
In the age of coronavirus, people have been eager to accept hometown tax gifts such as the 20-liter containers of disinfectant solution offered by the city of Saga in southwestern Japan. Although people must donate more than 20,000 yen ($185) to receive the gift, the number of donors is nearing the same level as those seeking other popular gifts such as beef or rice.
According to the search-engine website for gifts for hometown tax donations, the ratio of donors who opted for daily necessities such as face masks and toilet paper this month has tripled compared with last December.
Kota Fukuda who heads Colleagues Inc., the operator of the website, said the program is attractive for people to assist revenue-strapped local governments at low cost thanks to the tax deduction, while also receiving practical items such as face masks that are expensive amid the pandemic.
Fukuda expects the demand for daily necessities as hometown tax gifts will continue to rise, since the end of the coronavirus outbreak is not yet in sight.