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EDITORIAL | Cultural Affairs Agency Move Revitalizes Kyoto, Local Communities

"By nature, culture is close to the daily lives of local people," says Doshisha University's Dr Nobuko Kawashima, applauding the Cultural Affairs Agency move.

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Cultural Affairs Agency
Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Shunichi Tokura unveils a plaque at the opening ceremony of the Cultural Affairs Agency on March 27. In Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto (© Sankei by Yukia Watanabe)

The Cultural Affairs Agency launched operations at its new offices in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto on March 27. 

An external bureau of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the agency oversees national cultural administration.

This first relocation of a central government agency since the Meiji Era represents an unprecedented experiment. Kyoto is viewed as an attractive center for disseminating information on Japanese culture to the world. 

At the same time, it represents progress towards establishing Japan as what Agency Commissioner Shunichi Tokura calls "a nation founded on culture and the arts."

Cultural Affairs Agency
As of March 27, the Cultural Affairs Agency now operates from Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. (© Sankei by Yukia Watanabe)

Reducing Risk, Revitalizing Local Communities

The relocation of Agency offices to Kyoto is aimed at correcting the excessive concentration of government offices in Tokyo. The relocation decision was decided in 2016 as a core policy component of the "local revitalization" program established under then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Decentralization of governmental functions now concentrated in Tokyo is viewed as critical to revitalizing local communities and reducing disaster risk

There have been high hopes that the relocation of government agencies to various regions in Japan would prove the catalyst for these reforms. Nonetheless, central ministries and agencies have been extremely reluctant to relocate. Indeed, only a few of their offices have done so. In fact, to date only the Cultural Affairs Agency has committed to "full relocation."

But even so only five of the Agency's nine divisions are moving at this stage. They deal with cultural treasures and some religious matters. Also accounting for 390 employees, they make up roughly 70 percent of the Agency's total workforce. 

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Cultural Affairs Agency
The name plaque of the new Cultural Affairs Agency in Kyoto, also unveiled on March 27. (© Sankei by Yukia Watanabe)

Divisions Staying in Tokyo

On the other hand, four divisions that must liaison frequently with other government offices, including the Cultural Economy and International Affairs Division, will stay in Tokyo.

That includes the Religious Affairs Division, which is busy dealing with issues involving the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church). It will remain in Tokyo at least for the time being. 

Cultural Affairs Agency
Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Shunichi Tokura (right) holds a press conference upon the relocation of the Cultural Affairs Agency. In Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, on March 27. (© Sankei by Yukia Watanabe)

Bringing Culture Close to the People

The Cultural Affairs Agency has plans to strengthen its functions at the time of the relocation. In order to improve its policy planning capabilities, a new Commissioner's Strategy Office in Kyoto will assist the commissioner. A new promotion headquarters responsible for food culture and cultural tourism is also being established. It will be interesting to see how these functions evolve in the future. 

"By nature, culture is close to the daily lives of local people," says Dr Nobuko Kawashima. The Doshisha University Professor in Kyoto serves as a member of the Agency's Culture Council. "I hope that by getting away from the pull of Kasumigaseki (the district in Tokyo where central government ministries are concentrated), we will gain a local perspective and notice and appreciate things better," she adds.

Kyoto itself, and the greater Kansai area including Osaka and Kobe, boast of a wealth of cultural treasures. These include everything from ancient temples and shrines. And also traditional arts, such as the tea ceremony and flower arranging, anime and other contemporary arts. The range of subcultures is both broad and deep.

If the officials in charge of cultural administration shift their gaze from their desks to the streets, they are certain to discover new aspects of culture. 

Setting An Example for Regional Integration

The Agency goal should be to create a role model that will be emulated in policy making and spread throughout Japan.

This move is setting a precedent for other ministries and agencies. For that reason, positive results are expected from both the Cultural Affairs Agency and the city of Kyoto. 

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has offered a vision of a "digital garden city nation" that will achieve rural-urban digital integration and transformation

Will the relocation of the Cultural Affairs Agency spur the further relocation of administrative agencies to the local level? 

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Hopefully, we will continue to consider such possibilities. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun