Ichikawa—Meeting the needs of the people
Photo Credit To torne
Ichikawa—Meeting the needs of the people

Ichikawa—Meeting the needs of the people

Nakayama Hokekyo-ji temple, Ichikawa, Chiba prefecture.

[INTERVIEW]

Mr. Hiroshi Okubo
Mayor of Ichikawa City

Mr. Hiroshi Okubo, the mayor of Ichikawa City, is sharing with JAPAN and the WORLD magazine an insight on his administration, his focus on benefiting his citizens, and the importance of sister city programs.


Mr. Hiroshi Okubo, Mayor of Ichikawa City.
Mr. Hiroshi Okubo, Mayor of Ichikawa City.

—You are currently in your second term as mayor of Ichikawa City, having been first elected in 2009. You are an advocate of “citizen-centered administration.” What exactly do you mean by that?

Ever since my appointment as mayor, I have participated in many local events to directly hear the opinion of many people.

As one example of realizing an administration that sees eye-to-eye with citizens, we launched a project to promote a citizen-friendly municipal government office with the aim of creating an administration in which staff welcome citizens affably and warmly.

In recent years the number of children waiting to gain admission to day-care facilities has become a major problem. At a time when women are being encouraged to play an active role in the labor force, the expansion of day-care facilities and child-raising support is becoming increasingly important. For this purpose, our city is devoting much effort from the current fiscal year to improve the environment so that people can bring up children with peace of mind.

In addition, the main road linking the northern and southern parts of our city is due to open in November, which, I believe will help to ameliorate traffic congestion and enhance the comfort of citizens’ lives.

—We understand that the foundation of your main thinking is the development of a safe community. Can you tell us in a little more in detail what you mean by this?

In order for our citizens to lead healthy and safe lives in a peaceful environment, we are making efforts to adopt measures that are closely linked to their lives.

Firstly, as a consequence of global warming, there have been frequent outbreaks of flooding in recent years, so we are improving the level of safety in flood-prone areas.

Secondly, amid the increase number of ageing, we are strengthening counseling services by establishing more elderly support centers so that people can continue to live as they please in familiar surroundings. In addition, we are continuing to address such issues as measures to counter dementia, easing of the care burden on families, and the ensuring of human resources in the field of care.

In order for our citizens to lead healthy and safe lives in a peaceful environment, we are making efforts to adopt measures that are closely linked to their lives.

Thirdly, we are improving the environment so that people who wish to do so can get married and give birth to and raise children with a peace of mind. We provide seamless support, including supplying venues for exchange through already held match-making events, improving consultation services in response to various needs from early pregnancy to child raising, and ensuring breast-feeding space in public facilities.

As measures to cope with the waiting list for child day-care facility admissions, under the Waiting Child Emergency Response Plan and, among other things, we are making efforts to expand day-care services in private nursery schools and small-scale day cares, improve the working conditions of staff, and utilize the nursery school staff bank in order to ensure human resources.

—What activities have been implemented recently in the sister-city program?

Ichikawa and Medan concluded their sister-city relationship in 1989, so 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the ties. In order to commemorate the anniversary, an official city delegation and a citizens’ delegation from Ichikawa paid an official visit to Medan, where they toured the city, participated in a commemorative ceremony, and took part in an evening dinner attended by citizens of the two cities, which enabled them to renew old friendships. In the same year an official delegation from Medan also visited Ichikawa, where they engaged in commemorative tree planting and visited such facilities as the Ichikawa City Zoo and Botanical Gardens, which houses orangutans donated by Medan. Furthermore, exchange between senior high school students is lively through youth exchange conducted in a three-year cycle. Our administration intends to provide support so that such lively exchange continues in the future.

—Please tell us your thoughts about what sister-city programs will be necessary from now on in order to benefit the citizens and residents of both Ichikawa and Medan.

I hope to see further progress of not only administration-led, but also citizen-led exchange. At present, the representative example of citizen-level exchange is youth exchange, centered on senior high school students. We undertake the mutual acceptance and dispatch of high school students with not only Medan but also the cities of Gardena in the United States and Leshan in China. When accepting students, the Student Council of the Ichikawa International Exchange Association, prepares the program together with the city government and the association and attends events. In addition, in the dispatch program, on the basis of exchange consultations, we send senior high school students living in Ichikawa to one of the three cities for stays of around 10 days. We arrange for them to stay with local families, visit local high schools and historical sites, and experience foreign culture. This year also, for 11 days from August 15 to 25, we sent out seven senior high school students to Medan. It is my hope that when they become adults in a few years’ time, such young people will go on to become leaders of not only Ichikawa but also Japan and the world.

I hope to see further progress of not only administration-led, but also citizen-led exchange. At present, the representative example of citizen-level exchange is youth exchange, centered on senior high school students.

FACT

Ichikawa city is on the western part of Chiba prefecture. The city is named after 2 stories; one said that the city was along the Edo river, the biggest river in the Eastern Japan, therefore the first river is spoken as Ichi-Kawa in Japanese, then the city was named ‘Ichikawa’ in the ancient time.

And the other said that there were big markets on the river, Japanese call market ‘Ichi’ and river ‘Kawa’, then the name Ichikawa was created.

—What is your assessment of the sister-city program?

Before becoming mayor, I served in the posts of chair of the Medan City Committee of the Ichikawa International Exchange Association and vice-chair of the association, so I was involved in exchange with Medan even before the conclusion of the sister-city agreement. At that time, after a period of high economic growth, Japan had entered an era of stable growth. In Ichikawa as well, new commercial facilities and condominium facilities were being built, and people’s lives were becoming quite affluent. Today, Indonesia is maintaining a high rate of economic growth, but at that time it was a long way behind Japan in terms of economic conditions and technological strength. Accordingly, in the early phase after the agreement, Ichikawa donated a fire engine to Medan, as well as hearing aids and judo kits, and we accepted trainees in the fields of agriculture and medicine. Since then, exchange between citizens of the two cities has continued in the fields of culture, business, and youth exchange. At the time of the Sumatra earthquake in 2004 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the cities mutually encouraged each other and offered citizen-level support. While expressing my respect to those who have endeavored to promote exchange between the two cities so far, I intend to continue my efforts to promote fruitful and citizen-led exchange in the future too.

For more information about Chiba prefecture, please visit the Japan Travel Guide official website: japan-chiba-guide.com.


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