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Development Policy of Small Islands in Japan

Hiroshi Nemoto
Remote Islands Development Division
National Land Agency, Japan

Paper presented at an International Symposium on "Small Islands and Sustainable Development" organized by the United Nations University and the National Land Agency of Japan.

Among the countries in the world, there are many island states, and many countries that are comprised of islands, yet among the latter, there are few like Japan where complete policies addressed to the issues of small and remote islands are established.

Japan is composed of many islands, and there are four laws which deals with the Japanese remote or small islands: Okinawa, Amami and Ogasawara are areas in which national laws cover these islands, but I would like to focus on laws of Japan which govern small islands in general. There are laws relating to regional development and implementation of regional development programmes which take in the remote island areas as a whole. This includes both the national and regional level development programmes.

At the national level, the National Land Comprehensive Development Law was enacted in 1950, and in accordance with this law, a Comprehensive National Development Programme was devised twelve years later in 1962. The reason for such a long time span between the law and related programme is that the First Economic Plan was to serve as the guideline for mid-term economic management in 1955 and thereafter. This was an independent plan, and in the pursuing years .Japan experienced high economic growth and as a result there was imbalance in population density and income distribution. Given this situation, there developed a need to control development, so in 1960, a plan to double national income was devised. In this plan, there was recognition given to rectify this population density/income disparity. These would come under the Regional Policy, so that these needed to be tied to the Macro-Economic Plan within the Master Economic Plan. For this reason, the Comprehensive National Development Plan was developed.

Meanwhile, the policies for individual regional development began to be initiated after World War II. Among these, policies regarding small island development do have a substantial history. It was as early as 1953 when the Remote Island Development Act was enacted. This Act was enacted in response to the strong requests of the local people and through the efforts of the national and local governments, as well as through extensive discussion in the Diet. As a result, the development of remote islands, which was partial and limited, became increasingly comprehensive and detailed.

The Remote Island Development Act covered the following:

  1. As an objective, measures would be established to correct underdevelopment of the remote islands through project implementation, assessing economic capabilities in an effort to stabilize people's livelihoods, as well as improve to the welfare of the people and hence to contribute to the growth of the national economy.
  2. In order to achieve this aim, a Remote Island Development Plan and at the same time a Project Plan was also developed each year in accordance with this law.
  3. The national government would appropriate a budget for the implementation of these projects. The proportion of required funds to be supported by the local authority would be considered in a favourable light.
  4. In order to survey and examine key development items of the remote islands, a Remote Island Development Council was established. In pursuant to the provisions of the Law, a total of ten regions were designated as Remote Island Development Regions from 1953 to 1967 and development plans were developed accordingly.
Concerning budget, the affect of implementation of the Law was felt, but the appropriation of the budget was most decisive and began in the 1958 fiscal year. Until that year, all public works relating to remote island development came under the responsibility of separate and individual government agencies. However, these works came within the realm of the Economic Planning Agency, the now current National Land Agency. Today, it is the National Land Agency that appropriates the budget for the development of remote islands in Japan.

With regard to the 1958 budget, we saw a budget which enabled the effective implementation of remote island development. Further, a Remote Island Development Section was also established within the Agency, so as to deal with all the remote island development of Japan. This was a most favourable arrangement for the remote islands themselves and the promotion of development there. Through these law, therefore, remote island development was implemented.

The Remote Island Development Plan serves as the basis of such island development, and is revised approximately every 10 years, though sometimes earlier. These plans are devised by the local authorities, which are then presented to the National Land Agency which in turn presents it to the Diet.

The First Plan was developed in 1957. In the Second Plan in 1967, emphasis was on the improvement of basic socio-economic conditions to help rectify the differences between the remote islands and the mainland in terms of population densities and income. The Third Plan focused on improving the facilities for the living environment and production activities, while the Fourth Plan was concerned with improving social infrastructures to improve the living environment. Under the Fifth Plan, which was enacted in 1993 and will continue through to 2002, both hardware and software approaches have been adopted so that a more comprehensive approach to development may be taken. Thus, the concepts of the Plans have changed over time to respond to specific needs.

It is now over forty years since the Remote Island Development Act has been enacted, and over the years, there have been projects for the small islands amounting to 3 trillion from the national budget. This is a nominal budget, and the current value of this money would, of course, be much greater. Within the proportion of the National Public Works, the budget represents approximately 1.2% of the total. Considering the areas and population of the remote islands, I feel that the investment of the government has been overall favourable to the islands and remote regions.

As a result, industries and the infrastructure of the living environment of the small islands have improved. Some islands are no longer designated as a Remote Island Development Region. However, the present situation remains that, compared to the main islands, population continues to decline and the people who have remained are mainly aged, with an over-dependence on primary industry. Income of the people living in these areas is still low, which further encourages young people to leave the islands to seek better conditions elsewhere. Thus, these islands still appear to be at a disadvantage. Discrepancies still exist between the remote islands and the mainland, so we must continue with the Plan to the best of our ability to help rectify the situation.

Future Actions

With the persistent income and population density disparities continuing between the remote island regions and the mainland, there remain a great many challenges that need to be taken up from now into the future. These challenges may be categorized into five components:
  1. In the past, a domestic perspective was taken in relation to any action that was implemented. In the future, this will not suffice. A global perspective will need to be taken into account and incorporated into the future Plans and programmes that are developed in relation to these regions.
  2. There will be a need to promote societies in which people and nature of these regions may co-exist. Again, this is in line with the current global issues and trends pertaining to environment and development.
  3. There will be a need to continue to work to reduce the aging population and the aging of the remote island communities. Thus, we need to promote stronger exchanges and ties with other communities. While there are cultural and sport exchanges, economic exchanges may be said to remain at the very heart of such exchanges as well.
  4. There will be a need to respond to the shift in the economic structures due to the Information Society and shifting of production sites overseas.
  5. Finally, the role of the national government and local authorities with respect to each other will have to be reviewed.
Currently, a new National Land Programme is being devised with a view to implementation in 1997, with a view to the needs of the year 2010. In preparing this overall programme, the abovementioned factors deserve special attention from the regional perspective, especially from the point of view of remote island development regions.

In order to foster competitive industries in these regions, it is very important that economic exchanges be promoted. In turn, with the revitalization of the national economy, further changes can be promoted. In that respect, the island communities can be revitalized. This is especially important when one takes into account the diminishing population, so that there are a lot of people coming in and out of the regions in question and that activity be visible and noticeable.

The direct objectives for the promotion of development in the remote islands are to improve the people's welfare and promote economic activity there. However, there are other objectives: one of these is that we look to ascertain special features that can be allocated to the remote islands in question. Once identified, these features and aspects can then be incorporated into the National Land Programme and other comprehensive development programmes so as to become part of the national policy in promoting the economy of the nation as a whole.

In the past, there has been a large number of exchanges between these islands and the world, and the diggings at Haranotsuji provide one example, where there are indications that exchanges were undertaken with ancient China. Others have had exchanges with the Korean Peninsular, as well as the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

Many of these islands also possess unique or extremely rare biodiversity which needs to be preserved. In respect to the preservation of forests, the marine and natural environments, the remote islands have come to assume a very important role. These factors have come to be specified under national law. Thus, there are a number of roles that the remote islands can play in a scheme for national development. In that respect, the island policies need to encompass these two different aspects simultaneously.

In promoting remote islands, it is important to think what value the have in terms of national policy. Discrepancies in living standards need to be levelled, and a harmonious development between remote islands and the mainland needs to be achieved. However, equality of the living conditions between the mainland and the remote islands would entail different interpretations depending on the time perspective being considered. Therefore, national policies need to be organized so that they may supplement the mechanisms that may be lacking if one relies on the market economy.

The characteristic of Japanese policies in this regard, as opposed to those of other countries, is to try to encompass the island policies as part and parcel of the national policy. I would hope that the measures that Japan has implemented may serve to be of some reference to policy makers in developing nations as well. If networking can be undertaken with the developed nations, and more exchange of information could be promoted, then we would be able to contribute to the formation of others' policies in developing their national policies. Thus, we hope that we will be able to think of remote island policies in such a perspective.

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