Libmonster ID: JP-1291
Author(s) of the publication: D. A. SAPRYKIN

By the end of the 20th century, Japan began to develop prerequisites for greater decentralization of state power and the transfer of a significant amount of authority to local self-government bodies (CHI), which perform many functions. Some of these functions often remain the prerogative of central governments: developing the health system, monitoring the work of the police, dealing with the consequences of emergencies, addressing employment issues, etc. In Japan, the MLA's powers cover almost all areas of life, with the exception of diplomatic relations, national security, the court and the prosecutor's office.

Government reforms, which included measures to decentralize executive power, began to be developed in Japan in the 1990s, and on April 1, 2000, a law came into force in the country, which a number of Japanese legal experts call the "new law on local self-government".

According to this document:

a) a separate Ministry of Local Self-government was abolished and its functions were transferred to the newly created Ministry of General Affairs;

b) local self-government bodies are legally assigned powers that were traditionally delegated to them by the central government and which accounted for up to 80% of all functions of prefectures and up to 40% of municipalities;

c) conditions were created for changing the nature of relations between the center and the regions - from subordination to partnership. Local self-government bodies were formally granted the right to govern independently in the territory under their control; for this purpose, the rules and regulations governing the structure and personnel of local self-government bodies were relaxed, the principles and forms of intervention of central authorities in the work of local self-government bodies were revised, and a committee for resolving disputes between local self-government bodies and the state was established.

At the same time, since the issue of ensuring the financial independence of local self-government bodies was postponed indefinitely, it became obvious that when speaking about "decentralization", the government, first of all, had in mind the general recovery of the economy by dividing the financial burden between power structures of different levels. Financial independence and lack of funds have forced local self-government bodies to more actively involve the private sector in their activities, and often to merge with other districts as part of another campaign to consolidate municipalities initiated by the government.


Municipal enlargement campaigns have taken place quite frequently in the country. We can say that the history of municipalities in Japan is the history of their mergers.

The first of these was the so-called "great enlargement of the Meiji era"*. In 1883, Japan had 71,497 municipalities, of which about 50,000 had fewer than 100 households. 1 By 1898, the total number of municipalities in the country had decreased fivefold to 14,289. After that, the process slowed down 2.

After the end of World War II, the Japanese Government established a research council on local government. After studying the functions that were planned to be transferred to the level of municipalities, the council decided that the population of one municipality should be at least 8 thousand people. However, while acknowledging that this figure can only be approximate, the Council stressed that it is precisely this population size that will allow the local self-government bodies to adequately support primary schools, i.e. perform one of the main functions of municipalities in the post-war period3.

In January 1951, the Government of Japan initiated the second mass campaign for the consolidation of municipalities - "the great consolidation of the Showa era". In 1953, the law on encouraging the merger of small towns and villages, designed for 3 years, was adopted, and in 1956 - a new law on municipalities. Mergers were carried out on the basis of a merger agreement, which was signed by the administrations of the municipalities concerned. The number of municipalities has tripled in 10 years, from 10,443 in 1950 to 3,526 in 1960.4

At the same time, there were six cases of villages merging with municipalities from other prefectures.5

The" Great consolidation of the Sowing era " was formally completed in June 1961. It should be noted that if the enlargements of 1898 and 1951 Whereas municipal mergers after 1961 were carried out under pressure from the central government and are considered "imposed from above", municipal mergers after 1961 were voluntary and are considered "initiated from below", since they are considered to be "imposed from above".-

* According to a tradition borrowed from China, the history of Japan is divided into periods of the reign of one or another emperor, each of which is assigned a euphonious symbolic name. The era of Mutsuhito's rule (1868-1912) was officially called Meiji (Enlightened Rule), Hirohito (1926-1989) - Showa (Enlightened World) (editor's note).

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institutions and the central Government played a minor role in this process.

It is particularly important to note that while the amalgamations of municipalities in 1898 and 1951 were carried out on the principle of combining equals, most mergers after 1961 were acquisitions of small towns by large industrial centers, i.e. tiny municipalities were liquidated and the development of large cities was supported.

Despite the fact that the government continued to pass laws encouraging municipalities to merge, this process almost stopped in the 1980s and 1990s: if by September 1981 there were 3,255 municipalities in Japan, 6 then 15 years later, in 1997, there were only a little less-3,232.7

Although the Law on Local Self-Government contains provisions on the possibility of changing the boundaries of prefectures or municipalities, it does not contain provisions that provided for the creation of new municipalities that did not exist before, or allowed the dissolution of old CHI without forming new ones. Thus, it is possible to avoid situations when local authorities have already been dissolved, and the territory for which they were responsible has not been transferred to any other MHI.

The issue of a possible merger of prefectures stands apart. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the boundaries of these administrative units were drawn based on the administrative division of princely allotments, recorded in documents of the VIII century, although taking into account the relationship between the shogunate government (feudal military government) and each of the local clans. In this form, the borders existed until the 1950s and underwent minor changes only during the years of the " great enlargement of the Sowing era "(1951-1961) due to cross-border mergers of municipalities. Therefore, prefectures are historically formed territorial formations, the borders of which have remained virtually unchanged for many centuries, not only on the map, but also in the minds of the Japanese.

In the second half of the twentieth century, voices began to be heard in Japan about the need to revise the boundaries of prefectures in order to bring them in line with the changes taking place in society. Thus, the economic growth of the 1960s led to increased demands on central and local government. Radical reform options emerged, involving either the merger of some prefectures or their complete abolition and the introduction of a system of "regions" (dosyushei) in their place; however, these proposals were never implemented.

Prefectures for the first time received the status of full-fledged local self-government bodies, and governors were elected by the population after the Second World War. Perhaps this is why the idea of switching to a regional system in the 1960s was perceived by the public as a step back to pre-war practice: the Dosyushei system assumed the appointment, rather than the election of governors, it became associated with a departure from democratic values, and the question of merging prefectures was postponed until better times.

The heated debate about the boundaries and scope of prefectural powers somewhat frightened the government, which forced it to make a conservative decision: to take away a number of functions from the prefectures and transfer them to the center. The only alternative to such a step was to expand the powers of the local self-government bodies, but the government considered that with the growing independence of local self-government bodies, especially prefectures, political problems would inevitably arise. Perhaps this is why in 1964, for example, the function of maintaining roads and rivers, which used to be the governor's function, became the prerogative of the central government. Local representations of ministries and other government departments in the field were also strengthened. In the 1970s and 1980s, the number of local projects implemented directly by the central Government increased.

Administrative reform and decentralization were only brought up again in the early 1990s, when the Japanese economy was facing serious difficulties after several decades of recovery. It became obvious that the post-war model of socio-economic development has largely exhausted itself. Regulatory functions:-

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These measures became excessive and did not correspond to the nature of the era; a serious crisis was brewing in relations between the central and local authorities. The prolonged economic stagnation has pushed the Government and Parliament to develop large-scale structural reforms, which include steps to decentralize the powers of the executive branch.

In 1994, the Hosokawa Cabinet formulated the main directions of local government reform, and in 1995, the Parliament adopted a framework law on decentralization. Following the adoption of a package of approximately 500 amendments and additions in 1999, the Law came into force on 1 April 2000.


In 2003, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi again proposed to change the structure of the country's administrative division by introducing the previously mentioned Dosyushei regional system. According to his plan, all prefectures should be united into about 10 regional districts, giving them greater autonomy than existing prefectures. This, in turn, would reduce the number of administrative divisions below the prefecture level and reduce administrative costs. So far, such a reorganization has not been carried out, but the possibility of creating a subnational level of self - government from 9 to 13 "states" with more independence than the current prefectures has not been removed from the agenda of the central government.

In 2005, a general shortage of state and local finances forced the Koizumi Government to initiate the third ever massive municipal consolidation campaign, the Heisei Era Great Enlargement. Without specifying a specific time frame, the goal was set to reduce the 3,110 local government units that existed at that time to 1 thousand. As of January 2006, many Japanese municipalities had a population of barely 200 people, with total MHI debt amounting to 40% of GDP, or $1.8 trillion.8

The Koizumi government has put forward the concept of"three-pronged package reform." It provided for the simultaneous implementation of: 1) reduction of state subsidies for education, social security, local public enterprises, etc.; 2) transfer of local tax sources of financing; 3) reform of the existing transferred tax, including rationalization and increased transparency in determining its size and forming a mechanism for its distribution. To encourage the mergers themselves, a number of laws were adopted (on granting loans for urban reconstruction, on temporary preservation of state subsidies, etc.). However, the decision on the long-term financial independence of CHI was postponed 9.

The "Great Enlargement of the Heisei Era" was completed in 2010.

True, it was not possible to reduce the number of local government units to 1 thousand, as planned, but their number, taking into account 23 special administrations, was reduced to 1,750. At the same time, there is a growing trend towards the enlargement of cities and the almost complete destruction of villages. The rate of village disappearance is so rapid that by 2005, only two prefectures (Hyogo and Kagawa) were missing, but by March 30, 2006, no villages were left in 7 prefectures (Hyogo, Kagawa, Saga, Shiga, Fukui, Hiroshima and Ehime), and by April 1, 2008 g. - in 13 (Ehime, Fukui, Hyogo, Hiroshima, Ishikawa, Kagawa, Mie, Nagasaki, Saga, Shiga, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Yamaguchi). Another 11 prefectures (Kanagawa, Kyoto, Miyagi, Oita, Osaka, Saitama, Shimane, Tokushima, Tottori, Toyama, and Wakayama) had only one village remaining as of April 2008. [10]

Thus, half of Japan's 47 prefectures already have no villages or will soon have no villages, and it is likely that rural municipal power will gradually disappear in the post-industrial era. If there are still "unabsorbed" villages in the country, it is largely due to their remoteness from cities.

* Heisei (The Reign of Peace) - the era of the current Emperor Akihito, who ascended to the throne in 1989 (editor's note).

page 28

once they are enlarged, they are likely to disappear naturally, because young people mostly leave them.

In such circumstances, the idea of introducing a system of regional districts of Doshyusei raises fewer objections. At the very least, the possibility of Japan becoming a union of autonomous "states" or "provinces" that represent large economic areas no longer looks utopian. In addition, during the transition stage, the Dosyushei system can be introduced not instead of prefectures, but in parallel with them - the third level of local government.

As for the progress of the reform, there are currently only two fait accompli: the legitimization of the de facto situation in local self-government, and the completion of the campaign to consolidate municipalities.

The legislative consolidation of local self-government bodies ' powers, which have already been delegated to them by the central government for many years, in principle did not change either the functions of local self-government bodies or the system of state and municipal administration. This is not to say that the reform significantly increased the independence of municipalities or prefectures in the decision-making process or in the exercise of delegated powers. Rather, it is a declaration of intent. In the future, the government plans to interfere less in the affairs of local self-government bodies, transfer additional sources of funding to them, and in the long term, possibly completely transform the system of relations between the center and the regions.

If this happens, CHI will really become more independent. In the meantime, we can only talk about a certain easing of state regulation and a certain activation of civil initiatives "from below": according to the new law, residents received, for example, the right to initiate the merger of municipalities.

Through enlargement and further urbanization, municipalities will build up a kind of economic "muscle", thanks to which it will be possible to improve the local government system as a whole. But further decentralization will require additional sources of funding to be transferred to the CHI, which will not be easy due to the financial difficulties that Japan has faced over the past two decades.


The very possibility of changing the existing financial, economic and political ties between the center and the regions as a result of further decentralization cannot but worry the government.

The possible loss by the center of the function of a guarantor that ensures the revenue side of compulsory health insurance budgets, and the increase in budget discipline of local authorities will definitely lead to a restructuring of the entire system of state and municipal finances and, most importantly, significantly narrow the role of the central government. For this reason, the conflict of interests between different groups of influence in Japan significantly complicates the implementation of a policy of decentralization.

As the Japanese economist Ichiro Aoki points out, even if the prime Minister starts actively pursuing a course of further decentralization, ministries will show passivity. 11 First of all, in the context of MHI dependence on subsidies and instructions from the center, ministries and departments retain their significance and influence. In addition, if, as a result of reforms, local authorities are unable to provide services that meet national quality standards in a particular area, the specific ministry that failed to monitor the situation will be found guilty.

But the majority of local self-government organizations are not in a hurry to embark on "free swimming" and insist that the state continue to be a source of replenishment of their budgets. Otherwise, local authorities cannot guarantee that they will fully perform all their functions. This threat is not unfounded: for example, after the completion of the "great Heisei enlargement" in 2010, most small municipalities that did not undergo a merger faced a serious problem of reducing the quality of life of the population. In fairness, it should be noted that many CHI simply forgot how to save money and do not seek to find additional sources of income.

Relations between the center and the local self-government bodies have always been complex and complicated, apart from the central-

page 29

There are many multidirectional links between different structures of the center and local authorities. Each ministry formed its own relationship with it and competed with other departments in matters of fiscal policy. Associations of heads of local authorities that influence government decisions through petitions and appeals, as well as parliamentarians representing their constituencies, and business organizations, both national and regional, defend their interests.

Due to the narrow-departmental approach and bureaucratic interministerial barriers, there is no single body that would represent the central government in the regions as a whole, and this, in turn, allows CHI to independently establish both direct - vertical and "roundabout" connections, playing hardware games and cooperating primarily with those bodies from which the central government is located. which can be expected to receive more substantial financial assistance.

Local authorities independently collect about 30% of the funds necessary for their life from taxes, the rest comes from the center: the approximate ratio is 2: 1. However, in the sphere of expenditures, the ratio between funds used by the central government, on the one hand, and local authorities, on the other, is 1:2. In addition, the central government sets aside part of the national tax revenues in order to distribute these funds to local self-government organizations in the future in order to equalize the disparity in the development of territories.

I must say that even in the pre-crisis years of the country's economic recovery, compulsory health insurance companies did not receive all the funds they needed. Prefectures usually got about 80% of the amount they required, and municipalities-about 75%. According to the central administration, the lack of finances should have stimulated the business activity of local administrations and reduced the likelihood that more funds will be provided to local self-government organizations than they really need. However, some Japanese researchers believe that financial transfers received from the government do not so much compensate for development imbalances as equalize prefectures in material terms.12

At the same time, the system of allocating funds remains quite flexible. In addition to the exact amount calculated for each region, the Government can allocate additional funds in special cases, for example, to restore the economy of areas affected by natural disasters. Therefore, negotiations are almost continuously conducted between the central government and the local self-government bodies on the validity of a particular transfer.

Ministries and other government agencies hold annual "hearings" for each region, timed to coincide with the formation of the budget for the next year. In order to continue receiving government subsidies, local government representatives must prove that the projects financed by the center are being successfully implemented during these "hearings". In addition, there is a special procedure for approving municipal loans, as well as local financial management standards, which CHI must strictly adhere to. If it turns out that there were violations in the use of funds, the financial flow will be blocked.

In addition to financial levers of pressure, the central government has a whole range of not so powerful, but no less effective opportunities to influence local authorities and private businesses within the framework of so-called informal administrative regulation. This is a soft instrument of influence, which does not require a special legal framework to apply 13.

CHI and the government often resort to traditional forms of interaction between various authorities and other departments, enterprises and organizations in Japan: recommendations, advice, incentives or incentives. For example, if the price of land in an area increases unnecessarily, including due to bank speculation, local governments can apply for "help" from the Ministry of Finance, which, in turn, can "advise" banks to refrain from lending to companies that intend to invest in land purchases, or limit the amount of loans.. The Ministry transmits these recommendations to banks orally, without resorting to official levers of financial regulation.

Although it is not mandatory for banks to follow such recommendations, they do not dare to go into conflict with the ministry. Unwillingness to cooperate with the authorities may "go sideways" for them when renewing their banking license, etc. In the same way, conflicts between parties can be resolved verbally, for example, when planning an urban area. Because of the flexibility of this interaction tool, Japanese officials are happy to resort to it, and sometimes abuse it.14

There is an extensive practice of personnel exchanges, according to which officials from Tokyo are trained in the CHI. Such contacts are necessary for ministries and departments to obtain information on the state of affairs on the ground, in order to correctly formulate regional policies. Sending officials from the center for temporary work to the local self-government bodies naturally becomes an effective way to monitor the situation in the province.

In turn, the local self-government bodies, through their employees sent to the center, learn about the mood in the government and receive the missing information.

Many local self-government organizations try to use connections with their former officials in KAC-

page 30

as the main channel of interaction with Tokyo. The practice of sending officials from the center to the hinterland and vice versa is already so well established in Japan and is considered so mutually beneficial that it does not even matter which side initiates the process.

At the same time, the system of attaching officials to "warm places" after retirement was formed by itself. It is called amakudari ("descent from heaven") and is widely used in private corporations, but the most extensive network of" warm places " has always been located by local governments. In a number of Western countries, a system similar to amakudari would be considered a circular bail system with a corruption connotation, but the Japanese public regards it with approval (at the same time, something similar called "revolving doors" exists in the United States, just recall the recent Republican Vice President of the United States R. Cheney, who for decades shuttled between the two countries). The White House and Haliburton Corporation). Moreover, the possibility of "coming down from heaven"is seen as a means of ensuring the psychological stability of civil servants and relieving social tension in their environment. 15


Financial difficulties faced by both the central Government and local authorities are pushing for the decentralization of executive powers. The country's sovereign debt is approaching 200% of GDP. The population is aging, social spending is growing, and it is not known how long the central government will be able to fully subsidize compulsory health insurance, of which only Tokyo is financially break-even.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which came to power in August 2009, continued its policy of decentralization: this was one of her key campaign promises. The Cabinet of Yukio Hatoyama even renamed the reform, introducing a new term "local sovereignty", allowing the DPJ to distance itself from the policies of Junichiro Koizumi and all previous LDP governments that worked closely with the ministerial bureaucracy on this issue.

In contrast, the DPJ announced its intention to crush the resistance of the bureaucracy that prevents the transfer of additional powers and sources of funding to the CHI. However, due to problems with the change of the Prime Minister and internal party disagreements, the Democrats ' declared course to combat the ministerial bureaucracy has not yet received practical confirmation.

In September 2010, the DPJ finally resolved the issue of leadership in the party: Naoto Kan has reshuffled the Cabinet of Ministers, removing most of the supporters of his powerful rival, fellow party member Ichiro Ozawa.

It would seem that now the Prime Minister, who is in favor of tightening financial policy, has a free hand to implement large-scale reforms. However, while the DPJ was engaged in an internal party struggle, the LDP took revenge in the July 2010 elections, gaining a majority in the House of Councillors together with the Union Sin(New)-Komeito, and with it the ability to block bills that were favorable to the Democrats. Under such circumstances, the central bureaucracy was also given enough time to prepare for an effective response to the reforms.

Time will tell how soon it will be possible to change the existing multi-vector ties between the center and the regions, cemented by the practice of Amakudari, but we cannot exclude a fairly rapid development of the situation.

If the central government begins to lose its leverage over local authorities or fails to guarantee the filling of compulsory health insurance budgets, the importance of local self-government as an independent bureaucratic system will increase dramatically and the need for further decentralization will become obvious to all interested groups. The key issue in the Center-CHI relationship may not be the degree of general government intervention in the affairs of local authorities, but rather clarifying the division of powers, eliminating duplication of functions at all levels of government, completely eliminating regional representative offices of central ministries and departments or transferring their functions and assets to prefectures, transferring additional sources of funding to CHI and strengthening the capacity of responsibility for spending funds.

Mabuchi Masaru. 1 Municipal Amalgamation in Japan. The IBRD/World Bank, 2001, Stock #37175, p. 1.

2 Number of Municipalities in Japan. Research Center of Administrative Management, 1996, p. 15.

Hayashi Masayoshi. 3 Economy of Scale in Provision of Local Government Service // Economics and Trading (168), 1995, p. 73 - 90.

4 Number of Municipalities in Japan...

5 Siteson gappei handobukku (Guide to mergers of municipalities) / / Siteson jichi kenkyukai, Tokyo, 1995, p. 42.

Shindo Muneyuki. 6 Relations between National and Local Government. University of Tokyo Press, Institute of Administrative Management, 1984, p. 109.

7 Local Government in Japan. Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), 1997, p. 3.

8 Consolidation of Local Governments in Japan and Effects on Sister City Relationships. Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco -

Senatorov A.M. 9 Ten years of administrative reform in Japan: results and problems -


Ichiro Aoki. 11 Decentralization and Intergovernmental Finance in Japan. Policy Research Institute, Ministry of Finance, JUNE 2008, p. 53 -

Nobuki Mochida. 12 Japan's Allocation Tax: an Equalization Transfer Scheme // Local Government Development in Japan, Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hiroshi Oda. 13 Japanese Law. London, 1992, n. 61.

Upham 14Frank K. Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan. Cambridge, 1987, p. 176 - 184.

Streltsov D. V. 15 Sistema gosudarstvennogo upravleniya Jap'i v posleboennoi period [The system of Public administration of Japan in the post-war period].


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