There is a growing trend among prefectural governments to distance themselves from Kasumigaseki, the seat of the nation’s bureaucracy, as moves accelerate to decentralize the national government and a recent ban, issued in response to a series of scandals, prevents lawmakers from wining and dining ministry and agency officials.

Prefectural governments have traditionally maintained offices in Tokyo to collect information from ministries and agencies as well as to petition the national government for assistance.

But many prefectural governments’ offices these days find their main reason for being in Tokyo is to promote exchanges with universities and various corporations.

The offices also serve as bases to market the prefectures’ products in Tokyo and provide information to businesses internationally in the hope of stirring up trade.

For example, Yoshinobu Hayashi, the Shizuoka Prefectural Government’s public information director in Tokyo, spends his days calling on embassies to promote green tea, one of Shizuoka’s specialties.

By night, Hayashi dines with foreign embassy officials — and pays out of his own pocket. In days past, he took part in social gatherings with national government officials on the taxpayers’ dime.

According to Hayashi, Shizuoka Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa told him: “We won’t be able to manage by simply relying on the wisdom of national government officials. There will be some interesting information from embassies.”

Hayashi’s efforts paid off in October, when a world tea festival, including participants from France, India and Morocco, was held in Shizuoka. Hayashi said his embassy network will also be put to good use for the 2004 Shizuoka International Horticulture Exposition.

“Our work is essentially to obtain information from Kasumigaseki as soon as possible,” he said. “However, we no longer are able to earn our living doing just that.”

Some 44 prefectural governments maintain Tokyo offices in the Prefectural Government Hall in Chiyoda Ward, not far from Kasumigaseki.

The Mie Prefectural Government’s office looks like the office of a foreign enterprise. Individual desks for staff have been removed, as have the office kept for the prefecture’s governor to use when he visits Tokyo and the office of the Tokyo director.

Instead, a huge desk now sits in a spacious room, open to use by office personnel, regardless of rank. The piles of paper ubiquitous in Japanese government offices are absent, giving the office the appearance of a reception room.

Staff use the room twice a month for study sessions and to promote exchanges with corporation officials and scholars to work on the prefectural government’s policies.

The study sessions enabled Mie last year to be the first prefecture to enact an ordinance to impose tax on industrial waste, according to Tsuneo Hayami, a senior prefectural official.

Opinions and proposals heard at the Tokyo office’s study sessions provide crucial information for prefectural politics, Hayami said.

Meanwhile, over at the Nagasaki Prefectural Government’s Tokyo office, the number of officials assigned to publicize tourism and products has been cut to five from eight. One of the reassigned workers now devotes his time to encouraging Tokyo high schools to choose Nagasaki as the destination for their annual student excursions.

Nagasaki Prefecture has had a hard time drawing tourists since the eruption of Mount Unzen in 1991.

Various prefectures have also set up more than 20 so-called antenna shops in Tokyo’s Ginza and Yurakucho districts to monitor sales of their specialty products.

Two restaurants commissioned by Kagoshima Prefecture to publicize “kurobuta” (black pork) are doing so well in these districts that a third is expected to open in Shiodome, a newly developed business area in Tokyo.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.