National | VIEW FROM OSAKA

Four Kansai issues stirring up Upper House election

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

While the sensitive issue of constitutional revision and the looming consumption tax hike to 10 percent in October dominate media discussion of what’s important in the Upper House election Sunday, there are other problems and issues, some especially acute in the Kansai region, that shouldn’t be forgotten. Here are four that have been mentioned by candidates of all parties:

‘Tourism pollution’

That’s the literal translation of the Japanese term used by media outlets, politicians and businesses to describe the fact that the streets of many cities across the country are clogged with tourists whose manners and behavior are irritating, if not downright angering, residents.

Nowhere is this more of a problem than in Kyoto. With 4.5 million visitors last year — more than double the number five years ago — the ancient capital’s reputation as a cool international destination is getting worse, not better. Overcrowded historical sites and public transportation are well reported problems, while social media allegations of price gouging and of Kyoto shops, cafes, bars and restaurants trying to keep out customers who can’t speak Japanese are rampant.

During a visit to Kyoto in early June, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledged that excessive tourism is a problem in parts of the country. He said it was up to the municipal and prefectural governments to find solutions and that the central government would provide any necessary support.

Kyoto officials have grown increasingly testy about the tourism-pollution issue, insisting Kyoto is a cultural center, not only a tourist mecca. But with Kyoto predicting visitors will spend ¥1.3 trillion by 2021, addressing tourism-related problems requires local and national policies and funding.

2025 Osaka Expo funding

Osaka’s political and business communities see the Upper House election as a crucial opportunity to elect politicians who will ensure it gets the financial assistance it needs from the central government over the next six years to make sure the 2025 World Expo goes off without a hitch.

Everyone in Kansai understands national political attention over the next year will be on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But no one wants Diet members and Tokyo bureaucrats to forget about the expo. Especially when central government finances are needed to build it.

Slowing the Tokyo drift

How do you keep them down on the farm (or in town, or in the city)? That’s the problem every locality outside Tokyo faces, especially with younger residents in rapidly graying areas with shrinking populations. Past efforts in Kansai to prevent the best and brightest workers, companies and startups from heading to Tokyo after graduation or attaining success have largely failed.

To make leaving more difficult, and like politicians elsewhere, Kansai’s Upper House candidates found themselves having to promise to pursue new policies that will hopefully keep younger Japanese workers (i.e. local taxpayers and future voters) from fleeing to Tokyo, while dealing with the fewer, increasingly elderly voters in their districts who aren’t going anywhere and whose top priorities don’t include creating new opportunities for young people.

Disaster mitigation

Earthquakes and flooding in different parts of Japan made headlines last summer. Rapid damage control, economic harm to the agriculture industry and food-supply chains, and how to finance cleanup and rebuilding are the top concerns of local governments in particular.

The vulnerability of Osaka Bay in particular was brought home last September when Kansai airport flooded due to heavy rains. Discussions in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe on finding new ways to prevent or mitigate damage from extreme weather is growing, and can involve suggestions for new public works projects. It will be up to Kansai-area lawmakers in both chambers of the Diet to make sure those local discussions turn into concrete plans that win assistance from the central government.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.