April 1 marks the start of another year for government bodies, companies and schools. But hundreds of towns, villages and cities disappeared on paper the same day, and many others are on their way to extinction.

Local governments rushed to merge by the March 31 deadline set by a revised municipality merger promotion law.

As of Friday, the number of local governments stood at 2,190. It will further decrease to 1,822 by the end of next March, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.

It means 43.6 percent of the municipal governments in fiscal 1999 — when the law was revised to add more merger incentives — will be history by the end of next March.

The central government says the law was revised to streamline debt-ridden local governments and to create larger entities to transfer more administrate power to the local level.

But many municipalities have rushed to merge simply to enjoy the economic benefits, as they have suffered from fiscal crises and long-term economic declines since the early 1990s.

Under the law, a merged government can issue special bonds to finance the construction of public facilities related to the merger.

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