Planning Practice in Japan

Hari Srinivas

Planning processes in Japan takes into consideration, the social, political and historical backgrounds. The phrase, 'City Planning' is a legal construct as well as a concept. The City Planning Law applies to urban and urbanizing areas and stipulates contents, procedures, regulations and projects. The Law uses the term 'City', however, the application of the law is not limited to an administrative unit, 'city'. It has wider implications of development and protection in city planning areas of multi-jurisdictions and district level development. It encompasses regional transportation planning and development, such as national road development, to access road development. It covers not only municipal projects, but also large projects of the national and prefectural governments.

Table 2: Composition of City Planning Law
City Planning Law (applied to an area designated as the 'city planning area') Policies on improvement, development and conservation
Urbanization Promotion Area
Urbanization Control Area
Land Use Control (Land Use Zoning etc.)
Planning of public facilities (planning and development of roads, parks, sewerage system etc.)
District plans
Urban Area Development System (Urban Development Projects - land readjustment system, urban redevelopment system etc.
Land Development Permission System
Project Validation
Procedures for City Planning

The City Planning Act/Law was promulgated in 1968, superseding the earlier 1919 law. Rapid economic development, population concentration in urban areas, coupled with related problems of poor infrastructure, environmental degradation and decreased efficiency of urban functions led to the repeal and revision of the City Planning Act in 1968.

The objectives of the 1968 Act were:

  • Enactment of land use plans with legal power
  • Supply of building lots in new urban areas
  • Regulation and guidance of land use through Land Development Permission System
  • Clarification of responsibility in sharing of cost of public facilities between the government and private sector, and promotion of public facilities development/improvement
  • Devolving the regulating powers of City Planning to local governments and the introduction of a democratic process of city planning.

The area or region where the City Planning Act is applied is designated as the 'City Planning Area'. This area, as explained earlier, is not limited to one 'city', but may in fact extend over several administrative units/cities. Such administrative units benefit by sharing common goals of transportation development and other public services.

Policies on improvement, development and conservation of the City Planning Area are detailed out on a map/drawing at a scale of 1:10,000 and an explanatory text is also included with the drawing. The City Planning Area demarcates two key areas: the 'Urbanization Promotion Area (UPA)' and the 'Urbanization Control Area (UCA)' . In general, building lot development in UCA is not permitted. Urban planning tax on real estate is only levied within UPA. Public facilities are given priority for implementation in UPA. Urban development projects are implemented only in the UPA.

Land use zoning is a control on building use and provides a basis to regulate land use and building form. There are 12 types of land use districts within the Urbanization Promotion Area. The locations of schools, libraries, hospitals, child-care centers, markets, etc. are not regulated by land use zoning, but are dealt with in the City Planning of public facilities.

Land use regulations in Japan are not as strict as in some countries. For example, compatible land use other than residential uses such as neighbourhood commercial services are allowed exclusively in residential districts. Construction of individual buildings are verified with designated Land Use Zoning requirements according to the Building Standard Law.

Table 3: Legal Effects of Area Division
Urbanization Promotion Area
Urbanization Control Area
Land use control Land use is controlled in accordance to Land Use Districts etc. for orderly use of urban lands. Land use is regulated by plans from the agricultural side. Land use districts are not determined.
Public investment Public facilities such as roads, parks, sewerage etc. are approved and public investment will be actively carried out. Public investment for the promotion of agriculture will be actively carried out.
Urban development project Will be actively done Will not be done
Land development permission For development of more than 1000 m2, approval by the prefectural governor is necessary. Technical standards need to be met. Except for large-scale developments, which are approved in exceptional cases, the development activities are strictly controlled.
Conversion of farmland Mere report on the conversion is necessary Approval from the prefectural governor is necessary
City planning tax City planning taxes may be collected to generate revenue to fund city planning projects. Cannot be levied.

The Land development Permission System intends to encourage the formation of planned urbanized areas, requiring all building lot developments to be approved by the local governments. In principle, developments are not approved in areas designated as UCA. Public facilities, such as sewerage, parks, ad roads by developer, are turned over to the local governments who will administer and maintain them.

Urban Development Projects are special large-scale projects that benefit the entire city or area. Appropriate urban development cannot be promoted by relying on developments initiated by landowners alone. Therefore, the public sector is authorized to implement urban area development, regardless of the intention of the landowners/leaseholders. The necessary institutional/legal framework is provided by the Urban Development Projects System.

In areas designated for urban development projects, construction of buildings are primarily restricted. Once a project has been approved, the implementing body is authorized to restrict the purchase and sale of lands, expropriate lands and exercise replotting. Urban Development Projects consist of land readjustment projects, urban redevelopment projects, new residential built-up are development etc.

A complex process of authorization has been put in place for city planning. Prefectural governments are normally the bodies which approve City Planning, while small-scale projects are approved by municipalities. As City Planning approval regulations involve restrictions on the rights of private property, various democratic procedures are provided such as holding of public hearings, public review of plans, holding of City Planning Councils etc.

Before public plans are prepared by the administration, a public hearing is held to reflect the thoughts of the residents in the affected area. Public hearings are held when restrictions on rights are significant, such as alterations of the Urban Promotion Area and review of arterial roads etc. The Administration opens the contents of the city plans to the public for more than two weeks, and requests opinions from the public. The plans are further consulted with the City Planning Councils of the prefectural government, a committee totally independent of the agency administrating the city plan. This ensures fairness. For important matters such as approving trunk roads (more than 18 meters wide), the Construction Minister's validation is sought.

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