The education ministry's recent decision to approve creation of a new medical school at an existing university — for the first time in more than three decades — in Tohoku marks a new development in the government's oscillating policy on the education of doctors.

While the decision is billed as a one-off measure to help facilitate reconstruction of the areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disasters, it sheds light on various problems of the national policy that has limited the number of doctors since the 1980s.

The government gave the go-ahead for opening a new medical school at a university in the Tohoku region in response to a plea by Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai in October. The education ministry says its ban on opening new medical schools will still stand and that its latest decision is an exception in view of the urgent need to rebuild the disaster-hit coastal areas of Tohoku.