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ISHES Newsletter #47: Creating a Town for Everyone, Forever: Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture

2022/08/25 13:22:09
ISHES Newsletter #47
August 25, 2022

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Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

To promote efforts not only by the government and companies but also by cities and communities to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the national government in Japan selects SDGs Future Cities from among local governments that propose outstanding initiatives. In this issue we introduce some of the efforts being done by Akashi City in Hyogo Prefecture, which was selected as an SDG Futures City in 2020.

Creating a Town for Everyone, Forever: Akashi City,
Hyogo Prefecture

Akashi City website

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

With a vision of "Working Together to Create a Town for Everyone, Forever," Akashi City in Hyogo Prefecture is employing a virtuous cycle to create a city where no one is left behind. Let's have a look at some of their ideas.


Akashi City in Hyogo Prefecture is known by the nickname "meridian town," for being located on the 135° E meridian, the baseline for Japanese standard time. Facing the Seto Inland Sea, the city has a population of some 300,000 people. It is a commuter suburb, just 15 minutes by train to Japan Railway (JR) Sannomiya Station in the center of Kobe City, and less than 40 minutes to JR Osaka Station in Japan's second largest city.

On November 1, 2019, Akashi marked its 100th anniversary and made a new start for another 100 years. Having formulated a plan for an ideal city, "Akashi the SDGs Future Safe City: Working Together to Create a Town for Everyone, Forever" as its vision for the year 2030, it was selected as a model city under the national government's SDGs Future Cities program in July 2020.

The vision is based on the following concepts:

Forever: Pursue virtuous cycles while tackling urban infrastructure development to support safe, secure, and comfortable living for citizens, aiming for the sustainable development of the city.

For everyone: Tackle city planning so that no one is left behind, considering everyone of all ages, from children to the elderly, with or without disabilities, and regardless of gender.

Kind/gentle: Take innovative and proactive measures that benefit citizens and spread a kind/gentle society outward from Akashi.

In this issue of the ISHES newsletter, we introduce Akashi's initiatives toward realizing this vision.

Virtuous cycle of the city: Child-centric city planning

Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash.

Akashi envisions a virtuous cycle with population growth revitalizing the city, leading to an increase in tax revenues, which can produce financial resources to offer more generous government/community services, resulting in people's growing attachment to the city as well as further population growth.

Child-centric city planning is seen as a crucial part of this virtuous cycle. Effective child-rearing support policies are expected to attract more families with small children and boost the birth rate, leading to a population increase. Below are some specific policy examples.

1. Fees eliminated in five areas

The core of the child-centric city planning is eliminating fees in five areas to support child-rearing. The idea is that reducing the economic burden of child-rearing will lead to population growth. These services are offered for free for all children, regardless of their parents' income level.

a. Free medical care until high school graduation

Under Japan's universal public health care system, the government pays the bulk of medical costs at hospitals and medical institutions when patients are treated for illness or injury, and citizens usually pay a certain ratio. But in Akashi, the city subsidizes this portion of all medical expenses for children up to high school graduation. Akashi also subsidizes medical costs for treatment received outside the city.

b. Free childcare for second and subsequent children

Nursery schools or kindergarten fees are free for the second and subsequent children living in Akashi, applicable if they attend authorized nursery schools and kindergartens that meet national standards both in and outside of the city, and where childcare fees are set by the city. For financial reasons, many couples are reluctant to have more children, so significantly reducing the financial burden for second and subsequent children is expected to increase birth rates.

c. Childcare worker house visits for newborns and new parents

Childcare workers make house visits to support newborn babies and their parents, delivering paper diapers and other supplies free of charge every month. The service is offered for newborns aged from three months to 12 months. Parents can get advice from the staff about any concerns or problems with child rearing.

d. Free school lunches at junior high schools

Education costs rise for families when children get to junior high school. School lunches alone will typically cost about 160,000 yen (US$ 1,200) over the three years of junior high. To reduce the economic burden on families, these lunches are offered for free for these students regardless of family income levels.

e. Free admission to select public facilities

Hoping that families will go out and enjoy time together, the city eliminated admission fees for children at four public facilities: "Hare-hare" (a public space for parents and children) and Akashi Marine pool (free for children in primary schools or younger), Akashi City Museum of Culture (junior high school students or younger), and Akashi Municipal Planetarium (high school students or younger).

2. The whole community supporting all children

Akashi Children's Center was established in April 2019 and provides comprehensive and seamless support from providing advice on childrearing, to identifying and responding to children who need help, and providing community support even after they return home. Child abuse accounted for about 30 percent of the center's 1,887 cases handled in FY2019. To ensure that children are protected, the center promptly responds and determines how to provide support only after meeting a child and listening carefully. Taking the child's side, the center provides comprehensive and individualized support until the time of independence.

The center also creates safe spaces for children through the Kodomo-Shokudo (children's cafeteria) program, which is operated in all 28 elementary school districts in the city, enabling children to eat meals, play, and spend fun time with friends in their neighborhood. The center also supports new Kodomo-Shokudo venues.

Another initiative by the center is to increase the number of foster families in the city so that all children can grow up happily while feeling the love and warmth of a family. The center aims at achieving foster family registrations in all elementary school districts to ensure that children who have started to live with a foster family can continue to live in a familiar community. In April 2019, Akashi Foster Parent Center was established to provide a place for foster parents and people who want to become foster parents to talk and interact with each other. In addition to the consultations, training required for foster parents' registration have been organized there.

In addition to these initiatives, Akashi Children's Center plays a central role in supporting children and their families by collaborating widely with local people and organizations including welfare commissioners, children's social workers, nursery and elementary schools, orphanages, children's homes, and child and family support centers.

3. Supporting single-parent families

Akashi City also provides individualized support for single-parent families, so that all children can grow up happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. The city promotes communication between divorced parents to discuss their children's matters even after divorce, for example, by providing sample agreements about child rearing responsibilities and plans. It also supports meetings and interactions if the children want to see their divorced parents, and provides a monthly child rearing allowance to help parents make ends meet. Child support payments are essential for a child's development, so the center offers assistance to ensure the funds get to where they are needed.

A livable city for everyone

Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash.

The city's aim to build a town that is livable for everyone is a response of desire of people who want to live the lifestyle they want in a familiar community, regardless of age and ability or disability. The message from the city is this: "People with and without disabilities face the same inconveniences and difficulties in their daily lives, depending on their physical and mental conditions. To create a fulfilling community for everyone, we need everyone's wisdom, energy, and ongoing efforts."

The city established the following five steps for the creation of a harmonious city. Steps 1, 2 and 3 have been realized.

Step 1: Ordinance to recognize sign language
The city reaffirmed sign language as a real language, with its own unique vocabulary and grammar system, and is promoting the use and understanding of sign language through various means.

Step 2: Ordinance promoting information and communication
The city provides options for persons with disabilities to choose their preferred means of communication, such as sign language, simple language, Braille, and phonetics, and is training and increasing capable human resources for each of these.

Step 3: Ordinance to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities
By providing the necessary consideration for persons with disabilities and eliminating discrimination against them, the city promotes the creation of a community where everyone can live with peace of mind.

Step 4: Subsidies for considering special needs
The city will subsidize the cost for private businesses and community groups to consider special needs, such as purchasing folding ramps and writing boards, and creating Braille menus, etc.

Step 5: Supporting independence and social participation for persons with disabilities
The city will aim to create a harmonious community where people, whether or not they have disabilities, can live safely and peacefully together, where the needs of persons with disabilities are considered as a matter of course.

In addition to the initiatives introduced here, Akashi City is promoting a variety of other "people-friendly" initiatives, such as support for the elderly and crime victims. We will keep an eye on Akashi City to see how it continues to evolve in its efforts and keep the virtuous cycle going!

(1 USD=133.19 JPY as of July 29, 2022)

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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