As the national and regional economies worsen, industrial production plummets and tens of thousands of workers lose their jobs, what should the Kansai region do?

Secede from Japan.

That’s the proposal Osamu Tanaka, chairman of Hanshin Expressway Co. Ltd., made at the annual Kansai Economic Seminar, an annual two-day gathering of the region’s senior business leaders that concluded Friday.

Tanaka called for the creation of a “United States of Kansai” that would declare independence from the central government, adopt a constitution and elect a president and congress to administer the six to nine prefectures that make up the Kansai region.

“A United States of Kansai would coordinate the various economic, social and cultural strengths of each prefecture, and work more efficiently to host international events,” Tanaka said. “The new republic could more efficiently host an Olympics or a Group of Eight summit, and draw up an international tourism policy that would bring 10 million foreign visitors to Kansai a year.”

To instill a strong regional identity, Tanaka said the U.S.K. should create its own anthem and regional flag, although the issue of asking schoolchildren and Hanshin Tigers fans to stand up and sing the anthem and salute the flag would remain open to debate.

But Tanaka doesn’t stop there. He envisions the U.S.K. engaging in international diplomacy by serving as the headquarters for an “Asia Union.” Rather than being a political entity, the union would establish Kansai as a center for learning and academic and cultural exchange for the rest of Asia.

While certain aspects of Tanaka’s plan provided plenty of comic relief to some attendees and a good deal of the press room, the fundamental ideas behind it are not new. They were actually the basis of serious discussions during much of the seminar. Tanaka’s plan is simply a restatement of local efforts over the past decade to support a national discussion on abolishing the Meiji Era system of 47 prefectural governments and turning Japan into a country of nine to 13 regional blocs that are far more autonomous.

Last year, an advisory panel to the Liberal Democratic Party suggested that if the necessary legislation was adopted, Japan could be operating on a regional bloc system by 2017. The proposal is being discussed nationwide, but the Kansai business community in particular is keen to make it a reality.

In a declaration released Friday at the event’s conclusion, the first paragraph was not about the economic crisis or the need to guard against further unemployment, but about eventually bringing about a system of regional blocs.

“We in the Kansai business community will make every effort to expand the local government base through unification. This is the first step toward realizing a regional bloc system based on local autonomy,” the declaration said.

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