Saitama city handed greater power

The Cabinet agreed Friday that the city of Saitama will become Japan’s 13th “ordinance-designated city” on April 1.

The decision will give the sprawling city just north of Tokyo most of the self-governing authority that prefectural governments enjoy.

The city of Saitama, created in May last year through the merger of three adjoining municipalities — Urawa, Omiya and Yono — is the first local authority to be granted ordinance-designated city status in 11 years, after Chiba joined the list in 1992.

Saitama, covering 168 sq. km and with a population of 1.05 million, is the 10th largest city in Japan in terms of population, excluding Tokyo.

As an ordinance-designated city, Saitama will have the authority to take charge of public services currently under prefectural control, such as social welfare, sanitation, city planning and management of national and prefectural roads.

Saitama Mayor Soichi Aikawa said Urawa, Omiya and Yono were merged primarily to make the enlarged city an ordinance-designated city.

“I want to improve welfare services for our residents and turn Saitama into a core city to lead the Kanto region,” Aikawa said in a statement.

Home affairs minister Toranosuke Katayama said he welcomes the increase in ordinance-designated cities, which have a greater degree of autonomy, “in the sense that they can develop in a unique way and stand on their own feet.”

With the elevation, Saitama will be restructured into nine wards beginning in April next year.

The former Urawa city area will be divided into Urawa, Sakura, Minami and Midori wards. What used to be Omiya city area will be split into Omiya, Nishi, Kita and Minuma wards, while Yono city, the heart of Saitama city, will become Chuo Ward.