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National Policies for Japanese Cities


Takayuki Kubo.


The National Development Plan


Japan is the country which has experienced the same aggressive urban challenges that developing and emerging countries are facing currently.  After the end of WW2 in 1945, Japan made a shift to a modern democratic country combined with a liberal capitalist economic system.  It led to a rapid economic growth with industrialization and a population explosion, concentrated in major cities.  This rapid urbanization was a positive in terms of economic development and living standards, but it also brought negative factors such as congestion, environmental pollution, and disparities between the urban and rural areas, which have all emerged as critical national issues.


Shift of the Development Policy in the 21st Century  


After the burst of the “Bubble” economy in the late 20th century, the situation of the whole society in Japan has changed, and the implementation of the nationwide development plan is no exception.  Not only the economic recession, but also other new issues such as population decrease, falling birthrate, and aging, which Japan has never previously experienced, has led to the need for new planning concept in the national development plan.  Furthermore, globalization has brought another issues into the planning system while the previous plan had only been focusing to solve the domestic issues.


In 2005, a new law to frame the national planning, The National Spatial Planning Act, was issued in lieu of the previous Comprehensive National Land Development Act. It requires a National Spatial Strategy and Regional Spatial Strategies; these plans were issued in 2008.  The term “Development” has not only disappeared from the title of the plans but also from the main contents, and have been replaced with “Maintenance” or “Regeneration.”  The other change in the plan is the establishment of 8 regions (including Hokkaido and Okinawa) with equal status, whereas the previous plans emphasized the development of the three major mega city regions.  The aim to encourage sustainable growth of each region, enhancing the strength in their resources and industries.


Some regions, especially the Tohoku region hit by the ferocious earthquake and tsunami, appear to be unready to sustain the growth without relying on the capital region.  However, stable society without slums, well developed infrastructure, solved environmental problems, and sophisticated industries are supposed to be spread across the whole nation.  Now, it is intended that all Japanese regions will achieve smarter growth based on these fundamentals.


The key to the success would need to be the governance of these regions.  As mentioned, current multiple layers of governance system are not always working properly.  Based on this new planning act, reformation of the governance layers will include introducing the “State” region governance system.  Making the regions more independent and responsible as States would introduce a new competition and that would further reinforce each region to be more able to compete globally.