Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency on Monday opened in Kyoto after relocating from Tokyo, becoming the first government body to move its headquarters from the capital as part of the nation's push to boost the regions through decentralization.
The agency, which transferred its main functions to the western Japan city including the commissioner's office, will focus on disseminating Japanese culture from the ancient western capital that is famous among foreign tourists for its traditional aesthetics.
"I want the employees in Kyoto to be flexible and make full use of working virtually as the forerunners of the central government's promotion of work-style reforms," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech via video conference.
With its Kyoto office scheduled to become fully operational on May 15, the agency will initially operate with about 70 people in the city, including Commissioner Shunichi Tokura. Ultimately, around 390 employees, or about 70 percent of agency staff, will be based in Kyoto.
"The role of the Cultural Affairs Agency is to promote the resources we have for cultural tourism both domestically and abroad in cooperation with other parts of Japan," Tokura said.
Located near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the new office will accommodate five out of the agency's nine divisions including those overseeing world heritage sites and national treasures. A section to promote Japanese food and tourism will also be established.
While the section responsible for religious organizations is also set to move, its employees will remain in the capital until issues regarding the Unification Church, a religious group known for its aggressive solicitations of donations, are resolved.
Divisions in charge of copyright and issues related to the Japanese language will be among the sections that will remain in Tokyo, with the emptied offices formerly housing the other departments to be utilized as meeting spaces for other ministries.
The agency was relocated after the Kyoto prefectural and city governments invited it to western Japan, stating that the partnership between the central government and the municipality would allow a "promotion of new cultural policies."
The central government decided on the relocation of the agency to Kyoto in 2016. The transfer was planned for fiscal 2021, but was delayed due to construction work on the building.
While the relocation is expected to promote policy making and help incorporate regional perspectives, the agency will face the need to smoothly collaborate with its departments remaining in Tokyo as well as other ministries in the capital and to keep abreast of Diet affairs.
Employees have had apps downloaded on laptops for online meetings, but the agency estimates its staff will need to take a total of 1,400 roundtrip business trips between Tokyo and Kyoto annually.
A senior agency official noted that although working virtually has been normalized, some sensitive exchanges were "better conveyed in person."
The Japanese government in 2014 proposed moving some agencies from Tokyo to revitalize regional areas, but relocations had been limited to some operations within the Consumers Affairs Agency and the Statistics Bureau in the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.