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close this bookUnited Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 13, Number 3, 1991(UNU, 1991, 12 pages)
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentCities in the 21 st century - The urban half
View the documentThe pathology of the city
View the documentNew strategies for urban poverty
View the documentLopsided modernization and the urban poor
View the documentUrban transport and urban growth
View the documentThe hub of Japan
View the documentThe land game
View the documentShaping Tokyo for the future
View the documentSeoul: Still a metropolis in the making
View the documentAsia's growing urban rings
View the document"A giant supermarket..." - Is there anything good about mega-cities?
View the documentThe emerging world city system
View the documentUNU update

The hub of Japan

By Masahiko Honjo

Since the 19th century Meiji revolution, the development of Japan has been, in many ways, the story of the growth of Tokyo. Masahiko Honjo discusses some of the reasons behind the city's dense population concentration - including the formative role of Japanese railways. He focuses particularly on post-World War II Japan. Dr. Honjo is the Director of the International Development Center of Japan.- Editor

Since the end of World War II, Tokyo has become the seat of almost all central managerial functions in Japan - it controls top decision-making in a number of sectors, government as well as private. It is the centre of international business and finance.

· Ninety per cent of foreign companies in Japan are concentrated in the Tokyo area. From 70 to 80 per cent of financial transactions - from cheque exchanges to stock sales - take place there. More than half of bank loans in Japan are provided in Tokyo; about half of all the nation's bank deposits are accumulated there.

· It is the centre of information. Nearly 60 per cent of workers in this field - television, newspapers, other media, computer specialists, big advertising agencies - all are concentrated in the Tokyo area.

· It is the centre of education. More than 40 per cent of Japanese university students are clustered in the capitol city - although government policy since the 1960s has tried to discourage student concentrations in the inner city areas of Tokyo.

Spiralling Land Costs

The ongoing concentration of central managerial functions in Tokyo has accelerated a race to acquire office space - particularly in the central business district. To meet the demand, construction of new offices has intensified in Tokyo, particularly within the three wards of the central business district - Chiyoda, Chuo, and Minato - comprising an area of about 20 square kilometres. The rising prices within the centre of Tokyo has led prospective home buyers into an ever widening search in the suburbs of the city for available land.

The Railroad City

Tokyo's present urban structure is very much based on railway lines. Two-thirds of Tokyo's commuters are dependent on rail systems. The railroad forms the skeleton of Tokyo's present structure. It has so far proved the most effective means of coping with transportation needs which have a very high peak load at rush hours: an inevitable result of having so many passengers who must travel at fixed hours, like office and factory workers, students, etc. In answering such needs, railroads are capable of carrying mass passenger loads, and concentrating them in stations at key locations. This permits the provision of a very efficient and high level of commercial and social services at these points.

Origins of the Railway

Originally, Japan's national railway system was developed to service Tokyo as the capital. It consisted primarily of trunk lines going to: the south-west (the present Tokaido line); to the west (Chuo line); north (Tohoku line); north-east (Joban line); and, east (Boso line). A freight bypass loop was also established to connect these lines to those within the existing city boundaries.

As Tokyo expanded, the national railroad system promoted commuter service for suburban residents through the new rail network. Tokyo Central Station in the central business district was the hub; inside the loop - this was the Yamate (now "Yamanote") green line-transportation service was left to trollies and buses.

As Tokyo grew further, private railroads also came into being, servicing new commuters. The railroads were requested to start from terminals along the Yamate loop in order that commuters could be linked to trolleys and buses at that point. Sub-centres like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya grew as masses of transferring passengers had to go through these points.

In post-war days, many subway lines were constructed to replace the trollies within the inner city loop. They were organized in such a manner as to service the central business district by linking opposite ends of the suburban railroads at the loop, to aid suburban commuters in their daily travels into the central business district.

This proved beneficial both to the commuters - by cutting down their travel time - as well as to the subways: it meant that many passengers could be funnelled directly from the existing private railroads into the subway system. The subways thus generated the income needed to pay for the very expensive costs of subway construction.

Tokyo: Role model for the mega-city of the future?

Tokyo, which may be the largest urban clustering on the face of the earth (depending on how you count) has often been singled out as the mega-city that works. It is virtually free of the street crime which has paralyzed so many other of the world's big cities - in rich or poor countries. It has an efficient far-flung and rapid public transport system which efficiently funnels millions in and out of the city daily.

But is Tokyo all that much free of problems? Within the slim horseshoe-shaped belt of land around Tokyo Bay are some of the densest, most over-populated urban concentrations on this planet. One out of every four Japanese lives in this narrow strip of land, only 3.6 per cent of the country's total lands area. At the UNU Mega City conference, three Japanese scholars gave their own perspective on some Tokyo's issues as a mega-city: the unbelievably high real estate prices which shut off the home-owning dreams of most Tokyo families; the heavy concentration of so much of the nation's financial, educational and information resources in the capital city, and the desirability of developing Tokyo as a multi-centred urban structure. (A third of Japan's college students, a similar of proportion of the country's newspapers, nearly a fifth of all its radio and TV stations are in Tokyo.)

The presentations on these two pages are taken from papers presented at the Mega-City Conference by scholars from the Tokyo Institute for Municipal Research, the University of Tokyo, and the International Development Center of Japan.- Editor

Generating New Focal Points

The combination of public and private interests enabled the Tokyo urban rail system to grow very rapidly - and it now handles 2 million passengers a day. At the same time, the sub-centres established at Shibuya, at Shinjuku, at Ikebukoro - have reached their own generating potential for further growth. They have become stronger focal points for commuters, as well as for their surrounding neighbourhoods. These centres have become important shopping areas of Tokyo, replete with the latest merchandise from Tokyo, Seibu, Isetan and other retail giants.


One of Tokyo's many train lines

As suburban development proceeded around Tokyo, the position of the railroad companies became even stronger. They came into the field of urban development in a regional context. The railroad companies were in a position where they could not only plan ahead for the location of new large-scale housing developments; they could also extend services for the daily needs of the residents, through a combined system of large department stores at the terminals, and a chain of shopping centres and supermarkets within their "territories" in specific directions.

Railroad Station "Hierarchy"

In the interests of speeding up operations, railroads have begun promoting express service by selecting particular stations for their express stops. This is inducing a new urban hierarchy along their lines, and a workable network among the local communities seems to be developing.

The shinkan-sen - the "bullet train" - can be seen in a similar context. It runs through the so-called "Pacific corridor" of the Japanese archipelago. This is no longer the fastest train in the world, but it is still the one with the highest frequency - running a train every five minutes at peak hours, just like a commuter line. The shinkan-sen can carry 1,000 passengers per train.

Such passenger volume can have a very large impact on the "super-express" stations along the line, and thus also help determine the key locations in the urban hierarchy along this important central corridor.

In the present stage - as evidence at least in the Tokyo mega-city - there is a change in the notion of the traditional hierarchical system of cities. Remote areas quickly lose populations, while cities, as subregional and regional centres, gain more population. In the metropolitan regions, the inner city loses populations while the outer suburbs grow. In the case of Tokyo, for example, the population of the inner city has remained at about 8 million, while surrounding cities like Yokohama grew from 2 to 3 million in a matter of 15 years.

At each point of growth, when the human agglomeration crosses a certain threshold, new possibilities for further development become open. What Yokohama can do at the stage of 3 million people is quite different from what it might have done with 1.5 million. What is important at present, I believe, is to develop a networking of urban functions among the cities, so that a proper division of labour can be promoted within a given region.

Equally important, however, is the creation of a decent living and working environment that meets the needs of those who live within the region. Consideration of the human aspects is the most crucial issue for the future development of the mega-city.

"Newest of the Great Cities"

"As a city, Tokyo is not very old. There were settlements in the region from prehistoric times ... but the history of Edo, predecessor of Tokyo, really begins at about the same time as that of Boston (in 17th century colonial America), Edo was much quicker than Boston to become a great city. (But) Boston contains more physical remains of its very early past than Tokyo does.... Tokyo is a new city, perhaps the newest among the great cities of the world. It contains scarcely any buildings from the first two centuries of its metropolitan existence." Edward Seidensticker, Forward to Tokyo Now and Then by Paul Waley (Weatherhill, New York & Tokyo, 1984)