Japanese City Puts Name on Sale to Pay Off Debt

The mayor of a broke Japanese city is taking a page from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to deal with his community's debt.

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A general view of Rinku Town in Izumisano, Osaka, Japan.

The mayor of a foundering Japanese city is taking a page from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to deal with his community’s debt. Specifically, the famous line, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Faced with a debt of more than 100 billion yen — about $1.25 billion — the city of Izumisano has reportedly decided to put its naming rights up for auction, AFP reported. The local government hopes it can find a bidder who will offer at least 1 billion yen by Nov. 30, when the sale ends. Interested sponsors would have to sign a 10-year contract that would compel them to reinforce their connection to the area through heavy local investment or by transferring their headquarters to the community.

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Izumisano, located about 25 miles southwest of Osaka on the country’s main island of Honshu, is home to Kansai International Airport and the Rinku Gate Tower, Japan’s second-tallest building. Officials say the city has become financially strapped due to construction projects related to the airport, making it one of several Japanese municipalities whose coffers have been depleted by massive infrastructure investments, AFP reported.

“The city spent a lot of money building roads and other infrastructure because the airport was built in this relatively remote place,” a government worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP. “The mayor believes the city government needs to seek new ways to make profit.”

Izumisano officials initially announced the auction in June, but no sponsors emerged. This time, the government hopes it will have better luck with the sale. But some of the city’s 103,000 residents are unhappy with the money-making strategy; in fact, peeved citizens have made most of the inquiries about the sale. Unlike the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s tragedy, they believe names have significance.

“[The residents] say the name of the city has its history and is not something you can sell or buy,” the anonymous official told AFP.

Although the community members are upset about the impending name change, geographical renaming is a common practice. Countries and cities are often renamed for political reasons — the vanquished southern capital of Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City after the Vietnam war, for example — or for other benefit to the area. Other cities just do it for the hell of it, like the Pennsylvania town of Washington, which renamed itself Steeler, Penn. for a week in 2006 to show support for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. More recently, the city of Topeka, Kan. adopted the name “Google” for a month in 2010 in a bid to persuade the company to choose the community as a site for its Fiber for Communities project that brings superfast Internet connections to farflung towns.

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