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When East Meets West: Far too much local sovereignty in Japan?


Commentary by Hank F. Miller Jr.


( the Japanese Democratic Party came to power in September 2009 the word 6a00d8341bf7d953ef01156ff02a98970c-800wi "chiho bunken" (devolution)has been replaced by the new expression "chiki shuken" (local sovereignty). The government on November 17 that year created the "Local Sovereignty Strategy Council" chaired by the Prime minister ,Naoto Kan.


" Devolution)," which is an antonym of a centralized form of government,means delegating to local governments some of the power and authority now heavily concentrated in the central government ministries and agencies,which are often referred to sa"KIasumigaseki" after the name of the central part of Tokyo, where most of them are headquartered. As a result, perfectural governors must always" read the minds"of Tokyo in making major decisions or implementing important policies.


In no other industrialized democracy is so much power and authority concentrated in the central government in Tokyo. Japan's university system is an example to illustrate that point.In the United States,each state has at least one state university,but there is no such thing as a"national university"administered by the federal government.Municipalities are responsible for elementary and secondary education and that is provided by the state.


The federal  government is not involved in education in any manner. Yet funds for scientific and academic research projects are provided by federal agencies like the National  Science Foundation. 


In Japan this is not well known, public university corporations,such as those run by prefectures and municipalities, receive their operational grants from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Moreover, privately run universities and high schools also receive grants totaling 450 billion Japanese Yen per year from the central government.Granting government money to private educational institutions would constitute a violation of this constitutional provision, unless such institutions,be they universities or high schools,are deemed to be"under the control of public authority."

During the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the Cabinet office proposed abolishing government subsidies to cover half of the salaries paid to teachers in compulsory education and transferring commensurate amounts of tax revenues to local governments to enable them to pay teacher's salaries.


After deliberations at the Central Councel for  Education,however,this proposal was amended to reduce the government subsidies from one-half to one-third of teachers salaries.


The very root of Japan's vitality has lain in the availability of high quality education to children in every corner of the country. Fundamental cause of recent weakening of Japan's economy can be traced to deterioration of the homogenous quality in elementary and secondary education.This deterioration was brought about by an increase in the number of private high schools that are primarily interested in teaching students how to master elaborate techniques of passing university entrance examinations and that seems to be all.


However, in China, a concept of building a"harmonious society"has become quite popular in the past few years.The expression was first used by President Hu Jintao,when he addressed the sixth general session of the 16th Communist Party National Congress on October 12,2006.


President Hu emphasized the urgent need to rectify the"disharmony"that has resulted from the country's adopting a policy of economic reform--that is,widening gaps between the coastal areas and the inlands,between manufacturing and agriculture,and between cities and farming regions,as well as causing environmental disruptions. 


When Japan's political government people first heard of China's aspirations to build a harmonious society,they felt that Japan represents the best model in the world for such a society.Even though its land area is small in size,Japan can boast of infrastructure networks of railways,telephone service, electric power supply,mail delivery,broadcasting,and expressways and hideaways connecting every part of the country.


As far as I know, this country does not have a conspicuously poverty-stricken town or village.In other words,Japan has been successful in keeping to a minimum the type of "disharmony"that worries President Hu Jentao. What has made Japan so successful in this regard ? The answer lies in the fact that all of its infrastructural networks were initiated by the central government,which also provided grants and subsidies to local areas.This way the central government made maximum efforts to reduce regional disparities,playing the central role in rectifying regional imbalances. the Prime Minister said, we must nor turn a blind eye to pork barrel spending policies persue by certain politicians in a bid to bring about benefits to their respective constituencies.


The fact that successive governments, intentionally or unintentionally,have built up a harmonious society that is rare by any  global standard.Quite a lot of my commentary will sound closely acquainted to what has been taking place in the political realm back home in the good old U.S.A.


Warm regards and Best Wishes from Kitakyushu City ,Japan

Hank F. Miller Jr.


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