Socio-economic disparity between rural and urban regions in Japan has widened substantially in Japan in the last two decades. During these “Lost Decades”, differences in per capita income and poverty levels have grown, particularly between metropolitan Tokyo and other regions. Social services including child-care, medical-care, and education services provided by local governments have also diverged, resulting in growing disparities in levels of health, social capital, educational attainment, and personal happiness among different communities. (Tachibanaki and Urakawa 2012)
During the same period, Japan’s local government system underwent major reforms unprecedented in its post-war history. These include administrative decentralization, local government fiscal reform, and municipal mergers. Further reforms, such as the creation of a regional system (doshusei) and extensive fiscal decentralization, continue to be debated.
Rather than focus on changes in material interests or institutional structures to explain these reforms and concomitant growth in regional disparity, I turn to ideas. Borrowing from frameworks developed in Discursive Institutionalism (DI), I investigate ideas and discourse related to local government reforms and regional disparity in Japan. How did Japanese politicians and parties articulate, transmit, and legitimate ideas about urban-rural relations to the general public through “communicative discourse”?
My talk will describe the discourse surrounding administrative decentralization (1995-2000), local government fiscal reforms (2002-2006), public works spending under the Koizumi and second Abe administration, among other cases. Although research is still ongoing, my goal is to answer the following: what kind of discourse accompanied successful local government reforms? Has the intensity of “communicative discourse” increased as a result of Japan’s greater Westminsterization?
Ken Victor Leonard Hijino is associate professor at Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management. He completed his PhD on decentralization in Japan at Cambridge University in 2009. He is currently researching decentralization, institutional reform, and conceptions of democracy in Japan.