About 70 years have passed since the local autonomy system based on the ideals of democracy was introduced in Japan. A number of reforms have been carried out since then to bring it closer to an autonomy system with sovereign local residents as its base.
The Japanese constitution positions this local autonomy system as the most basic principle of democracy. Particularly, the main text of the constitution contains a section called “Local Autonomy” to ensure the continuous existence of this system.
The local autonomy system in Japan consists of two tiers: local public entities of “prefectures”, in charge of broader regional administration, and basic “municipalities” ofcities, towns and villages, in charge of affairs more closely related to local residents. Accordingly, every region in Japan belongs to a prefecture as well as a city, town or village.
Tokyo is a broader regional public entity like other prefectures but it stands out among the others. One of the outstanding features of Tokyo is that it includes 23 special local public entities referred to as “Special Wards” (note 1). Tokyo maintains characteristics of prefecture as well as characteristics of city in the area where 23 Special Wards exist, from the viewpoint of facilitating efficient and integrated operation of metropolitan administration. In addition, Tokyo has the special role as the capital of Japan.
Local public entities are composed of legislative organs (municipal assemblies) which makes decisions and executive organs (top administrative officials) which implements policy in accordance with the decisions made by the Assemblies.
In the case of Tokyo, the Metropolitan Assembly corresponds to the legislative organ, with the Governor acting as the executive organ. Both the Assembly members who form the Metropolitan Assembly and the Governor, the top of the executive organ, are elected by the vote of the citizens of Tokyo.
Authorities and roles of the Metropolitan Assembly and the Governor are clearly differentiated and the two are on an equal footing, independent of each other. Fair administration is ensured by restrained and coordinated relationship maintained between the two.
In order to maintain a democratic local autonomy, each citizen must provide a base for the public administration. To this end, basic rights and duties of citizens are clearly defined in the provisions of the Local Autonomy Law. Citizens of Tokyo are granted equal rights in order to receive all public services offered by the municipality. In return, citizens must bear public duties including payment of municipal taxes and contributions according to their share of benefits and capabilities in order to shoulder the expenses incurred by the municipality in implementing administrative activities. Citizens of Tokyo are granted the right to participate in the administration of the municipality (suffrage).
Citizens of Tokyo are also provided with various rights of claim (including the right to request formulation, amendment and abolishment of municipal ordinances, the right to request dismissal of Assembly members and the Governor, and the right to request audit of execution of affairs by the municipality). They are also entitled to submit supplications and petitions to reflect their requests in the policies of the municipality.
In the framework of local autonomy described above, the Metropolitan Assembly serves as a decision-making organ of the local public entity of Tokyo. On behalf of 13 million of Tokyo citizens, it is a basic mission of the Assembly to understand proposals and opinions of citizens and to reflect them in administration of Tokyo.
Note 1 : Special Ward means a local public entity established only in Tokyo. It is a special local public entity with characteristics and functions similar to that of city.