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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has hoisted “regional revitalization” as a key agenda of his administration since 2014 — in the face of continuing population flight from rural parts of the country to big cities, in particular the greater Tokyo area. One thing that triggered the policy was a warning by a private think tank that the exodus to major urban areas, if unchecked, would result in the disappearance of half of the nation’s municipalities by 2040. It was partly a response to criticism that his economic policies were benefiting only large companies in big metropolitan areas, leaving local economies in the rest of the country out of the loop — and was seen as an effort to woo rural voters in the nationwide series of local elections in April 2015.

Two years on, the policy almost appears to have been sidelined from the administration’s main agenda. Some of the prefectural governors who took part in an annual conference held late last month complained that they “rarely hear” the slogan these days — likely as the administration shifts its emphasis to one new political catch phrase after another. A resolution adopted at the governors’ conference — calling for the promotion of efforts to generate the population flow to regions other than large metropolitan areas and the transfer of government agencies and institutions out of Tokyo as a national strategy — testifies to their frustration that such efforts touted by the national government have in fact made little progress.

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