Rising tax and the rising Rugby fever in the Land of the Rising Sun

Just as Japan started to host the 6 weeks long Rugby World Cup 🏉 on September 20, Japan’s complicated tax increase was introduced from October 1 where some items’ tax has increased from 8% to 10% 💹. 

First the bad news…tax increase

Unlike Australia, the prices are generally listed before tax in Japan and the tiny text size underneath the price is the actual total price that customers pay with tax included. “Essential items” like food and non-alcoholic beverages are exempt from the 2% sales tax hike but it gets complicated when the exact same food and non-alcoholic beverages’ tax rate changes depend on if it’s eaten-in or purchased as take-away and whether it was purchased using cash or another method.

In some places, ‘eat-in’ is charged more before this sales tax increased (I guess because people occupy some real estate at the venue and use plates, utensils, and glasses that need to be washed) but there will be an additional cost to the customer with 10% sales tax. Take away remains 8%.

Simply looking at water, the sales tax hike is difficult to understand. From October 1, 600mL bottle of water from a convenience store (conbini) is ‘essential’ so remains at 8% but if that same bottle of water is purchased to be consumed at conbini, it is suddenly nonessential and the tax is 10%. At home, tap water is a non-negotiable flat tax rate of 10% as it can be used for things other than drinking. 

This also applied to cooking alcohol like rice wine where ‘flavoured rice wine’ with no alcohol remains 8% but rice wine with anything more than 1% alcohol is taxed at 10%.
Apparently, food and non-alcoholic beverages are the only essentials in life due to the 10% tax rate for toilet paper, medicine, diapers, and sanitary products.
Don’t worry, newspaper subscription remains at 8% 🤷.

I have read that this new increase will add an additional 4,000 yen (approx AUD$47) per month to an average household which can be tough for lower-income households.
To ease the pain of the sales increase and to encourage a more ‘cashless society’ in Japan in preparation for Tokyo 2020 Olympic (that is using credit card, debit card, digital money, QR code and any other payment method other than cold hard cash), the government is offering cashback or point rewards until June 30 2020. This incentive to me is also complicated as it’s not across the board but anywhere with this sign at the front.

Cashless sign to watch out for from oct 1 2019 to june 30 2020 photographed by Native Expat 2019
Look out for this sign to save money in Japan

Small mom and dad, non-mega-chain stores that are ready with cashless payment offer 5% cashback and conbini offer 2% cash ack.

This is an English translated version of a summary provided by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC):

SMBC cashless and tax increase summary translated in English by Native Expat 2019
Buying a takeaway using a credit card is the cheapest

Honestly, this is too complicated to dissect and agonise over for every purchase (when thankfully my husband and I both have a job with only our hungry mouths to feed). Things personally haven’t changed too much for me but a reminder to keep what I do:

  • avoid paying cash
  • don’t buy things I don’t need
  • (and now) buy takeaway if I want to buy some food and/or drink.

Luckily, Japan isn’t all doom and gloom with the rugby fever taking over some small part of the country- Marunouchi.

Bankers bank on rugby fever?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t at a pub or anything during the history-making Japan’s win over World Rank #2 Ireland by 19-12 last weekend as I stayed at home recovering from a cold. I constantly refreshed my phone to find out the outcome of the game but some people didn’t even know it was a big deal. One colleague was surprised that rugby is still going when it started on September 20 (“How is it still going throughout October?”) and another said she watched New Zealand’s All Blacks perform Hakka and changed the channel.

Now I realised I was simply with the wrong group of people.

With my luck, I attended a business event last Wednesday at the salary man’s turf, Marunouchi, where major banks and many huge corporations’ HQ are.  During the Rugby World Cup, Marunouchi is not just filled with suits but people wearing ‘borders’ or striped shirts and the home of 丸の内15丁目プロジェクト (Marunouchi 15 choume Project) where rugby supporters are encouraged to wear striped shirts like the Japanese rugby uniform.

There are rugby art around the street, an official fan zone, and many unofficial rugby viewing areas to watch all 48 rugby matches.

rugby art as part of Marunouchi 15 Project of Brave Blossoms captain photographed by Native Expat 2019
Michael Leitch’s dynamic bronze sculpture 🙌

I first went to the unofficial rugby viewing area to watch All Blacks VS Canada but it was very hard to watch when the screens are places so low while the structure that holds the speakers was blocking some of the views. Precious viewing space was taken by stalls selling British cupcakes (because it goes so well with Heineken beer?) so during half time, I moved across to the official fan zone that has 4,800 capacity.

Marunouchi rugby park watching all blacks vs canada in October 2019 photographed by Native Expat
…cool, thanks giant structure that’s in the way!


The Official Fan zone is definitely big with merchandise stores, a lot of volunteers and three screens. Yet, once again the screens are positioned too low that many people can’t watch the whole screen. It’s a shame but I couldn’t see the whole screen because the crowd was congregated at the fan zone.

Spacious fan zone photographed by Native Expat 2019
4,800 people can congregate but not necessarily watch the game

There were many visitors (even a bunch of New Zealand high schoolers) and the atmosphere made it so much more enjoyable to watch rugby. When the World Rank #1 All Blacks is significantly dominant over Canada (the team that is the second-lowest ranking in the tournament just beating Namibia), I couldn’t figure out who’s cheering for who. Every time the Canadian team held the ball the crowd went wild, the crowd universally groaned when the All Blacks took possession of the ball but cheered the All Blacks when they scored a try.

serious viewing session at the fan zone to watch All Blacks vs Canada photographed by Native Expat 2019
Serious viewing session at the fan zone to watch All Blacks vs Canada

Especially without owning a TV, heading out to these fan zones or where the crowd watches a game of rugby is definitely the way to go until the final in November. I feel so lucky to be able to live in Japan when the Rugby World Cup is on.

rugby art as part of Marunouchi 15 Project of rugby loving ninja photographed by Native Expat 2019
Spotted a rugby loving Ninja!

PS – In case you missed, New Zealand won convincingly against Canada 63-0 with 9 tries and the Barrett brothers (Beauden, Scott, and Jordie) all scoring a try.

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