Global Course

Spatial Planning & Institutional Design

Lecture 10

Introduction to Urban Land Use Planning in Japan: Understanding How the Japanese Urban Environment is Shaped 

Akito Murayama Associate Professor, Department of Urban Engineering, School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo


Japanese urban planning system consists of the following four elements: (1) master plans for city planning area and municipality, (2) land use regulation (area division and zoning), (3) development of urban facilities such as roads, parks, water works and sewage systems, and (4) urban development projects
including land readjustment and redevelopment. It should be emphasized that urbanization often progressed in prior to formal urban planning and development under this system.

As a result, Japanese urban environment can be explained as the islands of planned development in the sea of urban sprawl where urbanization occurred without master-planned infrastructure. It is characterized by temporary use of
land, frequent change of land parcels and uses, mix of urban and natural land uses, mix of low-rise and high-rise buildings, frequent construction and demolition of buildings, mix of people with various ages, family-types, jobs and incomes, and insufficient or vulnerable urban infrastructure.

Jane Jacobs fought against new developments and emphasized that existing urban areas with higher population density, mixed uses, older buildings, and short blocks are more attractive. In recent years, North American and European cities have begun to recognize the value of urban farmland. On the other hand, the mix of housing and farmland is already common in Japanese cities. Many Japanese planners used to consider sprawled urban areas as a failure of modern urban planning. However, re-evaluating the positive aspects of this situation may well provide alternative solutions to a sustainable and
resilient city.

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