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Hooked on Nuclear Power: Japanese State-Local Relations and the Vicious Cycle of Nuclear Dependence via Japan Focus

Although local governments have played a significant role in the politics and economics of Japan, Anglo-American studies on Japan have paid them little attention. Among developed countries, the size of Japanese local government budgets is strikingly large, as is the amount of budget transfer from central government to local governments. The subsidies and grants that come from the central government make up a large proportion of the income of local governments, and many of these come with strings attached (himotsuki)2. It is through this budget transfer that central government controls local governments, and local governments court the patronage of central government. The autonomy of Japanese local governments is compromised by this budget transfer system, which is referred to as “30 percent autonomy” (san-wari jichi), as on average 70 percent of the income of a local government is from the central government, which ultimately controls the way in which the funds are spent. In short, the central government and local governments are politically and economically inseparable, meaning that local governments represent an element that cannot be overlooked in any attempt to understand the country’s politics and economy. The Japanese government and electric power companies have capitalized on this system in order to construct nuclear power plants, giving rise to a vicious cycle of economic dependency that has ultimately resulted in the present crisis. This paper investigates the reasons for the geographic concentration of nuclear reactors in Fukushima, focusing on its local governments and their relationship with the state.

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