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“Osaka Metropolis”? Japan’s Local Government System Challenged [ 2012.02.16 ]

[NewsJapan.net] The double elections for Osaka governor and Osaka mayor in November 2011 ended in landslide victories for Ichiro Matsui and former prefectural governor Toru Hashimoto, who had pledged to radically change the existing government system of the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo and set up an “Osaka metropolis.” Moves to reorganize the existing local government system to improve administrative efficiency and revitalize local communities are taking place across the country.

* * *

Osaka Prefecture has two government ordinance-designated cities, Osaka City and Sakai City, in its jurisdiction. Under the law, a big city which meets certain conditions can be classified as a “government ordinance-designated city,” and some of the prefectural powers are transferred to it so that the city can pursue its original policies in a wide range of fields such as urban planning. A criticism has been made, however, that the ambiguous role division between a prefecture and an ordinance-designated city has brought about an “overlapping administration” problem.

The double elections in Osaka were carried out by Mr. Hashimoto to solve the problem, when he resigned as governor of Osaka before completing his term of office. According to his camp, Osaka Prefecture and the two government ordinance-designated cities are handling such policies as urban development and infrastructure building separately, causing administrative inefficiency and stagnation. The camp pledged in the campaign to dismantle the prefecture and the two cities (Osaka and Sakai), reorganizing them into an “Osaka Metropolis,” which would handle broad-area administration in an integrated fashion, and some basic local government units (“special autonomous wards”) responsible for immediate services for local citizens. By making the “Osaka Metropolis” the only unit responsible for urban and industrial infrastructure development and other policies, the camp argued, Osaka’s economic competitive edge will improve and “Japan will be led by two engines, Tokyo Metropolis in the East and Osaka Metropolis in the West.”

After the landslide victories of Mr. Hashimoto and his colleague, the “Prefecture-City Unification Headquarters” has already been inaugurated. There are still significant hurdles to overcome before the “Osaka Metropolis” comes into being, such as the revision of the local government law in the Diet, but public attention is focusing on future development if Japan’s traditional framework of the local government system since the Meiji Era is able to change.

You can find similar moves to change an existing local government system across the country. One type focuses on eliminating “overlapping administration” between a prefecture and an ordinance-designated city, just like the case of Osaka. For example, in central Japan, Aichi Prefecture and Nagoya City have a plan to merge into a “Chukyo (Central Capital) Metropolis” whose GDP within the region will amount to 40 trillion yen, and “pave the way for the region to compete globally as a representative of Japan.” Bordering the Sea of Japan, Niigata Prefecture and Niigata city are planning to merge to form a “Niigata Shu” to improve the efficiency of administrative management and also to strengthen the powers of local municipalities across the prefecture.

Another kind of move aims to realize a “doshu-sei,” or a wider regional government system, by reorganizing the existing 47 prefectures into a few wider regions, and drastically transfer the authority and revenue sources of the central government to those new units (“do” and “shu” in Japanese). It aims to change the relations between national and local governments, and the central government itself is already considering introducing this system. In this regard, Kumamoto Prefecture has already revealed a plan for Kumamoto to become the capital of a new unit “Kyushu,” by saying that the role division between Kumamoto and Fukuoka, the biggest cities in the region, will be hopefully like that between Washington and New York in the US.

The election results in Osaka are expected to have a big influence on these discussions over the introduction of a new local government system and the role of the central government.

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