2008 Volume 20 Pages 119-135
A national policy known as the “Great Municipal Merger of the Heisei Period” has been promoted as part of efforts toward administrative and financial reforms in Japan’s central and local governments, arousing criticism due to the element of control by the national government. However, the logic of this Heisei municipal consolidation is not always applied straightforwardly at the municipal (local community) level. This paper examines how some municipalities have successfully survived proposition of the Heisei municipal consolidation and improved their self-governing capabilities to pursue local autonomy, with a focus on Takagi village in Nagano Prefecture.
Takagi village initially joined meetings proposing a merger with Iida City and other neighboring municipalities. The villagers, however, became increasingly determined to pursue local autonomy without a merger, following the setting up of many citizen groups and study meetings by local residents. As a result of a local referendum on the merger, Takagi village decided to follow the path of local autonomy.
There are two notable points when the efforts of local residents to create an autonomous village are viewed from a historical perspective in the community system, which is represented by the hierarchy consisting of the central government, municipalities and local communities. First, Takagi village achieved a transition to become a stronghold for the autonomy of local people, through the process of reviewing its own growth system under the national policy of Heisei municipal consolidation. Second, a bottom-up community system was established, with local communities, which are interconnected through a village administration, as a basic unit of an autonomous village. The efforts to achieve local autonomy by creating a bottom-up local community system are now developing into the promotion of extensive and multilayered relationships, such as the development of supporter networks and cooperation with neighboring municipalities.
As shown in the historical process followed by Takagi village, a sustainable local community can be created in intermediate and mountainous areas by steady efforts toward local autonomy.