Early Moves Towards and Issues Surrounding Local Revitalization
— Analysis based on the case study of wide-area cooperation in western Japan —
August 31, 2012
Decentralization in Japan is making slow headway, but cooperation across prefectural borders to address regional problems is spreading, especially in western Japan.
December 2010 saw the establishment of the Union of Kansai Local Governments, the first ever prefectural-level wide-area union. In less than two years it has achieved spectacular results which include (1) drafting of wide-area plans for a range of sectors including “Wide-area Industrial Development” and “Wide-area Tourism and Culture Development”, (2) putting forward collective proposals for decentralization including the reform of national government branch offices and (3) hosting over 20 meetings of local government chiefs.
The Kyushu Region, under the slogan “Kyushu ha Hitotsu” (Kyushu is One), in October 2003 established the Kyushu Regional Strategic Council, as an experiment in bringing together individual activities across prefectural borders and across government and private sectors. In 2009 the Council confirmed that the government and private sectors in the Kyushu Region share a perception of the importance of developing a “Kyushu model” of regional system. In response to the recent reform of national government branch offices, the Governor’s Association of Kyushu Region has proposed the establishment of a Kyushu Wide-area Administrative Organization (provisional name)
Wide-area cooperation measures have already been implemented and achieved results in the Shikoku and Chugoku regions, too. There is also a lively debate on the possible establishment of regional systems. Meanwhile, the establishment of wide-area unions that could take over the role of national government branch offices has been agreed.
The implications of wide-area regional cooperation can be summarized in four points:
(1) Cooperation is growing in western Japan, but can also be seen in eastern Japan. Cooperation requires a period of at least 10 years, and eastern Japan too needs to set to work as soon as possible.
(2) Forms of cooperation differ, and the national government’s decentralization reforms should likewise not be uniform across Japan but the transfer of power and sources of funding should reflect local opinion.
(3) Cooperation requires commitment from prefectural governors and it is desirable that governors share information and build consensus.
(4) With a view to achieving true regional revitalization, the current cooperative activities should be developed into problem-solving initiatives.
The national government must treat local developments seriously and, in areas where regions have declared that they will manage their affairs themselves, must actively transfer power and sources of funding. Local governments should not passively accept the transfer of functions but should draw up visions to be aimed for, elaborate sound strategies and set about overcoming the challenges facing their region, such as surviving competition between cities and regions and dealing with falling birthrates and population aging.