A legislative measure to allow for Japanese metro areas to form new urban governments has been passed by Japan’s parliament the Diet. The law will enable cities such as Osaka and Yokohama to reorganise themselves from 2015 into new special entities modelled on Tokyo’s system of metropolitan governance. It enables Osaka and nine other Japanese major cities with populations over two million to introduce new structures following approval by city referendum: Sapporo, Saitama, Chiba, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Nagoya, Kyoto, Sakai and Kobe. Other cities could later introduce the new structures if their populations attain two million residents.
Osaka’s mayor Toru Hashimoto has declared his intention to introduce the new special ward system in early 2015. The reforms would see Osaka City and its 24 administrative wards abolished and transformed into eight or nine ‘special wards’, each with an estimated population between 300,000 to 500,000. The special wards would be in charge of such municipal services as social welfare and education, while Osaka prefectural government would be responsible for strategic planning and emergency services. Each ward would have its own mayor and assembly, modelled on the current relationship between Tokyo’s metropolitan government and its 23 wards.
The Osaka mayor hopes that Osaka Prefecture (Osaka-fu) could change its name to Osaka Metropolis (Osaka-to) in future. Under the law, prefectures would not be able to change their legal names as only Tokyo is currently allowed to style itself a ‘metropolis’.