Move of capital has municipalities turning big believers

TOKI, Gifu Pref — One of the small rural towns at the foot of rich, green mountains here in the Tono region could become Japan’s new capital in 2010.

That’s what local government officials believe, or at least what they are trying to believe. Gifu Prefecture and municipalities in the Tono region, which covers southeastern Gifu, are campaigning to lure the national government’s headquarters. Visitors to such towns as Toki, Tajimi, Ena and Nakatsugawa find banners from major train stations to local government offices, reading “New Capital: from Tokyo to Tono.”

“The Tono region is geographically near to the center of Japan,” said Hirohiko Kouchi, director at the capital relocation policy office of the Gifu Prefectural Government. “The ‘center of gravity’ for Japan’s population is also near this region.”

A council under Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is currently debating where to relocate the capital, should the Diet accept the council’s recommendation to move the capital to somewhere between 60 km and 300 km from Tokyo. The council was established following last year’s revision of the 1992 law that requires the government to conduct studies of a possible relocation of the capital by 2010.

Although the Diet has the final say on whether to relocate the capital, many prefectures — including Tochigi, Miyagi and Gifu prefectures — are engaged in fierce competition in promoting their localities. Local residents, however, only half believe that the new capital could come to their hometowns.

“Capital relocation? I think only government officials are talking about it,” said a cab driver in Toki. “Nothing concrete has come up, right? I doubt the capital will really move away from Tokyo.”