After the World War II, the new Constitution of Japan promulgated in November 1946 treated local self-government as an indispensable element of democracy, and guaranteed local self-government as a system with a chapter devoted especially to the subject. A Local Autonomy Law which further enhanced these reforms was then enacted, taking effect with the Constitution in 1947.
Japan local government has a long history, more than 100 years. Before the end of the Second World War, local government system was similar to the local government systems developed by France and Germany. After the war, we introduced some elements of the American local government system. The present system is a unique combination of European and American.
These features characterize the mixture and unique nature of local government in Japan.
First, Japan local government has a two-tier system: one tier is concerned with the regional government, the other with municipalities. There are 47 regional governments and more than 3,000 municipality governments.
Second, the Japan local governments enjoy constitutional recognition. The Japan Constitution guarantees local autonomy with election of governors and mayors and assemblymen/women. It also provides other principles of local government. This is very important because before the war the Japanese constitution did not guarantee the status of local government. After the reform of the Japan Constitution, the status of the local government was guaranteed. This means that the National Parliament cannot abolish local government without an amendment to the Constitution. The Constitution is very hard to amend. The Japan Constitution has not been amended since it was declared.
Third, in Japan, local governments have general competence powers. These general competence powers are provided in the Japan Local Government Act. This type of act originally derived from the style of continental European local government systems. In local governments developed in the British colonial countries, the powers and functions of governments were determined by specific laws; for example, environment and urban development. However, in Japan, through the Local Government Act, local government can do anything as long as it benefits the local residents. In terms of the legal system, Japan local governments enjoy a wide range of capabilities. However, in reality they are also obliged to carry out a wide range of functions delegated by the national government. While Japan local government has a wide range of ability or powers, in reality these powers are controlled by the National Government through other acts of parliament.
Fourth, the governors and mayors of the local assembly are elected by residential votes. This system is called a presidential system. In terms of the structure of local government, some countries have more flexible arrangements. For example, in countries with the British system, the members of councils usually elect the mayor from amongst themselves. In Japan, the direct election of governors and municipal mayors is provided by the Constitution. There is no other way. This lack of flexibility is also a feature of Japan local government system. It is remarkable that this rigid system has continued for more than 50 years without any parliamentary amendment.
Fifth, most local government employees are on lifetime employment. That usually means the local government authority the governors or mayors employing the local government employees immediately after they graduate from university. Employees then have to work in the same organization until they reach retirement age. This system is called the career system and is very common in the military or diplomatic services of other countries. Local government officials are in a career system. They are provided with ample opportunities for training and development. They change positions within the same local government and are not assigned to any special job description. The selection of local government employees is based on the results of examinations. This is very different from local government employment systems based on contracts. Japan does not have contract employment. All Japan local government employees are appointed. One of the features of the Japan local government system is the exchange of personnel between the national and local.