Okinawa, Tokyo designated as "strategic special zone"

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday designated Okinawa Prefecture, within which the U.S. and Japanese governments are trying to relocate a military base, as one of six "strategic special zones" in an attempt to prop up the regional economy.

Abe also chose Tokyo, nearby Kanagawa Prefecture and the city which has Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture as a "broad strategic special zone," where deregulation and tax breaks can be promoted exclusively with the aim of attracting more businesses and investment from home and abroad.

The launch of special economic zones is a centerpiece of Abe's growth strategy designed to invigorate private-sector investment -- the "third arrow" of his "Abenomics" policies, along with aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan and massive fiscal spending.

Okinawa's designation as an international hub of tourism, research and development came as Abe and close ally Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga are eager to move ahead with the contentious relocation of the U.S. Marines' Futenma Air Station from densely populated Ginowan to Nago in the prefecture.

Fukuoka was chosen as a special zone where people can more easily start businesses through employment deregulation and tax breaks.

As a special zone to bolster agriculture, Abe designated Yabu in Hyogo Prefecture and Niigata, a coastal city along the Sea of Japan, which is known for its rice and sake production. Yabu is located in the semi-mountainous region and the city's population is graying.

The government has pledged to implement steps to shore up Japan's declining agriculture sector, such as boosting crop exports and pursuing intensive farming, with an eye on the country's entry into the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership tariff-cutting pact.

Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in the Kansai region of western Japan were also chosen as a broad strategic special zone.

While measures will be taken to invite more foreign companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area, restrictions on hospital bed numbers will be eased to introduce higher quality medical treatment in the Kansai region.

The central government will have talks with local governments and firms to map out concrete plans on how to proceed with projects in each strategic special zone.

During a meeting of a government panel Friday, Abe expressed willingness to possibly designate more areas, including those ravaged by the devastating March 2011 quake-tsunami disaster, as strategic special zones.