Series: Understanding Japan through Key Words (Part4)
A government initiative designed to redress the excessive concentration of people and resources in Tokyo and revitalize regional economies, checking population decline in rural areas. Eyeing nationwide local elections next spring, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has positioned this initiative as a key policy. A regional revitalization portfolio was created during the early September Cabinet reshuffle, with former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba appointed as the new minister, and Abe himself heads the new Advisory Council on Vitalizing Towns, People and Jobs, designed to serve as the 'control tower' for a cross-ministry drive. With this new trajectory now firmly established, the government will pursue discussions with key figures and revisit traditional regional revitalization policies to determine specific policy details. Related legislation will also be formulated during the current extraordinary session of the Diet.
The so-called "big-boned" or basic reform policies operated by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy and adopted by Cabinet decision in June aim to reverse the current trend toward rapid population decline and the graying of society in order to set the Japanese economy on a stable and sustainable growth trajectory. In response to this policy package, the Advisory Council on Vitalizing Towns, People and Jobs will aim to create attractive local communities where people can work with peace of mind, get married and raise children as they had imagined, and have dreams and hopes for the future, thereby encouraging a population flow out into the countryside. In terms of specific goals, the Advisory Council aims to maintain Japan's population at around 100 million 50 years from now.
A subcommittee headed by Hiroya Masuda, the former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, under the auspices of the Japan Policy Council has been investigating the issue of population decline, and in May, this group released its own population estimates for municipalities around Japan. The subcommittee calculated that the ratio of women aged 20-39 will drop below 50 percent in roughly half (896) of Japan's municipalities by 2040, with this population bracket possibly vanishing altogether in future. The subcommittee also suggested that the 523 municipalities in which population levels will undercut 10,000 by 2040 are 'highly likely' to become extinct.
The subcommittee predicted that women in the main bracket for bearing children will continue to move out from the country into metropolitan areas to find employment (among other reasons), with populations declining and local authorities finding it increasingly difficult to maintain functions such as social security. The nationwide shock which that prediction has triggered is another factor behind the Advisory Council's stated goals.
To achieve its goals, before the end of the year, the Advisory Council will create a long-term vision for 50 years ahead, as well as a comprehensive strategy for the next five years. Both the vision and the strategy will reflect the views of a group of private-sector experts set up under the Advisory Council that is also chaired by Prime Minister Abe and includes among its members Hiroya Masuda and Komatsu adviser Masahiro Sakane.
The government has submitted a bill to the current extraordinary Diet session that targets regional rejuvenation by revitalizing towns, people and jobs, as well as legislation amending the Regional Revitalization Law in order to support local governments engaged in revitalization initiatives. A further bill addressing more support for sales of local specialty goods and participation in government procurement by newly-established small and medium enterprises has also been submitted for adoption during the current session.
The FY2015 budget requests submitted by the various ministries by the end of August will also be carefully scrutinized by the end of the year from the perspective of their contribution to regional revitalization, seeking to eliminate pork-barrel investment and compartmentalization among ministries.
(original article : Japanese)
*This article was written by a specialist journalist.