Most of Japan’s cities, towns and villages have set up or plan to set up consultative panels with likely partners to examine the possibilities of mergers, according to the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications.

If all the municipalities considering mergers actually go ahead, about 400 new municipalities will be created. The total number of municipalities in the country would, however, be reduced to less than 2,000, down from the current 3,217.

According to the ministry, 1,618 municipalities set up or had decided to set up a total of 387 consultative panels as of Jan. 1.

Those set up or to be established in accordance with special legislation designed to promote mergers numbered 192, with 791 municipalities taking part, up 50 percent from an Oct. 1 survey.

The number of informal consultative panels set up or to be created came to 195, up nearly 30 percent from the previous survey, with 827 municipalities participating.

If the number of municipalities considering a merger is subtracted from the total and the number of new municipalities to be created is added, the number of municipalities in the country would fall to 1,986.

The ministry survey shows that all but Tokyo and Iwate Prefecture have municipalities planning mergers and that mergers are more popular in western Japan.

Most prefectures in western Japan have a majority of municipalities considering mergers, while some in the eastern part of the country have less than half planning unions with their neighbors.

The special merger law was introduced to promote such unions by giving municipalities greater fiscal leeway. With the law expiring at the end of March 2005, merger moves are expected to pick up steam.

The survey does not include the consultative panel for the cities of Shizuoka and Shimizu in Shizuoka Prefecture because they will merge on April 1.

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