A call by an influential Kansai business group for the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments to increase their budgets for art and culture has sparked debate between the governor and business circles over how to best do that.

Earlier this month, the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives issued a formal appeal for both local governments to put more money into artistic and cultural events and activities, saying that, compared with what other governments are spending, the current amount is quite low.

“The private sector will do what it can. But we want Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka to increase their budgets,” said Tomohisa Sakai, head of the association’s art and culture committee, at a news conference announcing the appeal.

In fiscal 2014, the prefectural art and culture budget was ¥703 million, according to the association. That works out to about ¥79 per resident in a prefecture with a population of about 8.84 million people. By contrast, Tokyo’s 13.5 million residents were paying ¥1,127 each for the capital’s art and culture budget.

In Kansai, adjacent Kyoto Prefecture, with a population of 2.6 million, had an art and culture budget that worked out to ¥254 per resident. And Nara, with a population of about 1.36 million, had an art and prefecture budget that amounted to ¥708 per person.

The nationwide average for all 47 prefectures was about ¥600.

A comparison of municipal art and culture budgets in 20 major cities shows that residents of Osaka, with a population of 2.7 million, were paying about ¥814 each for the art and culture budget. Only Okayama, with a population of 720,000, was spending less (¥562) on the arts. The average among the 20 cities was ¥2,179 per person.

Sakai acknowledged that a major problem for all local governments in funding arts and culture was that artists, musicians and those involved with cultural events, as well as the audiences supporting them, often end up moving to Tokyo after getting locally established.

“But Osaka should at least increase per-capita spending to the national average,” Sakai said.

Osaka Prefecture’s low expenditure is largely a reflection of the low number of concert halls and facilities it owns. Toyama Prefecture (population 1 million), where per capita spending is officially ¥5,382, or the city of Sapporo (population 1.9 million), where the budget works out to ¥9,042 per resident, spend much of their “arts budgets” on things like building new facilities or maintaining ones they already have. In Osaka Prefecture, private firms are far more invested in theaters, concert halls and art galleries.

This is by design.

Since 2008, when Toru Hashimoto and his allies in Osaka Ishin no Kai, including current Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, came to power, many artistic and cultural projects and organizations long funded by taxpayers were shut down, eliminated, forced to merge, or told they had to find other sources of private funding because neither the prefecture nor the city could afford to continue subsidizing them.

In their appeal this month, the Kansai association called upon the private sector to make better use of its cultural facilities, but at the same time asked the prefecture and the city to build new facilities as needed.

The central government, through the Cabinet Office and the Cultural Affairs Agency, has already launched plans for promoting cultural programs throughout the country following the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

As Osaka hopes to host the 2025 World Expo and there are still senior corporate leaders and politicians who want to host a Summer Olympics, the appeal from the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives is as much about ensuring Tokyo’s support and possible funding for major future international events in Osaka as it is about increasing the number of noh or kabuki performances, or community art festivals and music concerts.

“The 2020 Olympics are an excellent opportunity to broadcast Osaka to the world and to establish a ‘cultural creation city’ for the mid-21st century,” the appeal read.

Gov. Matsui, however, was defensive in his reaction to the appeal.

“You can’t just simply compare the spending in different prefectures on the arts because if you look at other prefectures, you see that they’re spending a lot of money on managing and maintaining facilities that they own. If you eliminate the funds used by other prefectures just for these expenses, the amount of money Osaka Prefecture spends per resident on arts and culture isn’t that low by comparison,” Matsui said.

“The association’s recommendations were based on figures that come from data compiled by the Cultural Affairs Agency. But each prefecture has different costs for managing and maintaining its art and cultural facilities. I have to wonder if (the agency’s calculation) isn’t a negative campaign against Osaka culture and Osaka itself,” he added.

Over the coming months, however, senior business leaders are expected to continue to pressure Matsui to increase next year’s art and culture budget.

But at the same time, Sakai said there were more practical things the prefecture and city could do to expand local arts and culture, including making it easier for people to register to use parks and public spaces for cultural events.

Given Matsui’s reluctance to spend lots of money on arts and culture, and his interest in cutting bureaucratic red tape, this suggestion appears to be more likely to be accepted sooner than later.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.

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