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Japan to Relocate Capital from Tokyo

Dateline: 10/11/99

In 1990, the Diet (Japan's parliament) passed a resolution to investigate moving Japan's capital city out of Tokyo. Within a few weeks, a committee will present their choice for the location of a brand-new capital city to the Prime Minister.

The idea for moving the capital in Japan was first proposed and discussed when Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympic Games. Now, the Diet wants to move the capital out of Tokyo to alleviate the "excessive concentration" of political and economic functions in the world's largest megalopolis of 33 million people. In addition, the possible breakdown of government functions in the event of a major earthquake striking Tokyo further led the Diet to legislate the move.

In 1868, with the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese imperial capital moved from Kyoto to the town of Edo (which had served as a quasi-capital since 1603) and Edo was was renamed Tokyo. Tokyo is the worlds most populous urban area and houses 26% of the country's population. In a recent study, Japanese researchers found that the cost of housing in Tokyo is over four times the cost of similar housing in Paris and well over three times the cost of similar housing in New York City.

Tokyo's civic and prefecture government officials are totally opposed to a relocation of the national capital and feel that power should continue to be centralized in Tokyo.

Kobe's devastating earthquake of 1995 gave impetus to the relocation idea and plans moved into high gear. A committee of the National Land Agency worked to select three final regions for the capital and settled on three regions located on the main island of Honshu:

  • Tokai - a region around Nagoya, west of Tokyo
  • Hokuto - in northeast Japan, near Sendai
  • Mie-kio - northwest of Tokyo

Distant Hokuto, over 200 miles from Tokyo, is the region that is the front runner for the new capital although the committee will select a single site within one of the three regions to present to the Prime Minister later this fall. Communities throughout Japan have purchased television and newspaper advertisements to describe the virtues of their community to sway the committee's decision. New capital locations are being judged on such factors as seismic safety, accessibility, water supply, land availability, and air quality.

Once the site is selected, plans will begin for a brand-new master-planned "Parliament City" of 100,000 people on 5,000 acres (20.25 square kilometers). Once the initial capital city is build, phase two calls for several surrounding satellite communities of 30,000 to 100,000 people each.

Opponents to the plan charge that the cost of the project, US $150-350 billion, would be better invested to make Tokyo and even better capital city and to improve earthquake preparedness. Opponents also claim that Tokyo will loose its prestige as an international financial center should the government move out.

Brazil is the most notable example of a nation that relocated its capital. Brasilia was built from scratch in the interior of the country and replaced Rio de Janeiro as the capital in 1960.

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