August 27, 2014 4:51 am JST

Abe seeks long-term plan for reviving small-town Japan

TOKYO -- Japan needs to stop its population from cramming into the capital and create towns "overflowing with individuality and charm," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday at a roundtable on reinvigorating the countryside.

     Abe will assemble a task force on this theme after he reshuffles his cabinet next week. By year's end, it is supposed to come up with a strategy covering 2015-2020 and a vision for coping with demographic challenges over the next 50 years. Elements of the strategy will be incorporated into the government's budget and tax reform proposals for next fiscal year.

     Headed by Abe himself, the task force will consist of cabinet members, including a newly appointed minister for local revitalization, as well as nongovernmental advisers.

     The prime minister welcomed the comments aired in Tuesday's discussion, which included examples of how growing numbers of foreign tourists are helping liven up some towns. The roundtable will continue on Wednesday.

     Ideas for reversing economic decline in the countryside include encouraging corporations and people to move out of urban centers and bringing more women into the workforce. Such inducements could take the form of tax incentives and deregulation.

     A major challenge will be tailoring the policies to local needs. To this end, the government will create a council that brings together cabinet members and six regional organizations, including the National Governors' Association.

     The government plans to propose at least five bills related to local revitalization in the upcoming parliamentary session.