National / Politics

Kyoto bids to host Cultural Affairs Agency

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The city of Kyoto is stepping up efforts to become the new home of the Cultural Affairs Agency, which works to protect Japan’s officially designated cultural treasures.

Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and corporate executives in the Kansai region met Wednesday to coordinate strategy on pressing the central government to relocate the agency.

There are logistical reasons for the bid. Kyoto Prefecture has about 21 percent of the country’s National Treasures, and nearly 17 percent of its Important Cultural Properties. Of the buildings nationwide classified as National Treasures, about 23 percent are located in the prefecture.

Kansai’s six main prefectures — Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hyogo, Shiga and Wakayama — have nearly 55 percent of the country’s National Treasures, including almost 72 percent of buildings with that status. Likewise, about 45 percent of all Important Cultural Properties are located in Kansai.

The central government, as part of an effort to decentralize the nation’s bureaucracy, is searching for localities that might accept ministries, agencies and related institutions now situated in Tokyo.

In March, regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba said the government would formally ask prefectures to submit proposals for hosting ministries by the end of August.

Kyoto has coveted the Cultural Affairs Agency for decades and already hosts its Kansai branch office. Now, the old capital is looking at the grounds of an old school near Kyoto Station as a possible candidate site for the agency’s headquarters.

As the custodian of so many of Japan’s historic sites, the city says, it has both the practical experience in preserving cultural artifacts and modern techniques in cultural promotion domestically and abroad that make it an ideal host.

The municipal and prefectural effort appears to enjoy support within certain quarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Both Ishiba and Lower House member Shinjiro Koizumi have expressed support for the idea.

However, in a meeting with Gov. Yamada last month, education minister Hakubun Shimomura, whose ministry overseas the Cultural Affairs Agency, expressed some concern about whether communications between the agency and the Diet might be affected by moving it to Kyoto.

Over the years, various prime ministers have suggested that government agencies, and even the Diet, be relocated elsewhere to relieve congestion in Tokyo and hopefully spur decentralization efforts in the private sector. However, due to costs, as well as political and bureaucratic opposition, such plans have gone nowhere.