Imagine this: It’s 11:58 p.m., March 31, 2014. You’re in a convenience store, lined up at the cash. The customer ahead of you has a bento. Will he want it warmed up?
11:59. One minute to midnight. Yes, the customer does want his bento warmed. It’ll take a few seconds. Your heart sinks. Midnight will have struck by the time you present your purchases. You’ll be paying 8% consumption tax, not 5%.
Big issues swirl round the April 1 consumption tax hike. Will it strangle the economic recovery? Will it help the government keep pace with the aging nation’s staggering and growing welfare costs?
Then there are the little issues. How will it hit you - not long-term but at the moment of implementation? How will it feel, that first bite it takes out of your wallet? That’s the angle Shukan Gendai (Feb 22) selects for its coverage. If it lacks the gravity of highly credentialed experts interpreting and debating reams of nationwide economic data, it boasts at least a concreteness and a certainty the expert analysis cannot match.
So – back to the convenience store cash. “It would have been better to make the change at 2 or 3 a.m., when there are fewer customers,” one nervous store manager tells the weekly. “But,” he grumbles, “headquarters makes all the decisions.”
That’s true both in the sense he means – that individual convenience store franchises must toe the central line – and also in another sense: the precise time that the tax hike takes effect is not mandated by law. Each enterprise decides for itself when “April 1” begins. So while most convenience stores, their cash registers operated by central computers, seemed geared for a change precisely at midnight, many 24-hour restaurants have in effect taken the convenience store manager’s advice and opted for a later change, giving late-night diners a break.
Same for late-night train passengers. The last train on March 31 may run past midnight and therefore into April 1, but in most cases the fare will not go up until the first trains head out the following morning.
Taxis. Here things get interesting, and confusing. Each taxi company has its own policy, but to the extent that one leading Tokyo cab firm is representative, it will work something like this. Taxi meters are not centrally controlled; each one must be changed individually, which takes a bit of fiddling. So cabs that hit the street before midnight will be charging 5% all night and into the morning, while cabs that leave just after midnight – well, it’s your hard luck if you flag down one of those. You might want to ask the driver before you get in, Shukan Gendai suggests.
Warning to Internet shoppers. You might think that by placing your order in late March you beat the system. You don’t. Here the law does get specific: tax is charged based on not on the order date but on the shipping date. Ordering in March and receiving in April? You pay April taxes – 8%. “There’s not a thing we can do about it,” says a spokesperson for Internet shopping mall operator Rakuten. “It’s a national tax office stipulation.” A notice on Rakuten’s home page makes that clear.