In a historic first, Osaka municipal voters go to the polls today to vote on a referendum that, if approved, will divide the city into five semi-autonomous wards.

For years, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) local party have hammered home the message that, without the merger, bureaucratic redundancy with Osaka Prefecture cannot be eliminated, economic growth cannot occur, social welfare services cannot be improved and true local, grass-roots democracy in Osaka cannot flourish.

Sounds very nice, doesn't it? Especially the last bit about grass-roots democracy. But some tough questions remain: How much will the merger really cost? What happens to the existing municipal debt (partially due to white elephant projects built two decades ago)? And what happens to local services?