Family Day

Yesterday was a family day, and more so than most: Yuriko’s parents came up from Nagoya to get their grandchild fix. They arrived around midday, while we were iChatting with California, so my Dad got to say hello to them, which was nice.

In the afternoon, we went to the local shrine’s summer festival. It was the third time I’d been, and the second time for Yuriko, but Mayuki’s first time. (And Yuriko’s parents’ first time.) Mayuki was a really, really good girl. Not only did she not cry, she also watched most of the sacred dance, and didn’t shout or squeal too much.

I also got interviewed again. Last year some people were videoing it as part of a record of cultural practices (the dance is registered by Kawasaki city), so they wanted to interview the only foreigner present. This time, someone from Yomiuri Shinbun was there, and she wanted to ask me what I thought of the festival as a foreigner. This is a little difficult to answer. Yes, I’m a foreigner, but it’s the fourth time I’ve been, I know the people at the shrine quite well, and I’ve studied Shinto quite extensively; I’m not seeing it from a standard foreigner perspective. I did my best to answer the question as put, however. After all, she wasn’t really interviewing me, she was researching the event.

In the afternoon we took Yuriko’s parents to Shinrin Kouen, one of the local parks, because they hadn’t been there before, and then they took us out for eel. There is a tradition that you should eat eel on this day of the year. Apparently, this tradition was started by an eel shop about twenty years ago, but the Japanese are remarkably uncynical about excuses to eat particular foods. And eel is very tasty, so I’m not going to object either. The restaurant we went to was very nice indeed, but they don’t advertise much. Yuriko and her parents suspect that this is because, if they did, lots of people would come, and that would inconvenience the regular customers. I think that’s a good attitude to have, if you are already making enough money; human relationships do matter at least as much as profits.

Mayuki was a really good girl in the restaurant as well, and the other customers, and the staff, said that she was really cute. If we’re not careful, we’ll start believing people when they say that sort of thing to us.

Today is Ocean Day, so Yuriko doesn’t have a kimono class. Her parents stayed overnight in Kawasaki, so they’re here again now, and I’m getting my computer to the point where I can start it backing up and thus go and spend time with them. Of course, they can play with Mayuki, so they aren’t that bothered about what I get up to.

Death and Taxes in Japan

Now that I have a daughter and a flat, I decided it would be a good idea to look into wills and inheritance. Since, at the moment, we’re all in Japan, I had to look into the Japanese law. Fortunately, there are books available on the topic, so I bought one.

The system is very different from England and the US.

Let’s start with the will. There are three basic kinds of will in Japan, and a number of special ones for use in emergencies.

The basic one must be written by you, by hand, and signed and sealed. That’s it. It doesn’t need any witnesses. However, you must write the whole thing by hand; no typing or using a word processor. You can put the will in an envelope and not have anyone look at it until you’ve died.

There’s also a “secret will”. Here, there are two witnesses and a public notary involved, and they testify to the existence of the will, but know nothing about its content. One reason for this is that you can recognise illegitimate children in your will, and they then become legal heirs, although at a lesser level than legitimate children. The illegitimate child is then recorded on your family record, so you might not want to do that while you’re still alive and your wife can see…

Finally, there’s a notarised will, where you tell a notary what you want to do, he writes it down, reads it out, and you and two witnesses sign to say that it’s right. This is very expensive.

And then there are the rules for inheritance. The law defines your legal heirs. These are your spouse and children, in the first instance. If they don’t exist, your parents and grandparents. If they’re all dead, your brothers and sisters. Your lineal descendants inherit the status of legal heir if your children die first, as do nephews and nieces, and you can make them into heirs in your will. You cannot make anyone else an heir, although you can leave posthumous gifts to anyone you like.

There are limits on that, however. First, your legal heirs can claim a portion (typically half) of the amount that they would inherit if there were no will, no matter what the will says. That means that, if you have legal heirs, you cannot leave more than half your estate away from them, and get away with it. There’s an exception to this. If a legal heir uses violence against you, is “terribly disrespectful”, or is engaged in a course of life that everyone would agree was really bad, you can disinherit them. You have to make a will that does so, and the family court has to agree that your reasons are good. This is much more restrictive than the UK, where you can disinherit anyone you want.

Second, someone who isn’t a legal heir has to pay more inheritance tax than someone who is.

Ah yes, inheritance tax. This is ridiculously complicated. First, add up the whole estate. Then subtract the allowance. The allowance is 50,000,000 yen plus 10,000,000 yen for every legal heir you have, excluding grandchildren you might have added (but they don’t have to pay additional tax). (You can adopt people to make them legal heirs, but, if you have actual children, only one of them counts towards the allowance. If you don’t, only two of them count. This rule was introduced because rich people actually were adopting armies of people to reduce the inheritance tax, apparently.) The remaining estate is then split, according to the law in the case of no wills, between all the legal heirs, and the inheritance tax (which is graduated) calculated on the basis of how much they would each inherit in that case. Then the tax is split between the actual beneficiaries in proportion to how much they receive, with extra tax for beneficiaries who are not legal heirs.

The effect of this, of course, is that there is no way to change the tax payable by changing the details of the will.

There are a few exceptions. Gifts made while alive are not among them, however. Gifts you make while alive are taxable, the exemptions are lower, and the tax bands are narrower. The top rate (50%) is still the same, however.

There are a few other exemptions, for your spouse, for gifts to legal heirs during your life (they can count against the inheritance, at the value at the time of the gift, which is good for things that will go up in value), and for land below a certain size or with rented property built on it.

Trusts, in so far as they are recognised in law, seem to be catastrophically bad for tax planning. It looks like the money counts as a gift from a corporate entity, which means they count as income. The allowances on income are much lower, and the tax bands are much tighter. (Depending on the trust, it might count as a gift from an individual, I guess, but then the trustees would have to pay gift tax when the trust was created.)

Basically, then, it looks like you can’t indulge in effective inheritance tax planning in Japan; the most tax efficient thing to do is, almost always, to simply hang on to things until you die, and then just leave them to your heirs. That fits with the general opinion, which is that a family can only be rich for three generations; by the end of that, inheritance tax will have made them ordinary.

Still, the upshot is that Mayuki is unlikely to have to pay any inheritance tax, unless my writing suddenly starts selling a lot better than it is now.

9/10 Month Checkup

It’s been so long since I wrote a blog post that the software asked me for my password. Sorry about that.

Anyway, Mayuki had her 9/10 month checkup yesterday, and she’s fine. (I couldn’t go, because I had to work, so I have to rely on what Yuriko told me.) Her weight is still under eight kilograms, but the doctor said that’s no problem; we should think of it as respect for her parents. I certainly appreciate it.

The night before, we went through the questions in the Mother-Child Record Book, to check various bits of development.

“Can she crawl?” Yes!

“Can she hold onto things and stand up?” Yes!

“Can she pick up small things between finger and thumb?”

Hmm… We try to keep small things out of reach to reduce choking risk. Time to check. We got a small thing and put it in front of her, attempting to convince her that it was really interesting, and she wanted to pick it up. She looked at us like we were mad for a little while, and then reached out and smoothly picked it up with her finger and thumb. So she passed the first exam of her life with flying colours.

Mayuki is such a good baby that we had trouble thinking of things to ask the doctor, when Yuriko was trying to prepare questions.

“What about the fact that she cries at bedtime?”

“All babies do that, Yuriko.”

“Hmm, yes. Well, she’s stopped trying to crawl away when I change her nappy. Maybe I should ask about that?”

“You’re really desperate now. Mayuki’s just being cooperative.”

“OK, what about the trip to the UK?”

“I suppose that’s fine. I can’t see any problem, though.”

And, indeed, as the UK is an advanced country, there should be no problem. We can buy baby food and formula milk there without worrying.

I hope Mayuki will continue to be as good as this for at least a few more years…