A tower was built at a park in Nasu-Shiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, as a symbol to call for relocation of the capital. (The Asahi Shimbun)
The nuclear crisis, power shortage and aftershocks following the Great East Japan Earthquake have re-energized proponents of relocating the capital from Tokyo.
Political and business leaders in the Kansai region are proposing that the capital--or some of its functions--be moved to their region, citing the risks of a major earthquake taking out Tokyo.
"Japan must send a message to the world that if Tokyo is down, Osaka can take over," said Toru Hashimoto, outspoken governor of Osaka Prefecture.
His view was echoed by Shigetaka Sato, chairman of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "It's time to diversify risks," he said.
Many foreign-affiliated companies moved their headquarters functions to the Kansai region, at least temporarily, after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The prefectures of Tochigi and Fukushima were listed by a government panel in 1999 as one of the three candidate sites where the capital functions might be moved.
The Tochigi Association of Corporate Executives plans to push its proposal that a Japanese version of the U.S. president's Camp David retreat be built in the Nasu area in northern Tochigi Prefecture.
The proposal, originally made in 2009, called on the central and prefectural governments to set up Camp Nasu, which would serve as the prime minister's office in emergencies.
"It is a more realistic policy issue than shifting away from nuclear power generation," said Masashi Nakatsu, vice chairman of the association. "We are prepared to reopen discussions at any time."
Local business executives said the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake reaffirmed that the Nasu area is resistant to a strong earthquake.
"The Tohoku Shinkansen Line was largely unscathed through to Nasu-Shiobara Station," one businessman said.
While Diet deliberations on the capital relocation issue have not been held since 2005, there are signs that may change.
At an Upper House Budget Committee meeting on May 1, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, "We must think hard about the area that could replace the capital's core functions."
After the March 11 disaster, even Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who has dismissed the capital relocation proposal as "absurd," said, "It is desirable that the capital's functions be dispersed."
In mid-April, a nonpartisan group of lawmakers agreed to speed up legislation for constructing a "backup" substitute capital.
At the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the division in charge of planning the relocation of the capital's functions will be abolished this summer.
Hajime Ishii, who chairs the nonpartisan group, told a senior land ministry official that deliberations on the issue will soon reopen in the Diet.
"You should not abolish the division but increase its staffing instead," Ishii, who is vice president of the Democratic Party of Japan, was quoted as saying.
A growing number of individuals and businesses are paying attention to areas outside Tokyo after the accident at the Fukushima plant.
A consultation office for businesses was flooded with inquiries after it was set up March 15 by the Osaka prefectural government and a business organization.
It received dozens of telephone calls a day until recently when the pace slowed.
A baker asked about financial assistance, saying he wanted to move his bakery to Osaka from Tokyo, where the electricity supply has become unstable.
"The number of consultations from people anxious about the nuclear power plant has not declined," said an official at the office.
An official at the Tokyo-based rental apartment operator Leopalace 21 Corp. said the area encompassing Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe accounted for 20 percent of the 4,000 new contracts it concluded after the disaster, second only to Saitama Prefecture.
An official at the Tokyo-based cram school company Sundai Yobi Gakko said more than 10 students studying at its Tokyo school switched to schools in Osaka and Kyoto.
Many of them had moved to Tokyo after graduating from high schools in the Hokuriku and Shikoku regions.
The company received a large number of inquiries from parents about the safety of water in Tokyo after the accident at the Fukushima plant.