Between Decentralization and Recentralization: Conflicts in Intramunicipal and Intermunicipal Governance in Tokyo’s Shrinking Suburbs

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Between Decentralization and Recentralization: Conflicts in Intramunicipal and Intermunicipal Governance in Tokyo’s Shrinking Suburbs

  • Hiroaki Ohashi College of Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan
  • Nicholas A. Phelps Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, Australia
  • John Tomaney Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, UK

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The suburbs of Tokyo Metropolis are experiencing path-dependent, multifaceted shrinkage in socio-demographic, economic, and political and administrative (including fiscal) dimensions. The following two contradictory processes taking place in the opposite direction are at work, namely: the political and administrative decentralization of authority and responsibility (although without much fiscal devolution), and the socio-demographic, economic, and fiscal recentralization of workplaces, residences, and municipal finance. As Tokyo’s suburbs confront these contradictory processes of decentralization and recentralization, they fall into the gap between, on the one hand, policies that prioritize the internationally competitive metropolitan center by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and, on the other hand, policies that address the growing problems of lagging provinces by the Government of Japan. These phenomena are affecting radical, but barely visible, changes in public affairs of municipal governments on the lowest tier. We thus examine the emerging modalities of intra- and inter-municipal affairs in Tokyo’s shrinking post-suburbs. First, we explore the intra-municipal upheavals, incorporating instabilities and disarrays, of ideas and practices inside a municipal government. Next, we investigate the inter-municipal upheavals that involve oscillations between unification and fragmentation among municipal governments. These interrelated intra- and inter-municipal upheavals hinder the consistency and timeliness of planning and decision-making in the local arena. In conclusion, we emphasize the importance of taming these upheavals and creating integrated governance systems by exploiting the emerging sense of the increasingly intertwined future among municipal governments. This is vital to strengthen local solidarity and promote inter-municipal collaborations at scales that can ensure metropolitan and suburban sustainability.

Keywords:  decentralization; intermunicipal cooperation; local governance; metropolitan planning; recentralization; suburban shrinkage; Tama Area; Tokyo Metropolis



© Hiroaki Ohashi, Nicholas A. Phelps, John Tomaney. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.