Japan: Overview of Planning

Hari Srinivas
Japanese planning systems is a complex set of ingredients covering legal and legislative controls, plan-making, land use planning, zoning, control over population density etc. Planning in Japan is carried out at three levels - national, regional and local.

National Development Plans

The Comprehensive National Development Plan is based on the Comprehensive National Land Development Act of 1950 and is determined by the Prime Minister of the country, in consultation with concerned ministers.

The First Plan was approved in 1962. The high growth of industrial activity following the World War II caused excessive concentration of population and industry in the larger metropolitan regions, leading to both overcrowding and to socio-economic decline in rural areas. With complementing regional development plans, the Growth Pole development strategy was adopted to encourage the development of industrial cities away from the existing large metropolis. As a part of this strategy, the New Industrial City Development Act was enacted in 1964. Fifteen new industrial cities were designated from 1964 through 1966. Prefectural level plans covered such issues as industrial development targets, population, land use, roads, harbours, factory sites, and housing.

The emphases and strategies in national plans has also to be seen in the context of various economic strategies and changes in employment structures that took place during this period, which led to sustained economic growth. For example, the share of primary industry declined from 48.5 percent in 11950 to 32.7 percent in 1960, and to 10.9 percent in 1980. During this period, higher economic growth was pursued by encouraging heavy and petrochemical industries in the Pacific Coast areas. A notable government policy was the 1960 National Income Doubling Scheme, and its target was achieved in 1967, two years before the deadline.

The Second Plan, which was published in 1969, attempted to further the basic goals set out in the First Plan by constructing a nationwide transportation network of motor ways and rapid national railways ('Shinkansen') system together with implementation of large-scale industrial development projects. Measures were also taken to relocate industries from over-concentrated areas ("removal areas") to less developed areas ("promotion areas").

The Third Plan (1977) set forth a settlement scheme which put emphasis on the creation of self-contained quality environments for human habitation, in the form of "comprehensive development projects for human habitation". This emphasis was seen as a supportive strategy to the industrial development plans of earlier plans.

The Fourth Plan (1989-current) differs from earlier plans with its emphasis on the National Capital Region (NCR) and its positive role that it plays in the development of Japan as a whole. Growth in population, a strong industrial growth coupled with globalization and information-driven economy, and heavy investment in social infrastructure characterized the period until 1989. The Fourth Plan covers the period from 1989 to the year 2000 (15 years). The NCR was divided into two zones - the Tokyo Metropolitan Area and the 'Outer Areas' . This strategy envisaged the development of the NCR as a national and international centre of political, economic and cultural activities. The NCR's interrelation with its suburbs (Outer Areas) as well as other regional urban centres was seen within a supportive multicore framework, where natural and man-made environments also received prominence.

Regional Planning

Japan is broadly divided into eight regions. There are the three largest metropolitan regions - National Capital (Tokyo), Kinki (Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto), and Chubu (Nagoya) Regions. In addition to these, there are the Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu, Tohoku and Chugoku Regions. The plans for NCR and the Kinki Region contain important strategic policies and projects, particularly industrial location control in central built-up areas, the development of industrial sites in suburban areas, large-scale new town plans, and the construction of metropolitan motor way networks. Green belts and other provisions in restricting physical urban expansion made under the First Plan (1958) could not be established - leading to planned urban development while preserving some of the green areas.

Most regional development acts were enacted in the 1960s with industrial and infrastructure provisions for special areas throughout the country. The Industrial Relocation Promotion Act of 1972, for example, specifies regions to which industry should be relocated and provides special financial assistance and tax incentives.

National Capital Regional Basic Plan

The NCR Basic Plan was a regional plan covering Tokyo and seven prefectures surrounding the city. Regional strategies underwent major changes as the population of Tokyo and three prefectures of southern Kanto (of which Tokyo forms a part) jumped from 15.4 million in 1955 to 27.0 million in 1975 - an increase of 11.6 million in only twenty years. The first 1958 plan covered an area of 100 km radius, and was modeled after the Greater London Plan of 1944. It emphasized restriction of new construction that contributed to population concentration; development of green belts; and establishment of industrial areas in the suburbs. But many of these strategies could not stand the force of population increase and high economic growth. The 1968 Plan shifted the emphasis from physical restriction of growth to that of promoting planned urban development. Further accent was provided for these strategies in the 1976 Plan taking into account the increases in population. Safety and environmental capacity, expansion of urban areas, housing and industrial development received prominence in these plans. The NCR Basic plans promotes a number of projects including motor ways, rapid transits, new towns, and water resource development projects.

Kinki Region Basic Plans

The Kinki Region Basic Plan (1965, 1971, 1978, and 1985) covers eight prefectures, including Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe metropolis. As with the NCR Basic Plans, the basic strategy is to encourage dispersal of population and industry from built-up areas to surrounding suburban and urban development areas. The Kinki Region, however, is rich in history and culture - and thus heritage conservation and preservation form important ingredients in the basic plans. This is complemented by further reinforcing the multi nuclei regional structure, and revitalization of regional economies with international linkages and information industries.

City Planning Outline

"City Planning" in Japan

As cities in Japan grew in response to economic growth, the efficient construction and maintenance of urban infrastructure became an important issue in City Planning, covering allocation of spaces, and the safety and welfare if its residents. In Japan, urban and rural dichotomy is not clearly defined within the City Planning framework. Therefore 'City Planning' does not connote planning of 'cities', but more accurately implies 'physical planning in urbanizing or urbanized areas'.

City planning in Japan stipulates the basic provisions for the planned development of urban areas. They include (I) the types and standards of city planning, (ii) planning procedure, (iii) planning control and (iv) urban development projects. Details of regulations and planning practices are specified in separate legislation. For instance, the Building Standard Act regulates building activities in accordance with the zoning plan, and the Land Consolidation Act provides legal procedures for land consolidation projects on sites specified in the authorized city plans.

The City Planning Act of 1968 forms the basis for city planning in Japan. The main features of this Act include -

  • Effective land-use control:
    Areas within a city were designated as 'urbanization promotion areas' and 'urbanization control areas' depending on the degree of urbanization. Development permission system was also introduced to provide sufficient level of infrastructure in development of building land.

  • Functional city panning areas:
    With rapid economic development, improved motor ways and other factors, 'functional city planning areas' were designated integrating multiple municipalities into single planning units. This formed a common basis within which a prefectural governor makes plans involving more than one municipality.

  • Delegation of power to local governments:
    Power to effect city planning was initially vested with the Minister of Construction (under the 1919 Act). This was delegated to the Prefectural Governors under the 1968 Act. City plans involving more than one municipality are made by the Governor, while other plans are made by the municipalities.
City plans are decided principally by local authorities of cities, towns and villages, and by the Prefecture Governor for plans that require integrated planning on prefectural basis. Exception are cases which stretch over more than two prefectures, where city plans are to be decided by the Minister of Construction. Local City Planning Councils are established in prefectures, cities towns or villages for this purpose.

An original draft plan is prepared and explained to the public. The Draft Plan is then opened for public opinions and concerned municipalities. This results in a Proposed City Plan. A public notice is issued, and submission of written opinions are invited from the public for two weeks. The Local Planning Council is constituted for implementation. Approval from the Minister of Construction is sought in coordination with concerned Ministries. The Final City Plan is then implemented.

The regulation of land development is ensured through various acts, including Nature Conservation Act, Agricultural Land Act, Forest Act etc. Within urban areas, there are primarily to types of regulations - a development permission system which regulates the location and form of development, and the building confirmation system which regulates the use and structural safety of building .

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org