Urban Japan under the Spotlight. (Reviews)

By Lamont-Brown, Reymond | Contemporary Review, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Urban Japan under the Spotlight. (Reviews)


Lamont-Brown, Reymond, Contemporary Review


The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and Planning from Edo to the Twenty-First Century. Andre Sorensen. Nissan Institute-Routledge. [pounds sterling]75.00. ISBN 0415-22651-1.

Japan's first urban planning system dates from 1919. It had five distinct parts: a zoning system, primarily to separate heavy industry districts from residential areas; an Urban Buildings Law, which marked Japan's first building regulation code; the building-line system, modelled on the German Fluchtlinienplan, legally to control the growth of urban areas; the toshi keikaku shisetsu -- a difficult to translate designation meaning city planning facilities and public infrastructure (i.e., roads, parks and so on); and land readjustment, in essence a pooling of land on urban fringe areas for public uses. All this was seen by many as a sparkling new future of modernity and progress. Alas on 1 September 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake put the brakes on planning progress as huge areas of Tokyo and Yokohama were destroyed. Thus natural forces interfered with what might have been a very different pattern of urban planning.

Andre Sorensen, a Lecturer in the Department of Urban Engineering in the University of Tokyo, has tackled the subject of Japanese urban development in a chronological way. He begins in the Tokugawa Period -- 1600 to 1868 when the reigning Tokugawa shogunate was overthrown -- to show how urban population grew and how a sophisticated national urban system and economy developed. During this period a number of very large cities sprang up, such as Osaka and Kyoto, outstripped, of course, by Edo (the fore-runner of Tokyo), which in the eighteenth century was probably the largest city in the world. This leads to a description of the major changes of the Meiji Period, 1868-1912, when a modern centralised government, and modern industrialisation, transportation and institutions were established, and thence to the planning systems up to World War II and the post-war reconstruction programme. …

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