Hometown Tax, Buppan Bros

Two more ideas for this blog post. First, ImotoSae’s tax accountant.

I’m all for sadistic Nunu whispering “Oniichan” to my ears. That aside, the Hometown Tax or Furusato Tax or whatever, the idea is piggy-backing on the rural revival ideas partly described via these lines of thoughts, but without the actual tourism. The┬átax-deductible donation system is originally intended for people who moved to the big cities from the countryside, so that they can financially contribute to their hometown’s municipality. What’s more, the beneficiary can, in return, gift the person who designated part of their income tax to the municipality. This has become a weird scheme in which people are basically buying things via their hometown tax, because you don’t actually have to designate the money to your literal home town. You can donate to just about any Japanese municipality, even an urban one. You can read about the full situation here. I mean, just go and look at the home page of Furusato tax, it’s like a full blown shopping site.

Here are some things that was available for “purchase” with the donation (tax deductible!):

It’s not to say it isn’t already cool to get wagyu beef or snow crab legs from a humble donation (well, some of the gifts are quite expensive in order to get, but they are tax deductible). What’s kind of fearsome is that some of these goods are simply things you can’t buy, however, and are worth a lot if they are fungible. If you ever wonder how the hometown tax ends up relevant in a super otaku anime, now you know.

As for filing income tax as a freelancer or consultant in Japan, yeah it’s more about figuring out the deductions, but also knowing how much you have to pay to cover for insurance and various fees. That stuff is just administrative though.

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The BBT of anime, Anime-Gataris, has a moment in this past week’s episode where the Gataris meet Beibei (baby is the pun in the title, right?), a Chinese otaku braving Summer Ket along with our youthful protagonists. This is something kind of endearing to me as an experience, because it’s like a special bond you form with other folks in your same predicament, may it be a hostage situation or braving summer of Japan outdoors from 3am to 1pm, in a line. And you think Comiket lines are bad? LOL.

It’s kind of weird in that, not only I’ve had similar experiences (minus the Japanese speaking part), I’ve seen/been a part of it enough times that I don’t even bother anymore. I mean, usually I want to sleep, you know? Also, too bad Beibei and the Gataris are not Producers, because we would exchange IM@S business cards as part of the ritual. It’s pretty cool how you actually end up keeping in touch with some of these folks over the years because you got their contact info at an offkai or in the goods line. It’s one of those funny fandom quirks that ends up being really useful and a neat part of the fandom. It’s not a unique part of the fandom, I guess, because it’s pretty common for cosplay and art circles to have vanity/business cards, but it’s something to think about.


Letting Yourself Go: Netjuu Is Neat / Sakura Quest In a Nutshell

Lets herself go” is exactly what I’d say is happening to Morimori. I’ve been watching Netjuu and while it’s not my favorite of the season (ImoSae is by far my favorite) I think there’s a lot to be said about this show.

This reminds me a lot of another anime I watched recently: Re:LIfe. There is an element of fancy that largely sets on a mundane configuration that makes more sense as J-drama material than anime would. In this case, it’s probably easier to do a MMORPG look in anime than it would with live actors, and on a certain level anime and voice acting do a better job than, say, showing the same deadpan shock face of Aragaki or something.

I think what makes Netjuu work is not just the delightful voice acting that Evirus pointed out (and it’s not just Noto and Ueda, much of the cast is good as well, but man are those two great like this), but it’s a nice headtrick compared to the other video games relationship stories of recent. Gamers is the one that sticks out to me, and along those lines there are others you can think of, probably. It’s cliche to have a romance budding from MMORPG buddies–10 years too late I’d say–but in some ways the deal of having an ikemen becoming interested in you to begin with out of a chance encounter, and then having to overcome that l33t NEET barrier is what drives, well, mainstream hits like Densha Otoko. It’s a makeover. It’s just nice that gaming is so in nowadays!

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Related to my last post, check out ChaosT’s post on Sakura Quest, as if you didn’t watch the show. There are a few other notes I want to drop, mainly on immigration and population growth.

Using USA as an anecdote, population growth by demo generally slant towards immigrant sectors. I think the trend globally has been that towards established economies, population growth via natural birth have slowed when breaking into demographics and ignoring immigrants.

From an outsider point of view, it’s a no brainer as to what’s happening to Japan. Maybe nobody really knows why some people stop having so many kids or whatever, and this is something that could be caused by varying things differently for different people groups. And maybe it’s not satisfactory to just call Japan’s isolationist and xenophobic tendencies as “racism.” It’s a lot deeper than that term now has come to mean things. I can only speak for myself, but the feeling has long been that some of the people of Japan would rather perish than to change their ways, and now they are getting their wish. It’s a form of racism, I suppose, but it’s not really about discrimination, and it’s not even an unwillingness to compromise–it’s more like they’re unable to seek alternatives. It’s like a form of racial segregation gone wrong, or in evolutionary terms, when a society or set of cultural customs become unable to change in a way to continue its existence, it will eventually goes away and become extinct.

It’s not insidious per se. It’s like in a hypothetical world where everyone rides buses, only white people can sit in front of buses. Unfortunately for the hypothetical bus riders, it turns out sitting in the back of the bus drastically improves your survival rate in bus accidents, and these buses have accidents all the time. And the hypothetical people deciding who gets to sit where on the bus aren’t evil about discriminating against non-whites, compared to their greater desires to have white people sit in front of the bus for some other reasons not connected to continuous survival of white people in this example. Hopefully the people in this hypothetical can take a lesson from Sakura Quest and get bus-on-demand via their iOS apps; the racism can be dealt with later when people stop dying.


Anime Pilgrimage and Tourism

SDS blurs Cool Japan and otaku pilgrimages! I don’t know, they’re not the same to me. Maybe from a 10000-mile view in the USA, you can hand-wave the two, since it’s kind of neat to go to Japan’s countryside and enjoy its traditional cultural entertainment neglected by its changing domestic demographic be in an anime, but please.

I think a more reasonable starter is this Kelts write-up of the Bonburi festival, and you can compare it to the Crunchynews take as both were invited to attend this year’s festival in Kanazawa via JETRO and PA Works. I like Kelt’s write-up because it gets at the key issues that resonate with me. I like the CR write-up because, that’s what it is like when you go as an anime pilgrim. (Although with that said you can do much better than to just post screenshots next to the photos you take. This is why HPT is…a mistake….)

  1. Good luck booking a room at one of the traditional ryokans! In general, there are not enough accommodations in Japan for foreigner visitors. By this I mean housing availability is domestic market-based; you have to have some amount of savvy to deal with it. Part of it is a matter of being able to find places to book even if they are available, as there are few centralized sites you can access overseas, in English, and be able to remotely lock in a reservation. A good number of the more traditional places can be only booked by phone, even if you know where to look. I’ve not booked any hotels by phones since the 1990s. Festivals (and in some of the more touristy parts of Japan, it’s seasonal) generally have high demands for out-of-towners, so those rooms sell out fast–in other words, because the demand spikes, it’s hard to justify building a lot of capacity when only a couple days out of a year that the rooms will sell out. This applies pretty much all across rural Japan, as only business-type hotels tend to be the kind of accommodations available on demand within not-months-out for any peak season. So on the bright side, if you want to pilgrim out of season, there will be places to stay even last minute. On the other hand, when the nice traditional experiences sell out half a year ahead sometimes, it’s hard to book and go for anyone, foreigner or not.┬áTokyo itself is a different story, in the sense that foreign tourism actually significantly impacts the hotels in the region (see: busloads of Chinese people, although this might be more significant out in proper tourist destinations like Hokkaido and Okinawa). Tokyo in general needs more hotels if you ask me, and Japan overall needs better booking portals, especially out in the boondocks.
  2. What is there to do besides taking photos? When I went to Oarai I did that, I ate and stayed the night there, and I did a stamp rally (which would have taken a full day)–only because I was able to book a ryokan there. It kind of goes to #1. To have that full “Kino’s Journey” experience you need to stay at least a night or two. And frankly unless all you want to do is take comparison photos (some people I know do mainly this on pilgrimages, and it actually irritates me), it can be challenging to find things to do. A few gaijins can stick out like a sore thumb at any local small mom & pops shop, say, for dinner, but this is kind of the charm some want from such an experience: that awkward exchanges with other pilgrims or locals who know you’re a pilgrim. At the same time, it’s easier at some places because they’re very used to seeing it year round. Oarai is a good example because it has long been a big pilgrimage site, and it’s not far from Tokyo. I imagine Yuwaku not so much. One of the things that makes Sendai attractive as a pilgrimage location is that there’s all the amenities and things to do a bigger city offers. There is actually nightlife at Sendai, for start.
  3. The degree of success of these otaku pilgrim pitches vary, but I think Oarai is exemplary because you can go during off season and still find pilgrims, even in 2017. Will you find pilgrims in Yuwaku during January? I have no idea. In some ways, this was one of the recurring, unspoken themes in Sakura Quest: PA Works throws some parties, it’s a huge effort for the organizers, but its impact is not lasting. Rural Japan will continue to shrink.

I feel the real spirit of otaku pilgrimage is actually completely missing in this discussion–you’re a tourist in all of these cases, so go and have fun, broaden your sights and knowledge, and experience something new. It takes a degree of adventure but also a degree of reservation, if only to give respect to the locals and do as the locals do. If there’s something fun and enjoyable you can do once you get to the place you want to go, things should work out by themselves. If you’re a culinary tourist type like myself, Japan in general should be pretty fun!


Streaming Business, Autumn 2017

I remember supporting Crunchyroll when it turned legit in 2009 and started to charge a subscription. Now, it’s the incumbent, to answer the irony-note. There is nothing incumbent to Daisuki–it’s a new venture by a bunch of Japanese companies to try to stream internationally. Crunchy beats them by like, what, 4 years? A …decade (lol) by internet streaming time. Not that it really matters.

When Funi sold to Sony for ~150M USD it was a sign that CR is worth a lot more than that. Maybe $250M? When Chernin bought half of the company in 2013 it was valuing CR at about $100M, and today Chernin’s company owns about 80% share of the Crunch. It’s really hard to say how much more it is today in exact terms. Part of the reason is because not only we are long in the era of Warring Idols, we are squarely in the heat of combat during the era of Warring Streaming Services. Netflix’s random number drop here is a stake in the ground.┬áThis explains a major reason why Daisuki is going away–why would the production companies like Bandai Namco, several who are likely serving as middleware for Netflix and other foreign interests, compete with their customers? 30 anime is a lot of work that probably will go very far as far as engaging production pipelines largely controlled by the same o’ stakeholders that has been pumping out the animes that we know of since the late 90s. Plus, more competition will make Daisuki more difficult of a proposition when its owners may be better served with more “remotely-local” money participating, as it always is the case of doing business in a foreign country. By that I mean, why would Japan spend the extra effort and extra money courting Americans (or other foreigners) when American companies can spend that extra stuff courting Japanese licensors and production companies?

So, then, Netflix. Netflix is flexing this muscle because 1) they’re in a hurry for attractive original content and 2) they’re newcomer in the anime space, yet they have a major leg up over the other American competitors like Disney or Amazon. Anime, after all, is cheap, and its cheapness is possibly the strongest suit about this type of media. I can’t imagine how many live-action American Netflix Originals $8B can get them, maybe 10? 15 tops?So yes, Author is right, the incumbent will slap Daisuki, Crunchyroll and every anime-specific simulcast service in the world silly with $8 Billion. Why did FUNi and CR merge their streaming effort? Gotta hunker down when giants roam your town, I guess.

Crunchyroll is the incumbent in this space. It has some strong competition, but more because streaming giants are going further to reap margins and build walls to protect their revenues. Daisuki serves its masters more by folding and having CR do their deeds, or whoever else is paying more. Anime is just a growingly important area that has long been neglected. You can kind of tell that when big guns start to target the smaller fries, the market is maturing as margins thins enough so deeper niches are being courted, because now they make economic sense.

It’s worth taking a moment to also think about why Sony bought Funimation. Their FAQ explains a lot, but it’s basically because everyone wants a pie in the Streaming Wars. Sony’s stakes in the ground begins probably with Playstation Vue, and extend to their on-demand offering like Crackle and whatever you see in the Playstation Store. More importantly the rest of the world is fertile battlegrounds, where Netflix’s anime streaming worldwide will clash with licensed content from the usual folks, including Sony, eventually armed with a bunch of FUNi stuff. It’s been 9 years since I watched Xam’d on PS3. God damn.


Anime Weekend Atlanta 2017: Wrap

AWA came and went. I was in the middle of another “eventing sprint” so to speak, this time things felt rather last-minute. In August I did 2 weekends back to back: Anirevo in Vancouver, then Otakon, and after one more gap weekend I went to Anisama (didn’t want to make Animefest to become a 4-in-a-row). In September I attended a nerd wedding (which I guess isn’t so bad other than for sleep) and related stuff, AWA, and Hotch Potch Festival in Japan the week after. In other words, I was dying. So dead, I wasn’t able to finish this post until well after Hotch Potch.

Main interests at AWA this year was Luna Haruna, Bless4, and Ueda Kana. Bonus was Daoko and being to catch some miscellaneous guests like Takahashi Taku, Hanafugetsu, the Strike Witches guys, and the veteran Naruto seiyuu folks. I whiffed completely on the last group, but I already saw two of them before at other cons. Also, it’s always nice to hang out with other folks and see some new people.

This post is gonna be brief, because I forgot a lot of the finer details to bemuse on.

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