updated 5/16/2005 6:48:39 PM ET 2005-05-16T22:48:39

He’s the Japanese everyman, cramming himself into crowded commuter trains, working 18-hour days and buying lunch from an allowance doled out by his wife. And his tax bill is the nation’s highest: a 46-year-old worker at an investment company paid more than $34 million in income tax in 2004.

It’s the first time a “salaryman” has topped the list of Japan’s biggest taxpayers, normally reserved for CEOs and elite executives.

The emergence of a salaryman at the top of the heap is seen as a sign that Japan’s economy is strengthening after more than a decade in the doldrums. It also comes as corporate Japan is under increasing pressure to reward its most successful workers with financial incentives.

Tatsuro Kiyohara, an employee of a Tokyo-based investment company who draws salary plus commissions and bonuses, paid $34.49 million in income tax, the government said Monday.

“This guy apparently successfully operated his funds,” said Toshihiro Nishibukuro, of the National Tax Agency. “This is the first time that a salaryman became the top taxpayer in Japan.”

The agency refused to provide further details about Kiyohara, but the Kyodo News agency reported that he earned $93.46 million at Tower Investment Management Co.

The tax agency has published a list of the top taxpayers in Japan since 1984.

For 2004, Kiyohara was followed by more customary top taxpayers: Sei Saito, 60, former chairman of a consumer credit company in Utsunomiya, northern Japan, came in second with an income tax payment of about $11 million.

In third place was Tadashi Yanai, 56, chairman of casual clothing store chain operator, Fast Retailing Co. He paid about $10 million in income tax last year.

Reflecting Japan’s economic recovery, the number of those paying $9.35 million or more in income tax rose from two on the 2003 list to six in the latest one.

Tower is one of the largest independent investment company and mainly handles company pension funds, according to Japanese news reports. It had contracts worth $2.43 billion last year.

The company has five executives and 10 employees, including four investment analysts and Kiyohara is one of them, the Mainichi newspaper said.

Kiyohara would not agree to media interviews, but the company said in a statement: “Our company has a policy to pay high salary to employees who are talented and have made outstanding achievement.”

National income tax for individuals range from 10 percent to 37 percent in Japan depending on income, similar to those of the United States.

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