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close this bookCrucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters in Transition (United Nations University, 1999, 544 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the document1. Introduction - James K. Mitchell
View the document2. Natural disasters in the context of mega-cities - James K. Mitchell
View the document3. Urbanization and disaster mitigation in Tokyo - Yoshio Kumagai and Yoshiteru Nojima
View the document4. Flood hazard in Seoul: A preliminary assessment - Kwi-Gon Kim
View the document5. Environmental hazards in Dhaka - Saleemul Huq
View the document6. Natural and anthropogenic hazards in the Sydney sprawl: Is the city sustainable? - John Handmer
View the document7. Disaster response in London: A case of learning constrained by history and experience - Dennis J. Parker
View the document8. Lima, Peru: Underdevelopment and vulnerability to hazards in the city of the kings - Anthony Oliver-Smith
View the document9. Social vulnerability to disasters in Mexico City: An assessment method - Sergio Puente
View the document10. Natural hazards of the San Francisco Bay mega-city: Trial by earthquake, wind, and fire - Rutherford H. Platt
View the document11. There are worse things than earthquakes: Hazard vulnerability and mitigation capacity in Greater Los Angeles - Ben Wisner
View the document12. Environmental hazards and interest group coalitions: Metropolitan Miami after hurricane Andrew - William D. Solecki
View the document13. Findings and conclusions - James K. Mitchell
View the documentPostscript: The role of hazards in urban policy at the millennium - James K. Mitchell
View the documentAppendices
View the documentContributors
View the documentOther titles of interest

3. Urbanization and disaster mitigation in Tokyo - Yoshio Kumagai and Yoshiteru Nojima

Editor's introduction

Tokyo is one of the world's largest and richest mega-cities and also one of the most hazard prone (Alden, 1984; Cybriwsky, 1993; Fujita, 1991; Geographical Review of Japan, 1990; Sassen, 1991). Since being founded over 400 years ago it has been repeatedly devastated and rebuilt after fires, earthquakes, and aerial bombings (Busch, 1962; Hewitt, 1983; Scawthorn et al., 1985; Seidensticker, 1983, 1990). Usually the urgency of reconstruction frustrated attempts to redevelop a formally planned city (Williams, 1993: 447). Tokyo has also undergone a different kind of transformation with equally profound consequences - first from provincial capital to pre-eminent national urban centre and then to co-leading global city (Douglass, 1993; Harris, 1982). Now, at the end of the twentieth century, as it awaits the possibility of another major earthquake (Katsuhiko, 1987), Tokyo has had to cope with the vicissitudes of high land costs, cramped living quarters, substandard housing, lack of open space, severe traffic congestion, air pollution, and a rash of terror gas attacks. In the face of these ills, as well as for other reasons, there are strong pressures to relocate the national capital outside of Tokyo on a safer site (;

To confront its various threats the city has deployed an arsenal of engineering technologies that far surpass in scale and sophistication those of most other places. Indeed, Tokyo provides a striking example of the use of high-technology means to manage high-stakes natural hazards; it also highlights the role of centralized decision-making under conditions of widespread public acceptance and cooperation. The potential appeal of this approach to other disaster-vulnerable countries is one factor that underlies Japan's leading role in the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990 - 2000). Although this case-study does not take up the issue of limitations on Tokyo's methods of disaster mitigation, it will be important for others to assess the circumstances in which this city's experience might be applied elsewhere and to ask whether residents and leaders of Tokyo might in the future become resistant to heavy public expenditures for massive hazard-reduction projects.

The Tokyo Metropolis

Tokyo is one of Japan's three mega-cities (fig. 3.1). At its core is the so- called 23 Wards Area, which encompasses the city as it existed in 1943, just before it was combined with the then-existing Tokyo Prefecture to create an administrative region known as the Tokyo Metropolis.1 The Metropolis now houses approximately 12 million people in a densely settled band of 60 municipalities that wraps around the western side of Tokyo Bay and extends into the adjacent Kanto Plain. Together with a lightly populated fringe of plateaux, hills, and mountains to the west (the Tama District) and a number of offshore oceanic islands, the built-up area is administered as one of Japan's 46 prefectures (fig. 3.2).

1 The Metropolis includes 23 wards, 26 cities, 7 towns, and 8 villages in a territory of 2,156 km2. Wards were the basic unit of Tokyo's municipal government, but much of the urbanized part of the metropolis now lies outside the "23 Wards Area'' of old Tokyo, (593 km2. This complicates the interpretation of urban data, which are often presented separately for wards and other areas.

The Tokyo Metropolis is nested within two successively larger administrative units. The Tokyo Metropolitan Region comprises the Tokyo Metropolis and the prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa. In addition to Tokyo, this region contains Yokohama - a separate city of 3 million whose history of disasters and human responses is almost as long and complex as Tokyo's. In 1990 there were 31.8 million people in the Tokyo Metropolitan Region - 25.7 per cent of the total population of Japan. The Metropolitan Region is, in turn, part of the National Capital Region, which also comprises the prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Yamanashi. The present chapter focuses on the mainland districts of the Tokyo Metropolitan Region.

Urban evolution

Tokyo's predecessor city (Edo) was founded in 1603 but this chapter begins with the formal birth of Tokyo as Imperial capital (1868). Thereafter the city's growth can be divided into three phases: 1868 - 1923; 1923 - 1945; and 1945 - present. During the first period the city was in transition from an old provincial city to a modern national capital. Population grew steadily, from 1 million in the mid-1880s to 1.7 million in 1908 and 2 million by 1920. Urban neighbourhoods spread outwards in all directions from the new Imperial Palace near the city centre. This phase was brought to an end by the Great Kanto earthquake and fire of 1923, which destroyed much of what was already a very crowded city. The second period (1923 - 1945) was marked by reconstruction of the destroyed neighbourhoods and rapid suburbanization, particularly along major railroad lines that radiated north-west, west, and south from the downtown core (fig. 3.3). During this time the formerly separate built-up areas of Tokyo and Yokohama began to merge. By 1930 there were 5.5 million residents in the Metropolis and just over 7 million on the eve of the Second World War. The third period (1945 - present) began after the devastation of the Second World War, when Tokyo's population had fallen to around 3 million. Post-war recovery reached a watershed in 1964 during the Tokyo Olympiad; from then onwards the Japanese economy was so strong that the country became a front-rank global economic power. By 1955 there were again more than 7 million residents in Tokyo and by 1962 the total was over 10 million.

Fig. 3.1. The mega-cities of Japan

Fig.3.2. The Tokyo Metropolis (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

Since the end of the Second World War, population has concentrated in the Tokyo Metropolitan Region at rates that exceed those of Osaka, Nagoya, and other metropolitan areas in Japan. Many of the nation's most important political, economic, and cultural activities are located in Tokyo, especially the central administration of the Japanese government, premier wholesale and finance firms, the publishing industry, and leading educational institutions. In addition, Tokyo now discharges rapidly growing international functions such as banking, investment finance, and information dissemination; these reflect Japan's recent rise to prominence in the global economy. While post-war development has brought many benefits to the city, it has also contributed to an extraordinary upsurge in land prices, severe traffic congestion, and deterioration of the physical and social environments. Significant changes in patterns of urbanization have taken place in every decade since 1945.

Fig. 3.3. Tokyo's expansion, 1632-1986 (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

From the end of the Second World War (1945) to 1960: Recovery

Much of Tokyo was demolished by air raids during the Second World War. A total of 16,230 hectares (equivalent to about 40 per cent of the urbanized area) was burned and 759,000 houses were destroyed. City reconstruction projects received high priority from national and municipal governments. Passage of the Special Urban Planning Act for War Disaster Restoration (1946) ushered in a nationwide series of municipal land-use and development plans. Tokyo's War Damage Rehabilitation Plan sought to keep the city's population below 3.5 million. Additional population and industries were to be accommodated in satellite cities and outer towns all over the Kanto Plain. Post-war austerity and the weakly developed nature of municipal finance doomed this plan almost from the outset. The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, marked a turning point in the economic fortunes of Tokyo. Private economic investment and construction activities increased rapidly and land prices began to soar. However, it proved difficult to implement large public urban development projects.

The 1960s: Rapid growth

The 1960s were marked by rapid economic growth and equally rapid urbanization of the Japanese population (Harris, 1982; Fujita and Hill, 1993). More than a quarter of a million people flowed into the Tokyo Metropolitan Region each year and buildings mushroomed everywhere. The Olympiad of 1964 was a particular catalyst for change. Planners took advantage of the Olympic Games to initiate projects that would help Tokyo achieve its new role as home to the central management functions of a vast range of private and public institutions. This included remodelling Tokyo's built-up area and building 117 km of new expressways. The Tokaido-Shinkansen (Bullet Train) railway also came into operation just before the Games opened. At the same time, the mega-city's problems were becoming acute, as evidenced by the frequency of traffic-related air pollution and a rash of disputes about sunlight deprivation owing to construction of multi-storeyed buildings. Later in the decade, Tokyo's street cars were largely abolished to improve traffic flow.

The 1970s: Budding disenchantment

Inner-city land prices were already high by the 1970s but now suburban land prices also began to soar. Urban sprawl replaced compact development as new housing sites were increasingly forced to locate further from the city centre. For example, large-scale housing projects such as the Tama New Town were started on the distant hilly lands south-east of Tokyo. Open space declined drastically. Between 1945 and 1973 the proportion of open space fell from around 47 per cent to less than 20 per cent (Nakazawa, 1988). Although some mid-rise and high-rise housing was constructed on the sites of old factories near the central business district, almost all new housing was expensive, cramped, and far removed from workplaces. Significant clusters of new high-rise buildings emerged in the inner suburbs, especially around important junctions between radial and circumferential railroads.

Widespread signs of public disenchantment with the quality of life in Tokyo marked the 1970s. In this respect the year 1973 was particularly notable. For example, during March residents of Koto Ward forcibly blocked the transportation of garbage from Suginami Ward through their neighbourhood after people in Suginami Ward opposed construction of a new local waste incinerator. This was a highly symbolic incident in an emerging "Garbage War'' brought on by the onset of a mass consumption society, subsequent pollution, and delays in the provision of waste-treatment facilities. In May, passengers damaged trains and facilities at Ageo Station in Saitama Prefecture because of accumulated discontent about overcrowded commuter trains and failures to extend the fast rail service in step with the expansion of urban settlements. In June, the Tokyo Assembly was confronted with residents' demands for the enactment of a Sunshine Ordinance. These and other incidents were a sharp indictment of the costs associated with fast economic growth, the concentration of central business management functions, and failures of urban planning in Tokyo.

During the 1970s there were also significant changes in patterns of urban migration. The inflow of new residents to the Tokyo Metropolitan Region slowed and the locus of new population growth moved further out of the city. For example, between 1970 and 1975, areas 30 - 40 km from the city centre experienced the largest population increases. Between 1975 and 1980 the largest population growth occurred in areas 40 - 50 km out. Conversely, resident population declines in the Ward Area of Tokyo (i.e. the central city) began during the 1960s and are continuing. This phenomenon is similar in appearance to the decline of inner cities in many Western countries, although some of the causes and consequences are different. For example, unlike North American cities, population out-migration to the suburbs of Tokyo has not been accompanied by increased rates of social pathology in the central city and land prices there have remained at high levels.

Since 1980

Since 1980 Tokyo has undergone yet a further transformation. According to one American observer:

Now that Japan has risen to become firmly established as a global economic power, Tokyo is undergoing yet another rebuilding - the third this century. This rebuilding is driven by money instead of by disaster, and involves expansion of the city upward to new heights of skyscrapers, outward to previously non-urbanized expanses of the Kanto Plain, to new land being made in Tokyo Bay, and to a remarkable extent, downward to even greater depths of subterranean construction. (Cybriwsky, 1993)

The Tokyo mega-city continues to dominate Japan, and many problems of pollution, crowding, and declining quality of life that were noted during the 1970s have worsened. At the same time, deindustrialization of the metropolitan area is occurring both because of international economic forces and because of Japanese policies that encourage industries to relocate elsewhere. Between 1979 and 1986 there have been declines in the numbers of manufacturing plants, in the industrial workforce, and in the total value of manufactured goods as the city has shifted its focus to service industries.

Central-city land prices soared in the early 1980s as the yen's value accelerated relative to the US dollar. High-rise offices, hotels, and shopping centres became - and remain - the most typical buildings in the central business district (CBD) and the 22 other regional commercial centres that are scattered throughout the metropolitan region (e.g. Shinjuku). Important settlement centres are springing up at considerable distances from the old city core. They include residential communities 40 km west of central Tokyo in the Tama district, the "science city'' of Tsukuba 65 km to the north-east, and new industries clustered near the city's recently expanded international airport at Narita (70 km east of the CBD). Meanwhile, high-status residential buildings are beginning to be erected on former industrial sites near the city centre and more attention is being paid to redressing the city's chronic lack of open space. For the first time in the modern era, beaches are being created along Tokyo Bay to improve recreational and aesthetic amenities for Tokyo residents.

Natural disasters in the Tokyo Metropolis


Harris has pointed out that most Japanese cities are affected by serious natural and industrial hazards but that, compared with third world cities and North American cities, they are relatively free of urban social hazards (e.g. shanty towns, slums, decaying inner cities, crime, social conflicts) (Harris, 1982; Nakano, 1974). Tokyo closely fits that description. Because of its low-lying coastal location near the junction of four highly active tectonic plates, the Tokyo Metropolis is susceptible to a variety of seismic hazards, including ground shaking, liquefaction, landslides, tsunamis, and fires (Matsuda, 1980, 1990; Nakano and Matsuda, 1984; Terwindt, 1983). These are compounded by subsidence problems connected with the withdrawal of underground water and the compaction of filled land in offshore areas (Dolan and Goodel, 1986; Matsuda, 1980). About 68 km2 of Tokyo now lie below sea level, with an additional 57 km2 below high-tide level (Nakano et al., 1988). The city also lies in the path of typhoons that sweep north and east from the South China Sea and adjacent Pacific Ocean waters. In addition to inflicting direct damage by means of flooding, winds, and heavy rainfall, typhoons often trigger secondary hazards such as landslides and other ground failures (Tamura, 1993). Widespread wind and water damage, including riverine floods, occur occasionally; economic losses associated with heavy winter snowfalls are more frequent. Although the imposing bulk of quiescent Mount Fuji reminds many Tokyo residents of the potential for volcanic eruptions, the likelihood of a damaging event from this source is generally considered to be very low.

Concern about the susceptibility of Tokyo to another major earthquake has been growing since the mid-1960s. For example, in June 1968 the Tokyo Metropolitan Disaster Prevention Conference took up the issue of evacuation routes that would be needed in the event of a future quake. Today, much of the inner city is particularly at risk, including the main commercial and governmental districts. Industrial plants, warehouses, and port facilities that were built on filled land around the edges of Tokyo Bay and in deeper waters further offshore are also at risk. So too are residential and artisanal zones in the Koto Delta and elsewhere. Moreover, a large part of the transportation infrastructure that ties together the entire metropolis occupies areas that are susceptible to subsidence, inundation, or seismic disturbances.

Urbanization and hazard-susceptibility

The built-up area of Tokyo is sited on two kinds of land forms: uplifted and dissected river and coastal terraces that comprise modestly hilly inland districts (2 - 50 metres); and a series of floodplains (e.g. on the Edo, Ara, Sumida, and Tama rivers) that cut across the terraces to form deltas along the shores of Tokyo Bay (fig. 3.4). Dyking, filling, and reclamation projects were begun as early as 1590 and have progressively moved the shoreline seawards, especially during the twentieth century. These two subregions have been characterized by contrasting patterns of human occupance throughout the history of Tokyo, so much so that they are often referred to as the High City (yamanote) and the Low City (shitamachi) (Seidensticker, 1983). Tokyo's main middle-class and upper-class residential neighbourhoods are generally located in the hillier districts, whereas the lowlands are primarily occupied by commercial and industrial facilities as well as blue-collar housing. For example, the Keihin Industrial Zone stretches for 40 km along the Tama River and Tokyo Bay and is home to steel mills, machinery fabrication plants, and chemical works. The portion of lowland that is sandwiched between the Ara and Sumida rivers (i.e. the Koto Delta District) is now heavily occupied by housing as well as other uses.

Fig. 3.4. Topography of Tokyo (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

The lowlands have historically been more susceptible to natural disasters than the upland terraces (Nakano et al., 1988). However, the relation between urbanization and hazard losses is a complex one. For example, the need quickly to provide housing for Tokyo's rapidly growing population after the Second World War led to the construction of tightly packed masses of wooden apartment buildings in western parts of the city. Many of these have been replaced by reinforced concrete structures but dense clusters of inflammable wooden buildings still remain in other places. There has also been an upsurge in the use of city gas, propane gas, petrol, and kerosene throughout Tokyo. In addition, the number of multi-storey buildings, the number of large-scale underground shopping malls, and the volume of automobile traffic have all increased. These changes have added to the disaster-vulnerability of the Tokyo Metropolis. In summary, the general level of environmental hazard in Tokyo has tended to increase because urbanization concentrates populations and investments. Innovations of urban design and occupancy often introduce unexpected patterns of exposure, and the potential for large losses has spurred extra efforts to reduce both physical risks and human vulnerability.

Significant hazard events

Most natural hazard losses in 1963 - 1993 were caused by heavy rain and high winds associated with typhoons and other storms, but non-damaging earthquakes also occurred as well as an assortment of other hazards such as winter blizzards. In an average year the city was affected by 5 - 20 significant hazard events, but total annual numbers of affected households rarely exceed a few thousand. In an unusual year (1966) typhoons disrupted or damaged almost 200,000 households; even more damaging storms have also affected Tokyo outside this period of record (e.g. the Kanogawa typhoon, 1958). Severe earthquakes have historically occurred at intervals of several decades, although none took place between 1963 and 1993. Nevertheless, the threat of a major earthquake is treated very seriously by Tokyo's leaders and its citizens.

Earthquakes and fires

Since 1615 the area that is today encompassed by Tokyo has experienced at least six earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater on the Japanese scale (1615, 1649, 1703, 1855, 1894, 1923) (Matsuda, 1993).2 Two of these quakes (1703 and 1923) were centred offshore in the Sagami Trough, which bounds the Philippine Sea tectonic plate and the Pacific Ocean plate, and four occurred directly under the site of Tokyo. Heavy losses were sustained in both types of quake. For example, the 1855 event (M 7) caused the collapse of 14,000 dwellings with an estimated death toll of around 10,000 (Katsuhiko, 1987). The Great Kanto quake of 1923 and the fire that followed killed 140,000 and devastated approximately 44 per cent of the built-up area. The latter was the most destructive natural disaster to have affected any of the world's large cities during the twentieth century and one of the largest disasters to have affected any community during recorded history.

2 On the Japanese Meteorological Agency scale, 5 is roughly equivalent to VIII on the Modified Mercalli scale of earthquake intensity.

Earthquake damage in Japan is closely related to weather conditions that favour the spread of fires ignited by ruptured gas lines and the scattered embers of cooking fires. For example, the Kanto earthquake of 1923 occurred just before noon at the end of a hot and dry summer when strong winds were blowing. Non-earthquake-related fires have also been a frequent hazard. Before the Second World War, the city was overwhelmingly composed of inflammable wooden buildings. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868) there were at least 89 urban fires that burned large areas. It was said that new wooden buildings had an average lifespan of seven years before being consumed by fire. Since the 1960s, the incidence of large fires has declined sharply as a consequence of improved fire-fighting services and increased use of non-flammable materials in urban buildings (Scawthorn, Arnold, and Scholl, 1985).


Tokyo is subject to three types of flooding: storm surges associated with typhoons; heavy rainfall that fills low-lying areas directly; and breaches in sea walls and dykes caused by earthquakes (Nakano et al., 1988). Although there have been at least eight major surge floods since 1900 and numerous rainfall floods, there has been no significant flood damage in the Tokyo lowlands since 1966. This is primarily due to massive investments in embankments, pumping stations, and water gates throughout the lowlands. In contrast, flooding has increased in the upland tributary valleys. This illustrates a well-known relationship between urbanization and increased flooding as permeable undeveloped soils are replaced by impermeable roads, parking lots, and buildings. The resulting pattern marks a dramatic shift in the location of flood risks (fig. 3.5). For example, widespread flooding in September 1949 inundated areas that were almost totally confined to the lowlands. Nine years later the flood zone included valleys in the hillier regions of the "tableland.'' By June of 1966 areas affected by urban flooding were showing up on the west (inland) side of the Ward Area and flooding in the lowlands was less of a problem.

Disaster mitigation

Public policies for disaster reduction in Tokyo are heavily influenced by the city's experience with devastating fires. These have occurred as a result of accidents, earthquakes (1923), and aerial bombings (Second World War). Early efforts focused on fire awareness, fire prevention, and fire fighting, and these are still central components of hazard management. For example, residents and visitors are constantly reminded about the dangers of fires by signs and information pamphlets; lay citizens are expected to provide the first line of defence against fires; specialized local stores sell emergency supplies; neighbourhood fire houses are stocked with ingenious lightweight fire-fighting devices powered by human muscle and other portable energy sources; and the Tokyo Fire Service is both highly trained and equipped with advanced machinery for fire fighting and rescue operations. These kinds of responses are already well developed and widespread throughout the city. A second tier of protection is provided by various land-use and building construction measures that are designed to: (1) retard the spread of fires; (2) provide shelters for evacuees; and (3) supply relatively secure bases from which emergency countermeasures can be mounted. In some parts of Tokyo all of these responses are already in place, but elsewhere many are still being developed. Eventually there will be a third tier of protection which is based on assumptions about the prediction of risks and the reliability of "disaster-proofing'' technologies. Residents may not only be forewarned about earthquakes and other threats by sensors and monitoring devices; they will be provided with enough protection to obviate the necessity of evacuation. Many of the adjustments to fires also serve to offset other environmental hazards (e.g. earthquakes, industrial accidents) but they do not necessarily guarantee protection against flooding, windstorms, and landslides. Separate initiatives are sometimes undertaken for hazards such as these.

Fig. 3.5. Changes of inundated area in the Tokyo Metropolis (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

1949. 9

Inundated Areas: 92.01 km2
Inundated Bldgs: 73,750

1958. 9

Inundated Areas: 211.03 km2
Inundated Bldgs: 142,802

1966. 6

Inundated Areas: 87.62 km2
Inundated Bldgs: 15,852

Japan possesses a highly centralized, hierarchical form of government, which is reflected in the disaster-mitigation process. This is complemented by an extensive system of consultation and consensus-seeking among different constituencies before policy changes are enacted. Although rancorous conflicts are not precluded (and may become more frequent), there is rarely much publicly voiced opposition to government edicts.3 National legislation and policies set the context for local responses and it is appropriate to begin with a brief review of disaster mitigation at the national level.

3 For details of recent Japanese environmentally oriented protest movements, see Li (1992), Hasegawa (1991), Huddle et al. (1987), Kawamura (1994), and Maruyama (1996).

The evolution of disaster countermeasures in Japan

Since the Meiji Restoration of 1868 a wide range of natural hazard laws has been enacted in Japan (table 3.1). Between 1880 and 1911 there were seven major national laws that addressed issues of flooding, erosion, and disaster relief. After an interval of 36 years, marked by numerous earthquake and typhoon disasters as well as the trauma of the Second World War, a renewed round of national disaster legislation began in 1946.4 This continued until 1980 and involved the passage of 35 additional acts and related initiatives.

4 Curiously, the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 did not spur many changes in national legislation, although it did stimulate governmental investigations that gave a major boost to earthquake research (Imamura, 1932).

The most important of these was the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act (1961). Other laws passed during this period addressed fire fighting, flood control, forest conservation, slope failures, coastal hazards, heavy snowfall, petrochemical complexes, and the prediction of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In addition, several disaster science and management agencies were established, an annual national "disaster prevention day'' (1 September - the anniversary of the 1923 earthquake) was proclaimed, and legislation was enacted to address the special problems of disasters in large cities. Particular attention was directed towards the threat of future earthquakes in urban areas.

Since 1980 the pace of national disaster legislation in Japan appears to have slowed. Only two major laws were passed in almost 15 years; one of these was again directed at preparations for the anticipated Kanto earthquake and the other focused on Japan's emerging role as a supplier of disaster-management expertise to other countries. However, the Great Hanshin earthquake that devastated Kobe in January 1995 may well stimulate an upsurge in disaster-related legislation and other public policy initiatives. The pattern of disaster legislation directly affecting Tokyo is somewhat different (fig. 3.6). Disproportionately more laws and regulations were enacted during the period 1919 - 1924 (which encompasses the 1923 earthquake) and again in the years between 1952 and 1980. Whereas the pace of national legislation appears to have decreased in recent decades, there has been no diminution of the legislation affect- ing hazard management in and around Tokyo.

Table 3 1 Disaster countermeasures and major natural disasters in Japan 1868-1993


Disaster measures

Major disasters


Provision and Saving Law


Mt Bandai eruption (Jul)


Nohbi earthquake (Oct)


River Law

Sanriku earthquake tsunami (Jun)


Erosion Control Law

Forest Law


Disaster Preparation Funds Special Account Law


Flood Prevention Association Law


Floods in central and northern Japan (Aug)


Flood Control Expenditure Funds Special Account Law


Sakurajima Is eruption (Jan)


Great Kanto earthquake (Sep)


Mt Tokachigake eruption (May)


Kita-tango earthquake (Mar)


Sanriku earthquake tsunami (Mar)


Muroto typhoon (Sep)


Tohnankai earthquake (Dec)


Makurazaki typhoon (Sep)


Nankai earthquake (Dec)


Disaster Relief Law (Oct)

Typhoon hits Kanto (Sep)

Fire Organization Law (Dec)


Fire Service Law (Jul)

Fukui earthquake (Jun)

Typhoon hits northern Japan (Sep)


Flood Control Law (Jun)


Temporary Measures Law for Subsidizing Recovery Project for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Facilities Damaged Due to Disasters (May)


Law concerning National Treasury Share of Expenses for Recovery Projects for Public Civil Engineering Facilities Damaged Due to Disasters (Mar)

Typhoon hits southern Japan (Oct)


Meteorological Service Law (Jun)


Tohyamaru typhoon (Sep)


Temporary Measures Law for Financing Farmers, Forestrymen and Fishermen Suffering from Natural Disaster (Aug)


Seashore Law (May)


Torrential rains in Isahaya (Jul)


Landslide Prevention Law (Mar)

Kanogawa typhoon (Sep)


Ise Bay typhoon (Sep)


Forest Conservation and Flood Control Urgent Measures Law (Mar) Designation of "Disaster Prevention Day 1 Sep " (Jun)

Chile earthquake tsunami (May)


Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act (Nov)


Special Measures Act for Countermeasures in High Snowfall Areas (Apr)

Act concerning Special Financial Support to deal with the Designated Disaster of Extreme Severity (Sep)


Formulation of "Basic Plan for Disaster Prevention" (Jun)

Hokuriku heavy snowfall (Jan -Feb)


Revision of River Law (Jul) Geodesy Council's Proposition on "Earthquake Prediction" (Jun)

Niigata earthquake (Jun)


Tokachi-oki earthquake (May)


Establishment of Coordination Committee for Earthquake Prediction (Apr)

Law concerning Prevention of Steep Slope Collapse Disaster (Jul)


Essentials of Earthquake Countermeasures for Larger Cities (May)

San Fernando earthquake (Feb)

Start of Earthquake Disaster Countermeasures Drill (Sep)


Formulation of "Plan for Volcanic Eruption Prediction" (Jun)

Act concerning Improvement, etc Refuges, etc in Vicinal Areas of Active Volcanoes (Jul)

Law for the Payment of Solatia for Disaster (Sep)


Establishment of National Land Agency (Jun)

Izu-hanto-oki earthquake (May)

Establishment of Coordination Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruption (Jun)


Law on Prevention of Disaster in Petroleum Industrial Complexes and Other Petroleum Facilities (Dec)


Establishment of Hdqrs for Earthquake Prediction Promotion (Oct)


Establishment of "Tokai Area Assessment Council" (Apr)

Mt. Usu eruption (Aug)


Large-scale Earthquake Countermeasures Act (Jun)

Izu-Ohshima-Kinakai earthquake (Jan)

Designation of "Areas under Intensified Measures against Tokai Earthquake" (Aug)

Act on Special Measures for Active Volcanoes

Miyagi-ken oki earthquake (Jun)


Establishment of "Prediction Committee for the Area under Intensified Measures against Earthquake" (Aug)


Special Fiscal Measures Act for Urgent Improvement Projects for Earthquake Countermeasures in Areas under Intensified Measures against Earthquake (May)


Torrential rain in Kyushu (Jul)


Nihon-kai-chubu earthquake (May)

Torrential rain in western Japan (May)

Miyakejima Is eruption (Oct)


Izu-Ohshima Is eruption (Nov)


Law concerning Dispatch of Japan Disaster Relief Team (Sep)


Mt Unzendake eruption (Jun)

Typhoon No. 19 hits whole of Japan (Sep)


General Essentials of Countermeasures for Earthquake directly beneath the South Kanto Area (Aug)


Hokkaido-nansei-oki earthquake (Jul)

Cold-weather damage in northern Japan

Source Tokyo Metropolitan Government

The Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act (1961)

After the Second World War, Japan experienced a series of large disasters, culminating in 1959 in the Ise Bay typhoon, which took a particularly heavy toll (5,098 deaths) and prompted national leaders to adopt a wholesale reform of the disaster-management system. Subsequently, the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act was promulgated in November 1961 with the goal of developing a nationwide, comprehensive, governmental system for disaster prevention.

This Act required the central government to form a Central Disaster Prevention Council headed by the Prime Minister. Members of the council are ministers and heads of designated administrative organs and designated public corporations. The Council deliberates important matters relating to disaster prevention and reports to the Prime Minister. The Council also prepared the Basic Plan for Disaster Prevention in 1963. Individual administrative organs are required to make their own Operational Plans for Disaster Prevention in accordance with the Basic Plan. Local governments (prefectural governments and municipalities such as cities, towns, and villages) are also required to establish Prefectural Disaster Prevention Councils and Municipal Disaster Prevention Councils. These bodies prepare Local (Prefectural and Municipal) Plans for Disaster Prevention that define specific actions to be taken in their respective areas.

Disaster countermeasures plan of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government

The Prefectural Plan for Disaster Prevention

In accordance with the national Basic Plan for Disaster Prevention, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has prepared a Prefectural Plan for Disaster Prevention. This plan is checked every year and amended when necessary. It is printed in book form and available for sale to citizens. The Earthquake Disaster Volume (last amended in 1986) alone consists of 803 pages of information about appropriate disaster countermeasures.

Fig. 3.6. Disaster legislation in Tokyo and Japan (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

Plan for earthquake disaster prevention

There is a high level of concern about the potential effects of large earthquakes on Japan. The earliest major legislative manifestation of this is the Large-scale Earthquake Countermeasures Act (1978). Under the terms of the Act, special measures have been taken to prepare for a massive earthquake that may occur in or near Suruga Bay (the so-called Tokai earthquake). An intensive earthquake observation system has been set up to monitor much of Kanagawa, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka prefectures beyond the southern and western edges of the Tokyo Metropolis. This system is designed to provide warnings of an impending quake which will trigger various disaster prevention actions throughout the region. According to most Japanese studies it is not expected that Tokyo buildings would experience devastating effects from a repeat of the 1923 Kanto (offshore) quake. Most of the worst physical impact would be felt further south in Shizuoka Prefecture. However, there is concern about the possibility of social disruption, panic, and loss of confidence in public authorities. A Stanford University engineering researcher, Haresh Shah, has calculated that economic losses might amount to US$ 1.2 trillion and other commentators have speculated about the possibility that this scale of losses might trigger vast global financial repercussions (Lewis, 1989).

In August 1992, the Expert Committee of the Central Disaster Prevention Council pointed out that there was a significant possibility of a Richter scale 7 earthquake occurring just beneath the South Kanto land area (Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa prefectures) in the near future. At the same time, the Council announced a set of guidelines for addressing the consequences of such an event. These noted the difficulty of predicting this kind of earthquake and the localized pattern of damage that would result. The Metropolitan Government was charged to begin risk assessment of earthquakes in the Tokyo Metropolis during fiscal year 1994, and the National Land Agency was given responsibility for developing methods of assessing risks associated with local quakes.

In Tokyo the system for coping with earthquakes is highly detailed. The Metropolitan Government has enacted a Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance for Earthquake Disaster Prevention (1971). A specific Plan for Earthquake Disaster Prevention has been developed and is updated every five years. It includes a provision that requires the Metropolitan Government to assess earthquake vulnerability regionally and to publicize the results. The findings of the vulnerability assessment were made public in 1975 and 1984 for the Ward Area, in 1980 for the Tama District, and in 1992 for the whole of the Metropolis.

Fig. 3.6. Framework of vulnerability assessment in Tokyo (Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

The assessment was based on the effects of an earthquake similar to the one that occurred in 1923 (i.e. 7.9 Richter scale magnitude with an epicentre located under Sagami Bay). The urbanized area of Tokyo was divided into 5,017 blocks (500 m x 500 m) and a survey of vulnerability conducted for each block using the following indicators on a scale of 5 (most vulnerable) to 1 (least vulnerable) (fig. 3.7):

1. collapse of buildings
2. human lives lost
3. occurrence and spread of fire
4. evacuation.

Fig. 3.8. Loss assessment for the forthcoming great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo

This survey provides a picture of the relative vulnerability among different districts of Tokyo at the time of the earthquake. It does not take account of cumulative losses incurred before, during, and after the earthquake, including chains of consequences throughout the recovery period. These omissions have been rectified by a later loss assessment that is based on an assumed repeat of the 1923 earthquake at 6 p.m. during winter when winds are blowing with a velocity of 6 metres per second. Damage has been estimated in three stages: (1) immediate damage to buildings due to ground shaking, liquefaction, and slope failure; (2) loss of life and property due to subsequent fires, floods, and other hazards; and (3) after-effects such as the prolonged loss of urban functions and services. Figure 3.8 summarizes the overall estimated losses for the Tokyo Metropolis. It suggests that approximately 80 per cent of the old built-up (Ward) district of Tokyo would be affected by ground shaking and 20 per cent by liquefaction. In this area, loss of gas supplies would be nearly total (98.5 per cent) and 30 per cent of the 1.5 million buildings would be burned down. Losses in the rest of the Tokyo Metropolis would be proportionately less but still very substantial. Loss of life is estimated at around 10,000 with total casualties around 70,000, but these figures may be revised upwards in the light of Kobe's recent earthquake experience. There a Richter scale 7.2 quake on 17 January 1995 caused much more damage than anyone had anticipated.

Urban disaster-prevention planning

The basic elements of disaster-prevention planning in Tokyo are intended to increase the fire resistance of buildings, to provide residents with safe evacuation routes to secure shelter areas, and to equip these areas with the means to combat surrounding fires.

Fireproof buildings

The Metropolitan Government has designated 56,553 ha (or 95 per cent) of the Tokyo Ward Area as special districts for purposes of fire suppression and reduction. There are two types of districts: (1) fireproof districts and (2) quasi-fireproof districts. In the former, all buildings of more than three storeys or more than 100 m2 of floor space are required to be built of non-flammable materials such as reinforced concrete. In quasi-fireproof districts, fireproofing is required of only certain taller and larger buildings; other buildings are regulated to a lesser degree. Nearly all parts of the Ward Area are designated as quasi-fireproof districts and areas within Loop Road 6 are designated as fireproof districts. The latter area represents the "disaster-proof '' core of modern Tokyo.

Government subsidies to encourage the use of fireproof materials in building construction constitute a second strand of the fireproof building strategy. Subsidies are available to owners of buildings in the designated fireproof districts of Tokyo as well as similar districts in Osaka, Nagoya, and other large cities that face significant earthquake risks. So far under this programme, 34 districts (732.3 ha) have been designated as so-called "Fireproof Building Promotion Districts.'' Therein the main objective is to retard fire and permit evacuation in the wake of an earthquake rather than to prevent fire occurring. Of these districts, 28 (638.8 ha) are located in the Ward Area of Tokyo. In other words, just over 1 per cent of Tokyo city is included in this programme at present. The rate of the subsidy is 50 per cent (local government 25 per cent, national government 25 per cent); in fiscal year 1990, Y510 million were spent on 198 buildings in 29 Fire-proof Acceleration Districts (i.e. Y2.6 million or US$ 25,000 per building).

Open spaces for evacuees

More than 1 million people survived fires that followed the 1923 earthquake by evacuating to large open areas such as public parks. Compared with most cities in Europe and North America, however, Tokyo is chronically short of public open spaces. Creation of parks, green promenades, and similar open areas receives high priority in parts of the city where they are currently lacking.

In Tokyo, 149 evacuation sites have been officially designated. Typically they are large parks, university or high school campuses, other public facilities (e.g. Haneda Airport), non-flammable housing complexes such as the so-called Metropolitan Residents' Housing, cemeteries, and riverbanks. The largest are located in an arc close to Tokyo Bay and in a band of shrines and parks surrounding royal residences that stretches west from the Imperial Palace. Each is intended to provide space for evacuees at a density of not less than 1 m2 per person. According to government guidelines, no person should have to travel more than 2 km to reach an official evacuation site. Non-flammable buildings, parks, and open spaces, which provide the majority of evacuation sites, are shown in figure 3.9. Other evacuation sites are also shown.

Fig. 3.9. Fire risk, open space, and evacuation sites

The number of evacuation sites has increased in recent years with the departure from Tokyo to Tsukuba of many national research institutes and one university. The grounds of these facilities are typically converted into public parks, which are also frequently designated as evacuation sites. In addition, the government has made use of former US military bases now returned to Japanese control. Eleven such bases cover 1,116 ha and four of these (244 ha) are now designated as evacuation sites. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is also eagerly purchasing abandoned factory sites for use as roads, parks, and housing that incorporate the principle of disaster resistance. Finally, agricultural land also plays a role in increasing human survivability during disasters in the Tokyo Metropolis. Most such land is privately owned. Farmers can sell it to developers at any time without penalty. For a long time taxes on agricultural land were also held at very low levels but the tax laws were amended in 1991 to remove this provision; property taxes are now set at the same level as on built-up land. If an owner's land is designated as "Agricultural Green Space'' it is taxed at the previous low rate provided that it remains in agriculture for at least 30 years. The new taxation system in effect divides farm land into two different groups: land that will be converted to urban uses sooner or later; and land that will continue to be farmed for at least 30 years. In the Tokyo Metropolis, 53 per cent (3,983 ha) of the farm land in the Urbanization Promotion Areas (17,520 ha) is designated as "Agricultural Green Space.'' Although such land is scattered in small parcels, these might perhaps be amalgamated and put to work as evacuee reception areas at some time in the future.

Evacuation routes

Successful evacuation depends in part on the availability of suitable roads, and in much of the metropolis these are lacking. A need for better roads is recognized both inside the built-up (Ward) area of Tokyo - where 1,705 km of new main roads have been included in urban planning documents - and in the (Tama) hinterland, where an additional 1,368 km are so designated. Unfortunately, owing to the high price of land and the difficulty of negotiations with prospective sellers, only 54 per cent of these roads in the Ward Area and 38 per cent in the hinterland have been completed.

Urban redevelopment and land adjustment projects

Urban redevelopment projects provide a suitable - though expensive - means of converting districts full of wooden buildings into fireproof districts. For example, Tokyo Metropolitan Government has completed the Shirahige-higasi District Urban Redevelopment Project (27.6 ha) on the eastern bank of the Sumida River; three more projects are under way (Shirahige-nishi District, 49.6 ha; Kameido-oojima-komatsugawa District, 98.4 ha; Kouenji-eki-kita District, 4.0 ha). In each of these cases, improved disaster resistance is the primary motivation for the project. Elsewhere, disaster resistance is an important secondary goal of two completed urban redevelopment projects (Nishi-ookubo District, 2.9 ha, and Iidabashi District, 2.3 ha), and one ongoing project (Akabane-kita District, 3.5 ha). The foregoing are publicly sponsored efforts. Private sector redevelopment projects are also being undertaken.

Land readjustment projects are an additional means of making urban areas less vulnerable during disasters. These projects involve realigning roads and property boundaries so that disorderly patterns of urban sprawl can be replaced by more coherent land-use patterns. Many of Tokyo's existing roads were former agricultural tracks and as such they are often narrow and winding. Land readjustment projects were successfully adopted to achieve the rationalization of urban land uses after the Kanto earthquake of 1923 and again after the Second World War.

Disaster-prevention bases

Since 1978 the National Land Agency has been promoting a model project for the construction of disaster-prevention bases. The main purpose is to strengthen disaster-prevention systems at the neighbourhood level. In the event of a disaster such places are intended to act as bases from which disaster countermeasures would be mounted; during normal times they serve a variety of other disaster-prevention functions including public relations, education, and training. So far, six bases have been completed in different parts of the country: Kawasaki City (1980), Osaka City (1981), Nagoya City (1982), Kita Ward of the Tokyo Metropolis (1984), Amagasaki City (1986), and Shizuoka City (1989). Two additional bases are under construction.

One particular disaster-prevention base deserves special mention. The Tachikawa Regional Disaster-Prevention Base is located at an airport that was formerly a US military base. Its purpose is to provide emergency countermeasures in the event of a widespread disaster affecting the South Kanto area - including parts of the Tokyo Metropolis. Together with the adjacent Showa Memorial National Governmental Park, the disaster-prevention base encompasses 180 ha. Since 1983 there has been a build-up of investment in this facility. All related ministries, other agencies, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have begun to improve the base, under the coordination of the National Land Agency. It is intended to function as the substitute facility of the national government's Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures.

Comprehensive water-control measures

Flooding in the western (Tama) district of the Tokyo Metropolis is mainly a problem of overflow from small rivers during periods of heavy rainfall, exacerbated by increasing urban occupancy of floodplains. Here the main strategy involves structural engineering measures such as em bankments, underground river systems, diversion channels, and sewers. These are designed to accommodate rainfall at the rate of 75 mm per hour (a once-in-15-year event). The eastern half of Tokyo includes a number of so-called "zero metre areas'' (e.g. Koto Delta) that are at or near sea level and at risk of typhoons, high tides, and earthquake subsidence. Here, engineering responses again dominate, including tidal dykes, coastal embankments, water gates, and inland water discharge facilities.

Along large rivers such as the Tama in the west and the Ara and Sumida in the east, the Ministry of Construction is promoting construction of "super banks.'' These are wide flat-topped berms that have shown superior ability to resist earthquakes and to protect adjacent urban areas against floods. Property developers and landowners have welcomed the super banks because they afford view lot sites for housing in areas that are otherwise flat. At present, "super banks'' are found only in scattered locations but - when connected in a continuous line - it is believed that they will afford permanent protection to the areas that they enclosed. (They are similar in concept to the medieval Dutch "ring dykes'' that preceded polderization and reclamation schemes, but on a more monumental scale.)

Disaster-prevention shelter bases in the Koto Delta District

One of the most earthquake-vulnerable districts in the Tokyo Ward Area is the Koto Delta District, which covers about 4,500 ha between the Sumida River and the Ara River. Most of the land here is very low-lying owing to subsidence caused by excessive use of underground water for industrial purposes since the late 1920s. It is barely at sea level or lower and the ground condition is soft. Homes and industries are primarily constructed of wood and there are a great number of petrochemical installations.

Land reclamation has dominated the history of the Koto Delta District. After a large fire in 1657 destroyed most of the existing buildings of Edo, including the shogun's castle, it was decided to reduce overcrowding (and vulnerability to fire) by expanding the amount of buildable land. Refuse and other materials were dumped along both sides of the Sumida River to create suitable sites, and the area east of the river became a residential zone, which was also home to many temples that were transferred there. By this means the Koto Delta District came into existence and continued to expand throughout the Edo era.

In the wake of the Meiji Revolution (1868), Japan became an increasingly industrialized society and the Koto Delta District was the primary location of industrial production in Tokyo. This situation persisted until 1960, when protective trade and monetary controls were abolished by the national government. That action had the effect of encouraging many private companies to concentrate production in smaller numbers of new, very large facilities located elsewhere. By 1964 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had taken advantage of these changes to acquire former factories for badly needed residential development sites. But it was clear that the entire area was susceptible to disaster and that a plan for disaster prevention was needed both for the occupants of new residential developments and for existing residents living in dense clusters of old wooden houses.

The startling effects of earthquake-induced liquefaction and subsidence on new low-rise housing in Niigata (1964) underscored the urgency of a disaster-prevention project for the Koto Delta District. As a result, the Ministry of Construction proposed to develop 16 square-shaped disaster prevention bases, each 250,000 m2 in size. This plan was modified by replacing the square bases with cross-belt (X) shaped ones to take account of the possibility that massive post-earthquake firestorms might occur. In the end this proposal was abandoned because it was too costly. Finally the present "Disaster-Prevention Shelter Base Concept'' was adopted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1969 because it would address the dual goals of reducing disaster and increasing the supply of housing. Six disaster-prevention shelter bases were proposed, each having an area of 50 - 100 ha. The objective of this plan is to secure safe open spaces to which people can evacuate within approximately 30 minutes in the event of a large earthquake. The estimated total cost (in 1969 prices) was Y500 billion (table 3.2).

Considerable progress has been made toward implementing this plan. Urban redevelopment projects were adopted for Shirahige-higashi District, Shirahige-nishi District, and Kameido-oujima-komatsugawa District; the first of these was completed in 1985. Park development projects were adopted for Shirahige-higashi District (Higashi-shirahige Park, 10.3 ha), Kameido-oujima-komatsugawa District (Oujima-komatsugawa Park, 24.7 ha), and Kiba District (Kiba Park, 24.2 ha). Fireproof building promotion projects for urban disaster prevention were also adopted in Shirahige-nishi District, Kiba District, Yotsugi District, Ryougoku District, Chuou-sarue District, and Chuou-sumida District.

Creation of disaster-resistant living zones

Recently a new round of more advanced countermeasures is being added to Tokyo's defences. These include so-called "disaster-resistant living zones'' where residents will not be called upon to evacuate in anticipation of future threats. The area included in a disaster-resistant living zone is roughly the same as the service area of an elementary school or junior high school (about 65 ha). Disaster-resistant living zones shall be surrounded by firebreaks composed of main roads, parks, railways, and rivers. Along these firebreaks, construction of fireproof buildings is promoted. So long as fires do not break out within these zones, the residents are presumed to be completely safe; they will not suffer from fires in neighbouring blocks.

Table 3 2 Shelter bases in the Koto Delta District

Name of base

Area of base (ha)

Area of open spaces (ha)

Population of refuge ('000)

1 Shirahige









2 Kameido-oujima-komatsugawa




3 Kiba




4 Yotsugia




5 Ryougoku




6 Chuou













Source Tokyo Metropolitan Government
a Yotsugi district includes 44 ha of riverbed

Within the Tokyo Ward Area disaster-resistant living zones, a series of additional improvements will be made. These include: widening of passageways; improvement of areas crowded with wooden rental apartment houses; development of parks, shopping malls, and community bases for disaster-prevention activities; preservation of residential amenities; and promotion of voluntary community activities for disaster prevention. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is now experimenting with promotion schemes for disaster-resistant living zones in three areas of the city. However, even under the present plan, many of the outer western neighbourhoods of the Ward Area will not be designated as disaster-proof living zones.

Countermeasures against other aspects of disaster

Traditional problems of disaster such as building collapses and fires have now been joined by new ones that are a consequence of recent changes in urban infrastructure and associated technologies. In particular, the spread of high-rise buildings and the multiplication of supporting lifelines (i.e. electricity, city gas, telecommunications, etc.) have raised problems of complexity and interdependence. This affects the choice of disaster countermeasures in various ways. For example, gas systems require at least four types of hazard adjustment: (1) earthquake shock sensors that are attached to household gas meters and shut off supplies when strong ground motion is detected; (2) earthquake-resistant gas pipelines to generation plants; (3) shut-off valves on large gas holding tanks at these plants; and (4) technologies that permit some parts of the entire gas distribution network to be isolated from the rest when disruptions affect the system. Similar principles of hazard-resistant design and redundancy (e.g. loops, bypasses, duplicate facilities, multiple distribution channels, emergency standby generators; portable satellite communications) are appropriate for infrastructure systems that convey electricity, water, voice communications, and electronic data, among others. Bridges, tunnels, railways, and harbour facilities pose related network-failure problems.

Although many of the newer buildings of Tokyo are in compliance with hazard-resistance standards, much of the city is occupied by old buildings that do not satisfy these provisions. In addition, a variety of problems are not adequately covered by any building controls. These include standards for glass windows and cladding on exterior walls. Another problem that is peculiarly modern is the presence of large numbers of day-time shoppers in the centre of Tokyo. Many of the city's 2 million daily commuters are concentrated around stores in the vicinity of railroad stations. These people are unfamiliar with the local area and far removed from relatives, friends, and known environments, so they will require special handling in the event of a disaster. The elderly and foreigners already pose special problems, particularly with respect to providing information and assistance about appropriate evacuation routes and shelters. As Tokyo's role as a global city strengthens and its population ages, these will become increasingly serious issues. All of these problems underscore an increasing need for improved public education about disasters.

Long-range planning

Since the end of the Second World War, two long-range plans for the Tokyo Metropolis have been completed and a third is now in progress. Unlike its predecessors, which were both oriented to encouraging economic development, the 1990 plan - known as "My Town Tokyo'' - is a direct attempt to redress some of the problems that have arisen as a result of rapid development.

According to the 1990 plan, Tokyo in the future should be organized to achieve the following goals:

• an expanding global role,
• a balanced polycentric layout,
• the safety and comfort of residents,
• high levels of environmental quality,
• a healthy industrial base,
• lives with a feeling of affluence,
• a lively ageing society,
• a city that is open to the world.

Clearly, improved disaster management is called for if the third of these goals is to be realized. Accordingly, the plan calls for additional emphasis to be placed on: (a) disaster-proof construction and fireproof construction; (b) measures to protect lifelines; (c) training of disaster-prevention volunteers; (d) measures to prevent earthquake disasters; and (e) development of a city-wide drainage system that can handle rainfall at rates up to 75 mm per hour. All of these efforts will take place in a city that is more international in outlook and function, more dependent on information acquisition and transfer, and occupied by an ageing population. These characteristics will have important - if not entirely foreseeable - effects on the formulation of future disaster-mitigation programmes.

Summary outlook

As in the past, the emphasis of Tokyo's future disaster policies and programmes will be on technologically based hazard-prevention and hazard-management projects, but additional attention will probably be given to integrating disaster education, voluntary private mitigation initiatives, disaster drills, and other non-structural measures into non-structural strategies.

Earthquakes are the primary concern, and long-term plans call for various improved responses. Most of these are incremental changes over existing practice, but there are significant new initiatives that involve region-wide coordination of energy, transportation, and communications services, and special provisions for vulnerable subgroups such as the aged, the handicapped, and (non-Japanese-speaking) foreigners. Planning is still largely oriented toward an offshore-centred earthquake, whereas a local onshore earthquake in the South Kanto region may be more imminent. It is urgently necessary for the Tokyo Metropolis to assess possible losses and to strengthen the emergency response system against such a local earthquake.

Future adjustments to flooding are geared to the characteristics of different areas. For lowland and waterfront districts, the preferred methods will rely on: strengthened river banks; deeper, wider, and straighter river channels; and sea walls. In the uplands, the emphasis will be on comprehensive flood-control plans for specific river basins. These would include land-use controls as well as rainfall retention and absorption measures on building sites.

Overall, integration and coordination are watchwords of the envisaged disaster-proof Tokyo Metropolis. Soft technologies will be integrated with hard ones and the various organizations that are involved in emergency response activities will be closely articulated. Finally, even though the city of Tokyo intends to pursue an aggressive programme of countermeasures against natural disasters, it must also be prepared to absorb some losses. The capacity for rapid recovery and restoration still needs to be maintained and the general quality of public facilities in many areas of the city requires upgrading - especially during future post-disaster periods.


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Internet sites

<> Discussion of the recent Japanese Law on the relocation of Tokyo in the face of earthquake risks, Japanese Federation of Economic Organizations (keidanren), October 1997.

<> Discussion of Tokyo relocation sponsored by the Dai-Ibchi Kangyo Bank, October 1997.

<> Earthquake preparedness page of the Tokyo Fire Department.

<> Historic earthquake photographs of 1923 earthquake postcards. 85 views with captions. St. Louis University.

<> "The Tokyo office market after Kobe earthquake.'' Information provided by Richard Ellis, International Property Consultants, Tokyo.