ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

APRIL 24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16

PROVINCIAL POWER
Japan's Governors Take Aim At Mighty Tokyo
By DONALD MACINTYRE Tokyo

When Shintaro Ishihara let fly with his anti-foreigner invective last week, it was a striking--if controversial--show of "Governor Power." A small but growing number of Japanese governors are quietly thrilled every time Tokyo's combative chief executive makes headlines, whether he's bashing the central government and its bureaucrats or taking on other sacred cows. These reformers outside the capital are waging their own battles against a top-down system they view as hopelessly inefficient and badly out of touch with local needs. When Ishihara tangled recently with Japan's big banks, forcing them--against central government objections--to start paying a hefty tax to the city, many lauded him for striking a blow for autonomy. "His way of doing things may be different," says Morihiko Hiramatsu, Governor of southern Oita prefecture, "but he has really fired up Japan's governors."

Numbering 47, the governors need all the energy they can muster. In the country's highly centralized system of government, the mandarins who run the powerful ministries have enormous influence over local spending. From their offices in central Tokyo, they control a flow of state funds that can mean life or death to towns as far as than 1,000 km away. This power of the purse gives these bureaucrats a free hand to impose mind-numbing uniformity on much of the country. The often-cited story of the town that couldn't move a bus stop without Tokyo's permission is only the most famous example of the central government's long reach.

  ALSO IN TIME
COVER: Mouth of the People
Japan's Shintaro Ishihara triggers controversy once again, but hidden within the furor is the reality that, for disillusioned citizens, Tokyo's populist Governor has become an important symbol of change
Extended Interview: "There's no need for an apology"
Power Politics: The local pols begin to assert themselves
TAIWAN: War of Words
Beijing lashes out at the island's Vice President-elect for her outspoken views on reunification
One System: China tries to muzzle Hong Kong's press
VIETNAM: History Lesson
Twenty-five years after the end of the war, newly released documents paint a fascinating picture of its last days

BIOLOGY: The Stud Within
American men (and not only men) eagerly await a new testosterone gel that promises better sex and bigger muscles. But what does the notorious hormone actually do?

CRICKET: Bad Form
A match-fixing scandal takes down South Africa's captain

TRAVEL WATCH:
Ho Chi Minh City -- An Intriguing Mix of Past and Present

The system has begun to unravel during Japan's decade-long economic slump. Many localities are broke. The national government, burdened with the biggest debt load among the advanced industrialized countries, can't dish out cash the way it did in the good old days of turbocharged growth. As a result, Hiramatsu and other reformers are challenging the system, demanding greater authority to raise money and more say over how it's doled out. Facing local pressure to spend more efficiently, these leaders are canvasing independent opinions on public-works projects and encouraging greater scrutiny of how money is spent. The goal, says Sukeshiro Terata, Governor of northern Akita prefecture, is to find local solutions to local problems: "The days when you can run the whole country the same way are over."

The governors complain most about their limited powers to tax and spend. About two-thirds of the money prefectures raise in taxes goes to the central government. A big chunk of that comes back in the form of subsidies and spending on projects like roads and bridges. But the ministries that shell out the funds run the projects, so if a governor thinks his prefecture doesn't need a proposed agricultural road, he can't redirect the money to build a nursing home. At the same time, local taxpayers feel they are losing if they don't get their share of the largesse Tokyo parcels out. "It is a system of irresponsibility," says Masayasu Kitagawa, Governor of Mie prefecture. "If you don't create a system in which you can decide and take responsibility for yourself, the system will derail."

The governors are agitating for change, trying to rebuild the system from the ground up. Kitagawa has set new standards for information disclosure publishing a balance sheet of his government's assets and debts, a first for any prefecture in Japan. He has also brought in outside experts to assess whether government projects are really worth doing. In Miyagi prefecture, Governor Shiro Asano has backed citizens' demands for disclosure of excessive entertainment spending by local officials. His personal style and flair for promotion have attracted nationwide attention to the issue of regional authority and helped to rewrite the role of a governor. Asano personally promotes Miyagi's rice in light-hearted television spots and even hosts a weekly radio program, playing songs by his long--time hero Elvis Presley.

The battle for autonomy is just beginning, and the critical question of spending reform is far from settled. The governors are making themselves heard, but for now at least, they can't impose their will on the central government. Moreover, prefectures outside Tokyo can't pull tax stunts like Ishihara--big companies that have to be in the capital at almost any cost could abandon other regions if taxes get too high. "So far it is not structural change," says Masayoshi Honma, an expert on Japanese politics at Tokyo's Seikei University. "It depends on the governors' personalities and attitudes." If Ishihara is a guide, those qualities should never be underestimated.

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.