The Political Leadership of Mayors in Japan
- Examining the Results of a Nationwide Survey of Mayors-

The rapidly accelerating aging and decline of Japan’s population, combined with climate change, and digitalization are forcing major policy shifts in the ways that government is administered and community development organized. While some municipalities have successfully pioneered dramatic shifts in public policy to meet these challenges, the majority have failed to reform sufficiently in the face of change. The reality is that bold leadership by local mayors is indispensable for achieving meaningful reforms, as they play a key role being at the core of local decision making. Unfortunately, the record of mayoral leadership and achievement in Japan, has thus far failed to leave a positive impression, and this is reflected in the lack of meaningful scholarship on the realities of mayoral leadership within the country.

To help rectify this deficit, the Nippon Institute for Research Advancement, in collaboration with Professor Toshihiro Okubo of Keio University, Professor Takuya Tsuji of Hitotsubashi University, and Professor Masayuki Nakagawa of Nihon University conducted a survey sent out to each of Japan’s 1,741 mayors* on “Policy Initiatives and Leadership.” The survey, conducted between October 12 and November 30 of 2020, received 824 responses for a response rate of 47%.

This paper examines the realities of municipal governance and mayorship from the perspective of leadership to find the secret to executing successful policy change in a society undergoing rapid population aging and population decline. Under such conditions, how do mayors exercise leadership, and what are the factors that hinder reform? What kinds of personalities do mayors possess and what separates those who have successfully pioneered reforms from those whose record is merely average? By asking such questions, this paper seeks to provide critical insight into the kind of leadership required to achieve meaningful reform.

This paper is divided into two main parts. In part one, the results of the survey on municipal leadership and policy initiative are used to paint a picture depicting the average state of mayors in Japan. In part two, six municipalities that have achieved pioneering reforms are taken up as case studies and compared to the average outlined in part one, to uncover the potential key ingredients of their success.

When referencing or using the contents, figures or tables in this report, please be sure to include the following information in the citation: Nippon Institute for Research Advancement, Okubo, T, Tsuji, T & Nakagawa, M (2022) Effective Mayoral Leadership and The Realities of Municipal Governance Amidst the Challenges of a Shrinking and Super Aging Society

*The survey was sent out to the mayors of cities, towns, and the 23 special wards (tokubetsu-ku) of Tokyo, all of which are designated as legally independent municipalities under Japanese law. This number does not include the heads of the administrative wards (ku) of “cities designated by government ordinance,” (for example, Kohoku-ku in Yokohama City) as these wards are mere subdivisions of municipal authority, do not exist as independent legal entities, and are not considered municipalities under Japanese law. Therefore, for the purposes of both the survey and this paper, the term “mayor” refers exclusively to the elected leaders of municipalities as defined under Japanese law.

Nippon Institute for Research   Advancement