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2008年11月 6日 (木)


2008/11/6--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 5(IHT/Asahi: November 6,2008)

EDITORIAL: Reviving communities


To make life easier in places with aging populations and stem population drain, the central government will start next fiscal year an ambitious initiative to create teiju jiritsu-ken-- self-supporting zones that will encourage residents to stay put through collaborative efforts by municipalities.


It is not easy for small towns and villages, or even cities for that matter, to provide all necessary public services on their own. The central government initiative recognizes this fact and seeks solutions by creating "zones" around cities with a population of 50,000 or more so that smaller neighboring cities, towns and villages within these zones will work together to share roles and responsibilities.


This experiment will begin next fiscal year in 18 selected zones. The responsibilities to be shared will be decided by the communities involved, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will provide fiscal and administrative support, including transfer of necessary authority.


The idea is to concentrate urban functions in each core city for all zone residents to share, so that all living within the zone can enjoy more modern urban amenities. And this, the government believes, should prevent further population drain to major cities.


A study panel appointed by the internal affairs ministry stressed the gravity of problems confronting genkai shuraku (severely depopulated communities) and other outlying areas around the nation.

"It has now become practically impossible for each municipality or village to guarantee its residents a full array of resident services," the panel admitted, and called for a change in thinking from "uniform development for all" to collective sharing of responsibilities and benefits.


More than 30 local administrative entities applied to participate in the government experiment and presented plans. A few of the plans that have been adopted to date are described below:


The city of Iida in Nagano Prefecture, among others, aims to improve medical services. Specifically, the city will bring all the functions of an advanced general hospital to a medical facility in the city center; clinics will be built in surrounding municipalities and medical personnel will be dispatched to them. Beds in the city's advanced medical facility will be reserved for the benefit of residents of outlying communities. Plans also include improving bus services to make downtown shopping areas and hospitals more accessible to people living outside the city.


The Okayama Prefecture city of Bizen and the Hyogo Prefecture city of Ako will transcend their prefectural boundary to create a shared zone in an attempt to better meet the needs of residents.


In Shiga Prefecture, Hikone is planning to create a school lunch center in the city. The center will use local produce to prepare lunches and distribute them to schools within the zone.


What is common to all these plans is that they aim to give people a sense of security by taking into consideration their current lifestyles.


However, creating jobs is still the surest way to stop or reverse population drain. Most core cities have 50,000 to 100,000 residents, and it will be an extremely tough challenge to create enough new jobs to go around for everyone needing work. This is the self-supporting zone concept's biggest weakness.


Still, continuing to do nothing would only accelerate the decline of already depopulated and graying regions. There is no small significance in laying the foundations to halt the decline.


And another merit of this plan is that it will advance decentralization, by transferring administrative authority even to small towns and villages that have not yet merged, despite the central government's policy of encouraging mergers.


The daunting problems that confront the nation's outlying communities--depopulation, fiscal hardships, shortages of doctors and caregivers and so many more--cannot be resolved overnight.


The revival of these struggling communities can begin only if they work hard to meet their challenges and keep riding the current wave of decentralization and reform.



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