Every year, people feel annoyed at the prospect of having to deal with the tediousness of filing their income tax forms. There is one thing worse than filing your tax forms and that's having to do it twice. I already finished my U.S. taxes and sent the forms off a couple of weeks ago but this past weekend my husband had to head off to the local tax office and file my Japanese taxes.
This is something I didn't have to do for many years because my company somehow took care of it. It wasn't until I stopped working that I had to do it myself for my freelance work.
In the U.S., people get several months to file their taxes but you only get one month in Japan (from February 15 to March 15). I'm guessing that might be one of the reasons why the local ward office's (wards are like little cities inside of Tokyo) offer a lot of assistance for free relative to the U.S. In our ward, my husband went to a place with about 12 tables seating 12-16 people each. There were about 15 "helpers" there who assisted people with their forms. The whole trip took him about an hour but he said most of that time was spent waiting for a helper to become available.
In general, the bureaucratic approach in Japan is a lot less mercenary than the U.S. It seems like they expect you to make mistakes even though their forms have a less complicated set of rules than the I.R.S. applies to their forms. I'm not certain but I don't think they have the same system of penalties that the U.S. has should you screw up. I think they'd just make you pay any extra tax if a mistake was found and possibly make you write a letter of apology.
In Japan, there is this "custom" of writing a letter of explanation and/or apology when you screw up official forms. My husband and I once forgot to go to the local government office within two weeks of getting our visas renewed. When we remembered about a month and a half too late, they just made us write out why we forgot and nothing more came of it. This is very fitting with the Japanese character. They don't want people to make mistakes but they don't necessarily want to penalize you strongly for having made them.
This relative flexibility has both drawbacks and benefits. In one way, it's a reflection of compassion and tolerance of human fallibility. In another, it allows for a lot of "case by case" consideration where prejudice can be selectively applied when judging people's mistakes. Because of this, you can never be quite sure where you stand when such issues come up though there is generally a good chance that you will be treated in a lenient fashion in regards to issues which involve dotting "i's" and crossing "t's".
In my case, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I'd made little enough last year that I would be getting all my tax money back as I'd expected only to get 50% back. The thing that I'm really looking forward to though is my tax information setting my health insurance and city taxes to levels commensurate with my current income. Since both of these are always a year behind because you pay nothing at all the first year, I've been spending from 1/2 to 2/3 of my small income on these two expenses for the past year now and it's been disheartening. Supposedly, the recalculation will occur after they get my tax forms and I'm really looking forward to feeling like I'm making money for something more than paying last years insurance and tax debts.