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OVERVIEW OF TOKYO

THE STRUCTURE OF THE TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT (TMG)

TMG and the 23 Special Wards

Tokyo is a regional government encompassing 23 special wards, 26 cities, 5 towns, and 8 villages, but it has certain characteristics that distinguish it from the other prefectures. In the ward area, the metropolitan government takes on part of the functions usually assigned to the municipalities including waterworks, to maintain unified administration and control over the whole area. A special administrative system thus exists between the government and the special wards, which is not seen elsewhere in the country. The main characteristics of this system, called the special ward system, are as follows:

Management of Services

In Tokyo, the metropolitan government manages services such as waterworks, sewerage, and fire fighting for the whole ward area as a single authority in order to ensure provision of uniform, efficient services across the whole of the densely-populated ward area. In other parts of the country, under law, the provision of these services is the responsibility of the ordinary municipal governments.

Taxes

Since the metropolitan government takes on some of the administrative work that would otherwise be handled by the city authorities, it levies and collects some of the municipal taxes, which include the inhabitant tax on corporations and the fixed assets tax.

TMG Financial Adjustment System for the Special Wards

Through this system, the metropolitan government makes financial adjustments both between itself and the special wards and among the special wards themselves. In the ward area, the government and the special wards share responsibilities for managing affairs and administration, and therefore also share the tax revenue sources required for the costs incurred. The financial adjustment system is designed to ensure a balanced distribution of these financial resources. At present, a certain proportion of the revenues from the three metropolitan taxes (corporate inhabitant tax, fixed assets tax, and special land ownership tax) is allocated to the ward governments. The financial adjustment among the 23 special wards is also designed to redress imbalances in an individual ward’s fiscal revenues due to uneven distribution of financial resources. When a ward’s basic fiscal need exceeds its basic fiscal revenues, the difference is made up in the form of allocations from the metropolitan government.

Transfer of Jurisdiction

The special ward system has undergone a number of reforms to become what it is today. Through a reform undertaken in 1974, the 23 special wards were given the authority to elect their mayors by popular vote and manage affairs similar to other cities. However, since the wards continued to be viewed as internal organizations of Tokyo Metropolis, various issues arose. These included a lack of clarity in the allocation and sharing of roles and administrative responsibilities of the wards and the metropolitan government; interference with the autonomy of the wards; and the inability of the metropolitan government to implement thorough large city administration from a regional viewpoint.

In order to resolve these issues, the national government decided that jurisdiction over administrative operations touching closely on residents’ lives, such as waste management, should be transferred as far as possible to the wards. New legislation of 1998 brought about a partial reform of the Local Autonomy Law. By increasing the independence and autonomy of the wards through the strengthening of their fiscal autonomy, this law established the wards as basic local public entities. The new ward system came into operation in April 2000.

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