Japanese local government
and mayors of largest cities

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Local government in Japan

The City Mayors Foundation has instituted a Code of Ethics for city leaders who wish to perform their duties beyond all reproach

Debating chamber of Tokyo City Hall

Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo

Daisaku Kadokawa, Mayor of Kyoto

Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima

Japanese Mayors
Edited by Andrew Stevens and Marie Yoshikawa

25 November 2015: Japan, the world’s third-largest economy by GDP and 10th largest population, is a unitary state, governed at national level by a Prime Minister and Cabinet largely chosen from the bi-cameral National Diet. The two-tier local government system in Japan is composed of 47 prefectural governments (roughly akin to a county), each headed by a directly-elected Governor (elected on a four-year term) and 1,719 municipalities, each headed by a directly-elected Mayor (elected likewise).

The nature and role of local government is codified in the Local Autonomy Law (LAL) issued under the post-war Constitution of Japan of 1947, which guarantees local autonomy against the national government, who retain a degree of control over localities through subsidies. Following years of debate, in 1995 a Decentralization Promotion Law (DPL), backed by a standing committee, was passed to make the roles between central and local governments clearer and promote enhanced autonomy, which was intended to promote localisation and prepare for an ageing society. This movement coincided with a voluntary municipal merger process with financial assistance from central government, with a statute aimed at enhancing the administrative capacities of municipalities, which has seen their number decrease from 3,232 as of March 1999 to 1,719 today.

Japan’s cities and regions
With the exception of the capital Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido, most prefectural governments are styled in Japanese as ‘ken’ (e.g. Hiroshima-ken, as opposed to Hiroshima-shi, the city government), with the two historically significant (as former capital etc.) prefectures of Kyoto and Osaka known as ‘fu’ (e.g. Osaka-fu, as opposed to Osaka-shi, the city government).

Of the municipalities, there are several classes of city, with the most basic and numerous class of ‘city’ broadly enjoying the same powers and status as towns or villages (the designation stemming from its population size, basically more than 50,000 residents).  All cities supply residents with water services, waste collection and disposal, public health, social welfare, parks, environmental services, planning/development control, economic development, fire and rescue, elementary schools and adult education colleges.

40 cities with populations of 200,000 or more are known as ‘Special Cities’ and are entitled to provide some degree of prefectural services (such as care services, health, environmental services, urban planning, teacher training etc.) locally, while a further 41 of 300,000 or more residents are known as ‘Core Cities’ and can provide further additional services.  The 20 ‘Designated Cities’ each have populations above 700,000 (as well as density requirements and ‘regional’ status) and carry out most services within their jurisdiction rather than under the prefectural government. They are further required to subdivide themselves into ‘wards’ in order to carry out basic functions such as resident registration and tax collection on a more local level. All such designations must be approved by the Cabinet of Japan following an application by the relevant municipality and prefecture.  Tokyo is today unique within Japan as a metropolis (‘to’) rather than prefecture or city level government, with Tokyo Metropolitan Government (headed by a Governor, rather than Mayor) sitting above 23 ‘Special Wards’ in the centre and a further 26 cities, five towns and eight villages in the periphery.

Historically, the Designated Cities owe their origins to the creation of the first local authorities in 1898 in the then principal regional cities outside of Tokyo – Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Kobe.  A 1956 amendment to the LAL allowed these cities (as well as Yokohama) in Japan to receive this Designated City status for the first time, with further cities approved by the Cabinet over the decades up to the 20 as of 2013.  The Core and Special City designations were created under the 1995 DPL process to recognise the growing importance of the second-tier cities by awarding them an intermediate degree of enhanced autonomy.  Some larger Japanese cities, most notably Osaka and Nagoya, have recently expressed their desire to become ‘metropolises’ themselves through merging the prefectural and city tiers, with a national law passed in 2012 to enable this following agreement among the tiers backed by a local referendum. 

Japan’s mayoral system
While Japanese mayors are directly elected for four-year terms with no term limits, most candidates prefer stand as independents and are then backed by local chapters of the main national parties. Foreign nationals cannot vote in Japanese municipal elections and all candidates must be 25 years or older (voters must be aged 20 or older).  Mayors can be subject to recall through residents’ petition, provided basic thresholds are met. City mayors are also assisted in their duties by vice mayors, though any appointment must then be ratified by the city assembly, and in some cases mayors have requested vice mayors be seconded from central government to assist them in policy coordination.

Japan’s mayors are represented by the Japan Association of City Mayors, founded in 1898. The association is one of the six local government associations of Japan, which are represented outside of Japan in countries such as the US, UK and China by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), founded in 1988.

Mayors of Designated Cities of Japan
and Governor of the Tokyo Metropolis

City &
Mayor (Mr, Mrs)
Profile &
Chiba (962,130) Toshihito Kumagai; Mr 2009; 2013
Next election 2017
Born 1978; Chiba City Councillor;
Party: DPJ
Fukuoka (1,463,826) Soichiro Takashima; Mr 2010; 2014
Next election 2018
Born 1974; TV reporter;
Hamamatsu (800,912) Yasutomo Suzuki; Mr 2007, 2011; 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1957; House of Representatives Member (2000-2005);
Party: Independent
Hiroshima (1,174,209) Kazumi Matsui; Mr 2011; 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1953; Bureaucrat and diplomat;
Party: LDP/KP
Kawasaki (1,425,678) Norihiko Fukuda; Mr 2013.
Next election 2017
Born 1972; Prefectural Councillor (2003-2009);
Kitakyushu (977,288) Kenji Kitahashi; Mr 2007, 2011; 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1953; Member of House of Representatives (1986-1990, 1993-2006);
Party: Independent
Kobe (1,544,873) Kizo Hisamoto; Mr 2013
Next election 2017
Born 1954; Bureaucrat and Vice Mayor;
Kumamoto (731,282) Kazufumi Onishi, Mr 2014;
Next election 2018
Born: 1967
Prefectural Councillor (1997-2014)
Party: LDP/KP
Kyoto (1,474,473) Daisaku Kadokawa; Mr 2008, 2012;
Next election 2016
Born 1951; City official;
Party: LDP/KP (and DPJ, SDP)
Nagoya (2,263,907) Takashi Kawamura; Mr 2009, 2011, 2013;
Next election 2017
Born 1948; Member of House of Representatives (1993-2009);
Party: Tax Cut Japan
Niigata (812,192) Akira Shinoda; Mr 2002, 2006, 2010; 2014
Next election 2018
Born 1948; Journalist;
Okayama (709,622) Masao Omori; Mr 2013;
Next election 2017
Born 1954; Bureaucrat;
Party: LDP/KP
Osaka (2,666,371) Hirofumi Yoshimura; Mr 2015;
Next election 2019
Born 1975; Lawyer;
Osaka City Councillor 2011-14
House of Representatives 2014-15
Party: Osaka Ishin No Kai
Sagamihara (717,561) Toshio Kayama; Mr 2007, 2011; 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1945; City official and Vice Mayor;
Saitama (1,222,910) Hayato Shimizu; Mr 2009;
Next election 2017
Born 1962; Political Adviser and Prefectural Councillor (2003-2009);
Party: DPJ
Sakai (842,134) Osami Takeyama; Mr 2009, 2013;
Next election 2017
Born 1950; Local official;
Party: DPJ/SDP
Sapporo (1,914,434) Katsuhiro Akimoto; Mr 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1956; City official and Vice Mayor;
Party: DPJ/SDP
Sendai (1,045,903) Emiko Okuyama; Mrs 2009, 2013;
Next election 2017
Born 1951; City official and Vice Mayor;
Party: DPJ/SDP
Shizuoka (716,328) Nobuhiro Tanabe; Mr 2011; 2015
Next election 2019
Born 1961; City Councillor (1991-1994); Prefectural Councillor (1995-2003);
Party: LDP
Tokyo (12,790,000) Yoichi Masuzoe; Mr 2014;
next election 2018
Born 1948: Academic and media commentator; Member of House of Councillors (2001-2013); Health Minister 2007-2009.  Party: LDP/KP
Yokohama (3,689,603) Fumiko Hayashi; Mrs 2009, 2013;
Next election 2017
Born 1946; Business executive;
Party: DPJ

*Japan's political parties
DPJ – Democratic Party of Japan (centre/centre-left);
Liberal Democratic Party (centre-right);
KP –
Komeito (centre right, stands jointly with LDP);