"Japanese prefer elegant, refined places to rustic places. They like walking in towns with people on the streets after 8 p.m."

— Finance Minister Taro Aso, who represents a rural district in Fukuoka, explaining at an Oct. 31, 2014, news conference why people and businesses are concentrated in Tokyo and why decentralization will be difficult.

In late spring 2011, senior political and business leaders in Osaka sensed a unique opportunity. With the world's attention still riveted by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, and the subsequent meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, there was concern in Japan and abroad about whether or not it was safe to remain in Tokyo.