Civil Minimum

According to Japanese political scientist Keiichi Matsushita, ‘‘civil minimum’’ is a minimum standard for living in urban society that should be assured by municipalities. It comprises social security, social overhead capital, and public health. Civil minimum is based on the right to life, and should be considered as the postulate of urban policies, decided through democratic procedures including citizen participation, and indicated by numerical goals. It may vary from municipality to municipality, but it should exceed the ‘‘national minimum.’’

The civil minimum was initially proposed in the late 1960s. The rapid economic growth of the time brought about massive immigration from rural to urban areas, and the national and local governments were required to develop urban infrastructures as soon as possible. However, the governments prioritized economic growth, preferentially investing in industrial infrastructures rather than public facilities and services for urban residents. As a result, problems such as air and water pollution, fetid odors, traffic congestion, and the deficiency of urban facilities such as fire stations, parks, schools, sanitation systems, hospitals, welfare institutions, and others became major issues of urban politics. In the early 1970s, coalitions of reformists including the Social Democratic and the Communist parties raised these issues and won elections for mayors and governors in some major cities and prefectures. The new reformist administrations set agendas based on the idea of a civil minimum. For example, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, where economist Ryokichi Minobe was elected governor in 1967, formulated a midterm plan for achieving the civil minimum quickly (1968), then developed social indicators for Tokyo (1973a), and published a long term Plan for Tokyo Metropolis with Plaza and Blue Sky (1973b), in which ‘‘Plaza’’ signaled the principle of citizens’ involvement and ‘‘Blue Sky’’ symbolized an ideal urban environment. The series of plans adopted by the Minobe administration embodied the idea of civil minimum. Although the minimum standards for various areas were not easy to determine (Tokyo Metropolitan Government 1972), the idea of a civil minimum was adopted by about one third of Japanese municipalities by the mid 1970s. Its impact on the local administrative structures was profound, since Japanese local governments have been supervised, and effectively ruled, by the national government for a long time.

Although the reformist administrations suffered from fiscal crises during the economic depression following the oil crises and were politically defeated in the late 1970s, the ‘‘civil minimum’’ standards were largely satisfied during the asset inflated ‘‘bubble’’ economy in the late 1980s. Recently, in connection with the national reform of the local administration system in 2000, the civil minimum has been reinterpreted as criteria for local governments to provide public services under the principle of ‘‘subsidiarity’’ applied to the relationships between local and national governments, and social indicators have been considered as bench marks that measure the specific goals and performances of public services (Matsushita 2003).

Thus, the term ‘‘civil minimum’’ has become well established in Japanese political and administrative language. It signifies a seminal idea on the principles of municipal policies and has contributed to facilitating the decentralization of the local administration system in Japan.


  1. Matsushita, K. (1973) Civil Minimum and Urban Policy. Contemporary Urban Policy X: Civil Mini mum. Iwanami-syoten, Tokyo, pp. 3-28.
  2. Matsushita, K. (2003) Civil Minimum Reconsidered: Benchmarks and Manifests. Booklet of Saturday Lecturers on Local Self-Government, No. 92. Kojin-no-tomosya, Tokyo.
  3. Tokyo Metropolitan Government (1968) Mid Term Plan for Tokyo Metropolis: How to Achieve the Civil Minimum. Tokyo.

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