Photo/Illutration The new office building of the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward on March 10. The new annex, right, stands next to the renovated main building, which used to house the police department. (Kenta Sujino)

In a move long planned, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has relocated half its divisions from Tokyo to Kyoto as part of the effort to decentralize the government and empower local communities. 

The relocation is the largest move ever of administrative functions out of Tokyo and the result of a plan originally made in 2016 to move government organizations out of the capital.

“The relocation marks a fresh start for the agency and gives Kyoto a key role in supporting arts and culture,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on March 26 at the new office’s opening ceremony in the ancient capital.

Kyoto representatives lobbied hard for the agency to move there, saying that given the city’s history, it can support the nation’s cultural heritage.

The relocation of central government ministries and agencies is something that has never been done in the past,said Shigeru Ishiba, then minister in charge of revitalizing local economies, in 2016 to emphasize the significance of the move. 

However, the government’s decentralization initiative, meant to revitalize regional economies, has seen only limited success so far.

Only three government organizations have moved their offices from Tokyo to elsewhere and only partly.

For example, while the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ six divisions (with about 390 officials) relocated to Kyoto, the other seven (with about 200 members) remain in the capital.

The original plan from 2016 said the entire agency would be relocated.

The Kyoto divisions include those in charge of religious matters and cultural properties, including those on the UNESCO World Heritage list.