The Friend Tax

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Tokyo has a reputation for being the world’s most irrationally expensive city, but once you actually live here, you realize that prices do not live up to the hype. Few individuals in New York City can expect to rent their own apartment for $600 a month — something that is relatively simple in Tokyo as long as you don’t care about square-footage. Cooking at home or a constant diet of Yoshinoya provide ample calories on small budgets. Well-planned transportation schedules can be economical, especially for students buying tsuugaku subway passes.

But if you really want to save money in Japan, the most important thing to do is not have any friends. The Friend Tax (友人税)is where the Japanese economy empties your pockets every month.

Last night was a typical night in the city, where I and the girlfriend went to a goodbye party for a young visiting European scholar. Late leaving my house, we arrived thirty minutes before the nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) period ended and were greeted by a large group of red-faced revelers and uneaten plates of whale bacon. Drinking warm Asahi Dry in tiny cups, we made merry and met new friends, only to be greeted with what is always the ugly reality to our hedonistic escapism: “The bill will be ¥4200 a person.” Now, this is quite a lot for thirty minutes of minor imbibing, and since I had to pay for my date as well, a lofty sum for my meager government-subsidized living. But despite the gracious apologies from the host, I did not flinch: For I know the reality of the Friend Tax.

Whether it be birthday parties, gigs of friends’ bands, seasonal events, or school-related functions, you will never walk away paying what you would just pay by yourself — even if you had gorged and binged at maximum speed and force. That margin between your expected payment and the actual inflated bill is the dreaded Friend Tax. And the greatest irony is that you will no doubt be drunk, but the more money you drop, the more likely you will still be hungry at the end of the evening.

But it’s not just groups buying into badly-valued meal plans and drink sets. If you go a la carte, you do equal damage to your financial standing. Buying a pitcher and playing darts may be fine, but this is a country of unending formal engagements to mark various occasions. If you are part of an organization, there is only the rare chance to have fun that is not “mandatory.” The only way to avoid the Friend Tax is to have no friends or keep all fraternizing inside your peers’ tiny apartments across the city suburbs.

For those planning on moving to Tokyo, make sure you budget yourself at least ¥10,000 to ¥20,000 per month to deal with the Friend Tax (particularly if you are a student). The National Tax Agency keeps the existence of this tax secret. Perhaps the hikikomori do want to go outside and galavant, but they just can’t afford it.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 18, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

17 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    Alas, this may the most spot-on, unarguably right entry I’ve ever read on Neomarxisme. Especially the bit about forking out all that dosh and still being hungry at the end of the evening.

  2. yk Says:

    wait till it’s april and it’s 新歓期 and easily 50000 would jump off your wallet for all the nomikai that you have to cover!

  3. trevor Says:

    are you saying the friend tax is unique to japan? i would have to dissagree.. you have to have friend tax ready at any moment, anywhere!!

  4. Brad Says:

    While my case may be the exception to the rule (gaishikei), I rarely have any company-sponsored outings I must attend. Quite the contrary, I spend most of my free time and money in personal engagements. Whereas the weekend get-togethers that cost 10,000 or so don’t bother me so much, it’s the constant stream of weeknights where a co-worker asks me if I want to get a drink together after work and it’s just the two or three of us…those outings kill my budget. That’s invariably some oshare eatery in Ebisu, Nakameguro or Yutenji (we all happen to live on the Hibiya/Toyoko Line) and it always costs me at least 5,000 yen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good times and the food is great but when, in one meal, I spend twice what I budget on a whole day of eating, it begins to add up…

  5. DB Says:

    These things can be so awesome if you’re prepared though. Last weekend after a friend’s wedding in Okinawa the nijikai was in my hotel – for 5000 yen, we got two and a half hours of unlimited high grade sushi and sashimi, trays of Okinawan delights, pork karaage, awamori cocktails and probably about 25 beers. I call that a success!

  6. marxy Says:

    The tax is less in economically-disadvantaged Okinawa. I just got an invite to a casual wedding banquet in May, and it’s only 15000 for men / 12000 for women. What a bargain.

  7. DB Says:

    That sounds like alot, but Okinawa was really beautiful and like you say, economically disadvantaged. They even have stray dogs down there, and you can rent a car for a thousand yen a day!

  8. DB Says:

    Crap, I just reread that, and you’re not going to Okinawa at all – Sorry.

    People lose they minds when it comes to weddings, that’s just too damn much.

  9. nate Says:

    your gf knows your situation, and you still gotta pay for her? are you playing the “knight in shining armor gaijin” gambit?
    or is this because it was your obligation that you brought her along to?

  10. check Says:

    A few years ago, my good friend always fretted about the cost of his kokusai seiji zemi’s long-distance outings, which the professor “highly encouraged” the class to attend.

    Given that the prices usually ranged from 30000 to 20000, this certainly caused his budget to become a bit emaciated…

    The price of a good education (at a ski resort in Nagoya), I suppose?

  11. SB Says:

    The best way is; DO NOT EVEN TRY TO GO TO SUCH A PARTY.
    Or, you sould have asked the main guy first and say “I am never willing to pay. However, I want to express my gratitude to my bro. It’s none of your business. How can I do? And, fuck you.”
    This works pretty good on me.

    SB

  12. marxy Says:

    are you playing the “knight in shining armor gaijin” gambit?

    Uh, no. I dragged her along, and she doesn’t have that kind of money anyway.

    A few years ago, my good friend always fretted about the cost of his kokusai seiji zemi’s long-distance outings, which the professor “highly encouraged” the class to attend.

    Don’t even get me started on gasshuku. I think last year’s Summer Gasshuku was 40000 yen for our zemi. I somehow weaseled my way out of it, but attendance is mandatory.

  13. alin Says:

    outings aside, good to see you’ve worked out your calories issue.

  14. john Says:

    Most people in NYC handle astronomical rents by getting a roommate or moving to the outer boros or New Jersey’s commuter towns of Hoboken and Jersey City.

    How receptive are they over there to finding roommates for splitting small places (if you know)?

  15. Chris_B Says:

    Working for a japanese company has the eternal tax of paying for every bonenkai, shinnenkai, sobetsukai, “welcome new worker kai” etc etc etc. For the poor bastards who get a small allowance from their wives it gets really tough.

  16. youngjamesy Says:

    Cooking at home or a constant diet of Yoshinoya provide ample calories on small budgets.

    right, but only if you live inside tokyo (or any major city in japan) and not in the surrounding ex-urbs/countryside, and only if you ignore the fruit food-group.

    Working for a japanese company has the eternal tax of paying for every bonenkai, shinnenkai,

    i find my ni-sen a month to the shokuin fund pretty paltry for the 6 or so parties i’m acutally supposed to attend (granted, i think that for the amount of money that the fund puts into those parties, the amount/quality of the food and drink is robbery) and even the other ni-sen a month for my departments yearly trip isnt that bad… its the going out with your pals which invariably destroys your earnings (and this assumes you aren’t letting your friends/co-workers drag you into the nearest hostess bar after the sanjikai.)

    its something like 24000 for 6 parties, vs 10000-20000 for 1 one or 2.

  17. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    The best way is; DO NOT EVEN TRY TO GO TO SUCH A PARTY.
    Or, you sould have asked the main guy first and say “I am never willing to pay. However, I want to express my gratitude to my bro. It’s none of your business. How can I do? And, fuck you.”
    This works pretty good on me.

    This guy is SO RIGHT ON! I would have been like, “What’s the hell–and, fuck you too!”
    Trying to take my money…for shame.