|New Miyazaki Governor Shunji Kono|
After 1993, Miyazaki saw a severe down turn in its biggest industry, tourism. Looking for alternatives the prefecture turned to exploiting its natural resources.
Sand from the coast and silt from river beds were dredged and hauled away to be shipped across Japan for concrete and cement. Granite from mountains was quarried and shipped across Japan as well. The mountains also boasted native cedar and pine forests, which were cut down for timber.
This had a disastrous effect. The typhoons of 2003 and 2005 caused enormous rock and mudslides from the mountains. Stretches of national and prefecture highways in Miyazaki were closed off for up to a week. The cause was that the deforestation was so severe there was no natural defense against the heavy rains. Coastal areas flooded due to the silt and sand excavations. Reconstruction projects more than cost what economic advantage had been won by selling off Miyazaki’s natural resources.
To prevent future occurrences what were once pristine forests on mountain sides were now concreted over to prevent future mud slides. Entire stretches of Miyazaki coast line were fitted with concrete barricades.
Agriculture became the choice industry. Cattle and hog farms quickly increased and the Miyazaki Beef and Pork industry was born anew. This caused many problems. The cattle and pigs were so crammed into pins that the effluence caused problems for the water quality in some areas. Citizen groups demanded the prefecture set limits. While this was done, it merely moved the problem from one area to another. The Hoof and Mouth Disease outbreak in the spring of 2010 stood to show that no real reasonable solution had been worked out. The Tokyo government took little action with the prefecture to set goals, guidelines, or limits.
With the aging population and young people moving out of Miyazaki, the family farms across the prefecture began to become a serious problem. About 1000 farms in the prefecture have been listed as “abandoned” after the elderly passed away and the relatives sold the property to real estate companies. These farms are in areas so remote that even paved roads are a luxury. There is little hope any buyer would buy these properties, even JA, the Japanese Agricultural Ministry arm that runs Japan’s corporate farms.
Political scandal also rocked the prefecture during this time. Former Governor Tadahiro Ando was elected in 2003 to clean up the political system. Instead in 2006 he was found to have received kick backs in construction bids.
In 2007, Hideo Higashikokubaru was elected governor, and quickly put Miyazaki back on track to recovery. His focus was first on Miyazaki’s agriculture. He traveled around Japan and other nations to promote Miyazaki’s variety of agriculture. Later, he would also push Miyazaki as a travel destination, especially for golf and other athletics like marathon running. While Higashikokubaru’s policies were welcome by many in Miyazaki, others criticized him for being too one dimensional. They pointed to his lack of involvement in the Showa Shell Clean Energy project in Saito, and the Miyazaki Electronic Development in Shintomi.
The 2007 closing of the Seagaia Ocean Dome in Miyazaki City was also pointed to as unnecessary if Higashikokubaru would have acted sooner after taking office to save the facility. Higashikokubaru responded it was the responsibility of Miyazaki City, the Marriot group and Phoenix developers to save the Ocean Dome and not the prefectural government.
During this time a number of mergers occurred in the prefecture. Takaoka, Kiyotake, Ikime, Tano, and Sadowara merged with Miyazaki City. Takajo, Takazaki, Yamada, and Yamanokuchi merged with Miyakonojo. Higashiusuki District was abolished and all towns formed into Misato. Kitaura and Kitakata were merged with Nobeoka. Togo was merged with Hyuga. Kitago and Nango were merged with Nichinan. Nojiri was merged with Kobayashi. These mergers were the result of population flight from the small towns into the larger cities and out of the prefecture, and the decline in birthrate as well. This also caused a number of school and hospital closings in the rural areas.
By 2009, Miyazaki had the distinction of being among the poorest of Japan’s prefectures. The prefectural government has requested help from Tokyo but the aid has either been declined or having little effect on the economic problems Miyazaki has been facing. This led to a strong defection from the Liberal Democratic Party in the prefecture and into an Independent and opposition parties like the Democratic Party of Japan, The Social Democratic Party, and the Buddhist affiliated party Happiness Realization.
In 2010, Higashikokubaru announced he would not seek a second term as governor and concentrate on national office instead or perhaps running for the governorship of Tokyo. In December 2010, former Asst. Governor Shunji Kono, an Independent (backed by the LDP, DPJ, and New Komeito) won the gubernatorial election and will replace Higashikokubaru in Januray 2011.
Kono has been praised by the business community and agricultural community for having a balanced view on how to revitalize all of Miyazaki’s industries. Kono believes there will have to be another reinvention of Miyazaki to accomplish this.