March 29, 2014 5:25 am JST

Tokyo zone to foster business, health care via deregulation

TOKYO -- Tokyo and nearby municipalities designated for a broad special strategic zone will not only seek to create programs and systems to promote business, but also set up services for those needing medical care, particularly foreigners.

     "We'll have new leading industries take root to help revive the Japanese economy as a whole as we launch area-wide collaboration with Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures," Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe told a news conference Friday. The central government announced later that day that Tokyo, Kanagawa and the Chiba Prefecture city of Narita have been designated as a special strategic region, among other areas in the nation.

     The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has proposed 10 projects for deregulation, including establishing a one-stop, English-speaking office for filing business license applications. Under the current Japanese system, different applications must be submitted to different offices, a process that normally takes about three weeks, compared with only three days in such places as Singapore and Hong Kong.

     Tokyo will also propose an urban planning project to review property and land use regulations. The idea is to set up internationally competitive business districts in such areas as Toranomon and Shinagawa in the capital.

     Under another project, inspired by the Champs-Elysees in Paris, sidewalk cafes would line the streets of the capital.

     Yet another proposal would bring generic drugs to market quickly, reducing the time from application to commercialization to just six months from up to 22 months at present. To this end, Tokyo is asking for authorization for a health and safety research center in its system to perform the same drug screening tests conducted by a national entity.

     Tokyo also aims to enhance medical choices for residents from abroad. It will request permission for foreign physicians to provide uninsured health care only to non-Japanese patients.

     Meanwhile, Yokohama seeks to revamp its housing market. The Kanagawa Prefecture city proposes to ease housing capacity rules, and will "seek to offer high-standard housing units and residential-office buildings around Yokohama Station," Mayor Fumiko Hayashi told a news conference.

     Narita will propose turning itself into an "international medical and college town" in a combined effort with a university setting up a nursing department there. Highlighting its position as home to an international airport, Narita also wants deregulation to provide medical services to foreign visitors and residents with non-Japanese physicians and nurses.

     The specifics of these deregulation plans will be hammered out with the central government.