National / Politics

In country's first name-change referendum, Sasayama voters back renaming city as Tamba-Sasayama

Kyodo, Staff Report

The city of Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture will be changing its name to Tamba-Sasayama as early as next May following what city officials described as the country’s first referendum on changing a municipality’s name.

Sunday’s referendum passed with a margin of 3,128, with 13,646 voting in favor. Many municipal assembly members said they would accept the referendum’s result, securing the name change.

The voter turnout rate stood at 69.79 percent, exceeding the minimum 50 percent threshold designated by the city to open the ballot box.

“I would like to immediately propose the name change at the municipal assembly,” said Takaaki Sakai, 64, who won his fourth term as mayor in a race coinciding with Sunday’s referendum.

The referendum comes after regional farmers and economic organizations pushed for the name change to increase its name-brand recognition.

The area is well known for its production of Tamba black beans, which are often served during the New Year holidays. A local citizens’ group had also collected signatures separately to support the referendum, arguing that citizens, not the mayor, should decide whether the city name should be changed or not.

“I am proud that the country’s first referendum on a name change was successful,” said Emi Kotera, a 35-year-old woman who leads a civic group supporting the name change.

The city of Sasayama, about a 90-minute train ride north of Kobe, was formed after four villages and towns merged in 1999. It has been better known as Tamba Sasayama because it was part of an ancient region called Tamba no Kuni.

In 2004, however, the city of Tamba was created right next to the city of Sasayama, which caused Sasayama officials to worry that confusion over the names would lead to fewer tourists visiting.

Sakai, who pushed for the name change and was endorsed by four mostly conservative parties, defeated challenger Suishin Okudoi, an independent 60-year-old former municipal assembly member, in Sunday’s election.

He called a snap election in October and stood again for the office, asking voters to pass judgment on his past achievements as mayor.