Every decade or so, it seems talk arises in Japan about relocating the functions of the central government outside the capital.

The reasons given are economic (it’s cheaper outside Tokyo and hosting a government agency will improve the local economy), cultural (Japan is too Tokyo-centric and relocations will revitalize local culture), and logistical (given all the earthquakes and constant warnings about the ‘Big One’ in Tokyo, doesn’t it make sense to decentralize before it’s too late?).

The result has usually been a brief period of intense discussion, often accompanied by architectural plans for a gleaming new Diet building or ministry headquarters in the middle of some prefecture you’ve never heard of, followed by platitude-laden speeches from politicians about the need to get the bureaucrats out of Tokyo. The discussion then ends in silence, as bureaucratic opposition and political indifference lead to inertia.

But with Kyoto’s current attempts to lure the Cultural Affairs Agency and seven other public organs to the area, this time might be different.

Last month, prefectural and city officials from Kyoto, as well as the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry, all backed a formal, detailed proposal that would see Japan’s ancient capital host the modern government organs that manage Japan’s cultural heritage.

The proposal’s centerpiece is the agency, which would move from Tokyo to Kyoto. Other Tokyo-based bodies it is interested in hosting include the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of Art, the Japan Arts Council and the Japan National Tourism Organization.

In addition, Kyoto Prefecture is proposing that parts of three scientific research institutes, including the National Institute for Radiological Sciences (based in Chiba), the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (Tokyo), and Riken (Saitama), be relocated to the Kansai Science City area in the southern part of the prefecture.

“If the Cultural Affairs Agency is relocated to Kyoto, it can create a new relationship between history and culture,” Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki, who represents a district in Kyoto Prefecture, told local media earlier this month.

Kyoto’s efforts to lure the agency are long-standing but part of a larger, more recent effort by Tokyo to revitalize rural economies by relocating these bodies to other prefectures.

On Sept. 1, regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba, viewed as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strongest interparty rival, announced 42 of the 47 prefectures had submitted proposals to host 69 such organs. A panel will be set up to examine the plans, with a final decision expected by April.

Despite political backing from both Tanigaki and Ishiba on the Cultural Affairs Agency’s shift to Kyoto, bureaucratic opposition remains. Many in the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which oversees the agency, fear the move will cause communication problems with lawmakers and other ministries.

In Kyoto’s plan, it’s assumed agency bureaucrats will need to make about 20 annual trips to Tokyo to give Diet testimony. As the land being offered is next to Kyoto Station and Tokyo is only about two hours away, the prefecture says, any inconvenience is limited.

“Bureaucrats will offer 2,000 reasons why relocation is not possible. The government needs to demonstrate whether or not it’s really serious,” Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who heads the national governors’ association, told the group at a recent meeting.

Will Kyoto or any of the other prefectures seeking to host central government bodies succeed? Or will Tokyo’s bureaucrats again defeat the latest effort to oust them?

Kyoto’s plans for the cultural agency are more advanced and have more prominent support than many of the other plans submitted. But paralysis by analysis is a sport Tokyo bureaucrats are particularly adept at, and it would not be a surprise if, come next spring, it’s announced that “further study” is needed on moving central government functions outside Tokyo.

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