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The city of Saitama became the capital of its namesake prefecture and Japan’s latest metropolis Tuesday, upon the merger of the cities of Urawa, Omiya and Yono.

Takeharu Onoda holds up a new license plate for his 90cc bike at the Saitama City Office, showing he was the first to register in the new prefectural capital.

Residents celebrated the founding in a ceremony held at the new municipal office, the former Urawa City Hall, with Saitama Gov. Yoshihiko Tsuchiya attending. Urawa is the former capital of the prefecture.

Tsuchiya said he was very satisfied with the realization of the merger at the beginning of a new century.

“I hope Saitama City will be designated by the central government as one of Japan’s major urban areas as soon as possible,” he said at a news conference. “The prefectural government will do its best to help.”

Currently, there are 12 so-called government-designated large cities. Being included on the list would enable the new city to be divided into wards and give it as much power as a prefecture.

Addressing Urawa and Omiya’s initial opposition of to the merger, Tsuchiya said: “I was once worried about the development (of the merger), but I encouraged the three cities not to worry about minor issues too much and to discuss major ones. Today, I see their efforts rewarded.”

At the ceremony, Isamu Ihara, former mayor of Yono, also said he was pleased with the merger. Ihara will be acting mayor of the new city until its first mayoral election, which could be held as early as May 27. The election is expected to be a tough one, as the former mayors of Urawa and Omiya intend to run along with several others.

It is the first formation of a city with a population over 1 million by amalgamation on an equal basis since the 1963 foundation of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture.

The merger occurred in line with a state policy to promote decentralization. As of April 1, 75 municipal governments in 21 regions set up councils for mergers with neighboring entities, according to the Home Affairs Ministry.

A ministry official said the level of success reached by Saitama would affect merger talks conducted in other areas.

Saitama’s 1.03 million people will comprise the 11th-largest city in Japan in terms of population after Hiroshima, which had 1.12 million people as of April 1. Tokyo’s 23 wards, with a population of 8.1 million, are considered to form the largest city in Japan.

Inaugural glitches

SAITAMA (Kyodo) The new Saitama City government, comprising the former cities of Urawa, Omiya and Yono, experienced some technical difficulties on its first day Tuesday.

A computer glitch in the registry system that left officials unable to retrieve data was discovered at 6:30 a.m., temporarily suspending services until the problem could be fixed.

Meanwhile, only two people were lined up to change their motorcycle license plate registrations when the office opened at 8:30 a.m., far fewer than the 40 officials on hand to process applications had anticipated. The registration is a proof of payment of a tax levied on motorcycles by municipal governments.

Saitama District Court officials at 9 a.m. unveiled a new plaque at the entrance of the former Urawa District Court.

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