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Kansai’s annual gathering of major corporate leaders opened Thursday in Kyoto with vows to accelerate economic recovery efforts, even as the chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation warned that spring electricity price hikes would exceed 10 percent.

But Shosuke Mori, who also serves as head of Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco), said prices could actually be lowered, thus reducing economic damage to the region — if at least some of Kepco’s 11 nuclear reactors, all currently idled, are restarted soon. Kepco plans to raise power rates by 10.23 percent for households and 13.93 percent for large businesses on April 1.

“These rate hikes are a continuation of rate hikes enacted in 2013, and will create an additional burden. In the event the reactors are restarted quickly, we want to discuss reducing electricity rates,” Mori said.

In the past, Kansai’s business leaders have held talks on less purely economic issues such as public education and Japan’s diplomacy with East Asia and the United States. The past few years have seen more of a return to local economic concerns, especially local revitalization, which at this year’s forum translated into meetings about how to get Tokyo to approve a new bullet train line for magnetically levitated trains to Osaka and legalize gambling in the form of casino-based integrated resort complexes.

While the urban corporate leaders had general praise for the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, rural politicians are worried about the growing economic and social gap between not only Tokyo and the rest of Japan, but also between local cities and rural areas facing extinction from the concentration of human and financial resources in urban areas.

Kyoto Pref. Gov. Keiji Yamada, speaking in his role as head of the National Governors’ Association, told the more than 500 attendees there was a tendency among some in Tokyo to view Japan’s low birthrate as a rural problem.

“It’s not a just a problem for local governments. It’s a national problem,” Yamada said.

He lambasted the Finance Ministry for simply pouring money into local revitalization schemes. Virtually all efforts have failed, he said, because the ministry is clueless about what local policies are needed to attract and retain younger people who want to raise families.

While Kansai’s business leaders and Yamada lament Tokyo’s size and power, the former’s rhetoric indicates they envision cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe as key to area revitalization efforts. But Yamada warned this wasn’t enough to solve the more fundamental problem of depopulation, and, thus, local recovery.

“If you concentrate resources around big cities, you’ll end up with a bunch of ‘mini Tokyos.’ Will this really lead to economic growth? In many rural localities, there is space and people can have bigger houses for more children. What’s really needed is the modernization of localities to help them meet the current realities (of declining populations and fewer younger people),” Yamada said.

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