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Indebted Osaka city puts its name up for sale

TOKYO -- A debt-ridden Japanese city is offering to rename itself after the highest bidder, an official said Thursday.

The city in the western prefecture of Osaka — currently called Izumisano — owes its creditors well over 100 billion yen (US$1.25 billion), the official said, adding the presence of nearby Kansai International Airport was partly to blame.

“The city spent a lot of money building roads and other infrastructure because the airport was built in this relatively remote place,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“The mayor believes the city government needs to seek new ways to make profit.”

Izumisano, which is known mainly for its towel-making industry and proximity to the airport, is looking for a sponsor prepared to stump up at least a billion yen.

Suitors will also need to sign a 10-year contract affirming a connection with the city, for example by moving their headquarters there.

Officials originally annouced the plan in June but had no takers, the official said, adding so far the bulk of inquiries had been from some of the city's 103,000 residents annoyed about the plan.

“They say the name of the city has its history and is not something you can sell or buy.”

Many of Japan's regional governments are saddled with enormous debts after decades of infrastructure projects of sometimes dubious value.

A rapidly aging society means an increasing number of pensioners need to be supported by a dwindling workforce and a shrinking tax base.

The far-northern city of Yubari was declared bankrupt in 2007 with debts of 63.2 billion yen.

Bids for a new name for Izumisano will be accepted until Nov. 30, the official said.

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