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Cherry blossoms - and so does Japan's tax rate
Blast Tokyo Bureau

Spring in Japan begins with "o-hanami" (cherry blossom viewing). This event, in Tokyo at least, is not exactly pleasant. Cherry blossoms are delicate and the optimum "viewing time" lasts only a few days. This means that there are far too many people crowding into parks during the first two weekends of April, all battling for tiny areas of grass on which to sit with friends, family or co-workers.

I'm not sure, but I think the idea is to get as drunk as you can as quickly as possible. Last year we saw a man take off all his clothes and climb a tree. Then the police came and took him away.

Some companies even instruct a couple of employees to camp out on large plastic sheets in key cherry-blossom areas throughout the city on a Thursday to assure a spot for the other employees and the boss on Saturday afternoon.

However, rain usually -- but not always -- guarantees plenty of space to all those foolish enough to sit outside and get wet. These people do more than simply "view" the cherry blossoms -- they wear them, as well.

On a painful note, the government here raised the consumption tax from 3 percent to 5 percent April 1.

This VERY unpopular move was behind a recent boom in big-ticket sales because consumers now have to pay significantly more for everything from a can of corn to a Corolla.

But that's not all, folks! April 1 -- which marks the beginning of fiscal 1997 -- was also the day a nifty new 0.7 income tax hike took affect. Gosh, I love the tax man. NOT.

I read that the average resident will now spend 50,000 yen (about $410) more per year for goods and services. Another day in the life of Japan Inc. and the hapless consumer.

[ Read the sidebar story where Tom celebrates a slew of Japanese Spring Holidays. ]