Busy Lives

I’ve not had time to get the diary caught up yet, even though there’s only one entry to go, because I’ve had to do lots of work. Yuriko has been busy as well.

On Tuesday she went to the Taira Children’s Culture Centre for a talk on food for babies from one to two, which was very useful, particularly in convincing her that she didn’t need to panic about Mayuki. Yesterday, she went to the Sugao Child Raising Support Centre for a talk on picture books. She says they were very good, although most of them were for children aged two and a half and up. It is certainly true that Mayuki doesn’t seem to fully appreciate books yet, much as she enjoys looking through them. There is, apparently, a library of such books in the Sugao Children’s Culture Centre.

All of these centres are funded by Kawasaki City, and thus free to use. There is a serious shortage of nursery places in Kawasaki, due in large part, I suspect, to the relatively high number of both children and working parents, but the rest of the child support system seems to be in very good shape.

Today, Yuriko took Mayuki to Ikea, along with Mayuki’s half-English friend and her mother. I’ve not heard the full account of what they did yet, because Yuriko is currently making dinner in the hope that I can eat before I have to teach at half past seven. It’s getting a bit tight…

Day Trip

Today we went on a family day trip to Atami, a coastal hot spring resort town a couple of hours away by train. This means that I’m even further behind on the diary than I was yesterday, because this is a diary entry sort of thing, with pictures. I’m going to have to deliberately set aside some time to get the diary done.

Anyway, we all had a good time. I don’t know exactly what Mayuki enjoyed, but she was a good girl all day, and got upset when we were home and obviously getting ready to send her to bed. I think she enjoys travel; new things to see, and she gets to spend the whole day with Mummy and Daddy. Yuriko particularly enjoyed seeing a house designed by Bruno Taut, a famous pre-war German architect. (Actually, he only designed one floor of the house, so he mainly designed the interior.) I particularly enjoyed visiting a couple of shrines. Fortunately, we both enjoyed the places the other wanted to see, so there was no boredom involved.

We’re trying to teach Mayuki Baby Sign, because it is apparently good for them to communicate before they can manage to frame words. We’re not very good at remembering to teach her, but today at dinner, when Yuriko tried to convince Mayuki that it was delicious, Mayuki tapped her left cheek with her open hand, which is the sign for “delicious”. I don’t know whether Mayuki knows what it means, since Yuriko frequently uses it about things that Mayuki doesn’t want to eat (which isn’t terribly good strategy, now I come to think of it), but she’s clearly connected the word and the sign.

Anyway, I’ll try to get round to writing the diary entry before I forget everything we did.

Five Years in Japan

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my arrival in Japan, as well as Yuriko and my second wedding anniversary.

When I arrived here, I thought that I would be studying for a year and then returning to the UK. I certainly didn’t imagine that five years later I’d own a flat in the Tokyo area, be married to a Japanese woman, and have a half-Japanese daughter. But life often turns out in ways you weren’t expecting, and I’m certainly not complaining about these developments.

It is probably obvious that I like living in Japan. It’s possible that I’ll never go back to the UK, but since Yuriko and I both like the UK as well, it’s also entirely possible that we will. I just don’t have any plans to do so at the moment.

If I did go back to the UK, there are a number of things I would miss. Sushi, tonkatsu, even ramen occasionally; I do like Japanese food. Buses and trains that are clean and run on time. To the point that when they’re three minutes late the staff never stop apologising. Convenience stores open 24 hours (especially when there’s one next to the flat; that’s maybe a little too convenient). Shinto shrines. Teaching English.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said that the economy was in better shape in the UK, but I’m not so sure about that any more. Still, lamb, decent cheese, and chocolate bars (like Mars bars) are the foods I miss from the UK. And with thirty years of experience, British history and culture still have a very strong resonance for me. While I like Japanese culture, it’s a different experience.

But I like it here, and I’m looking forward to the next however long it is I spend here, with my family.

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.


On Monday evening, I went with Yuriko and Mayuki to see the fireflies.

Fireflies are fairly common in Japan, and children going to watch them over a river on a summer evening is a standard image of childhood. It’s probably something like the eating ice cream and drinking ginger beer image of British childhood, in that the number of children who’ve done it in the last fifty years is probably quite limited. Nevertheless, there is a little river within easy walking distance of our home where we can see fireflies.

Admittedly, we saw a grand total of three. We may have been a little bit too late, or possibly being in the middle of the Tokyo sprawl limits them. Still, it was the first time I’d seen them. They were a lot brighter, and a lot bluer, than I’d expected. I’d expected a greenish light, but they looked more bluish, and they were really bright and noticeable as they flashed. We pointed them out to Mayuki, but I’m not sure whether she really noticed them. I did, though, and I hope we can be organised enough to go back next year.