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Functional and structural changes

The essential characteristic of the present transformation of the Japanese urban system is that the system is reorganizing from a hierarchical urban system to a uni-centred urban network in which the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area is emerging as the centre for the inter-urban and inter-regional transactions and communication.

Tokyo has been the capital of the nation since the middle of the nineteenth century, and has accumulated various urban functions over the period. It is, however, important to point out that each region and each major metropolis had maintained relative functional autonomy and self-sufficiency for a long time. It is this situation that has been challenged and manifestly altered by the emergence of the new trends since 1980s. As was pointed out above, innovations in industry and business and the globalization of the economy played decisive roles in this fundamental transition. The up-graded production systems and their accompanying specialized service industries hastened the rapid accumulation of key urban functions in relatively few chosen metropolitan areas, especially in the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area, thus creating even greater concentration.

Table 4.1 shows how fast and to what extent the three major metropolitan areas have been accumulating some key urban functions since 1970. Three important trends may be noted.

Table 4.1 The accumulation of urban functions

Index Source Year Share (%)
Tokyo areaa Osaka areab Nagoya areac Other metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas
Population Census 1970 23.0 14.8 8.3 53.9
1975 24.2 15.0 8.4 52.4
1980 24.5 14.8 8.4 52.2
1985 25.0 14.7 8.5 51.8
1990 25.7 14.7 8.5 51.1
Banking BOJ 1970 53.2 24.3 8.0 14.5
1975 57.9 22.0 6.8 13.3
1980 66.9 17.3 5.8 10.0
1985 78.9 11.5 3.6 6.0
1988 83.4 9.4 3.1 4.1
Balance of loan BOJ 1970 47.6 22.0 7.0 23.5
1975 49.1 21.3 6.5 23.1
1980 49.6 19.6 5.9 24.9
1985 52.6 18.1 5.9 23.4
1989 56.8 17.3 5.1 20.8
Employees of foreign banks EPA 1969 66.9 29.5 3.5 0.0
1975 76.3 19.5 2.5 1.7
1981 85.6 12.8 1.0 0.6
1986 86.6 12.5 0.5 0.4
Number of foreign corporate establishments EPA 1972 58.1 19.2 5.7 17.0
1975 62.6 17.2 5.2 15.0
1981 66.8 17.4 5.0 10.8
1986 62.5 18.7 4.9 13.9
Employees of information businesses EPA 1969 52.5 19.3 7.4 20.8
1975 53.5 16.8 7.6 22.1
1981 55.9 16.3 7.6 20.2
1986 57.5 14.2 8.1 20.2
Employees of specialized service industries EPA 1969 27.8 14.4 7.4 50.3
1975 32.3 14.8 7.6 45.3
1981 33.8 15.3 7.6 43.3
1986 34.4 15.9 8.1 41.6
Employees of other service industries EPA 1969 37.3 16.5 7.4 38.8
1975 34.5 18.8 6.7 40.0
1981 35.0 17.3 7.2 40.5
1986 35.4 16.8 6.6 41.1
Wholesale sales MITI 1970 38.9 25.1 10.9 25.1
1976 38.8 22.1 9.8 29.4
1979 37.7 21.4 10.1 30.9
1982 42.3 19.4 9.5 28.7
1985 41.5 19.5 10.1 28.8
1988 39.7 19.4 11.1 29.8
Corporate headquarters offices EPA 1970 59.5 22.1 5.8 12.6
1975 58.4 20.1 5.4 16.1
1980 59.4 19.1 5.5 16.0
1985 59.4 18.3 5.5 16.9
1988 59.0 17.5 5.7 17.8
Employees of research organizations EPA 1969 47.4 12.8 4.5 35.4
1975 49.2 13.5 4.2 33.1
1981 46.3 13.4 5.0 35.4
1986 46.5 13.8 4.8 35.0
Number of students Ministry of Education 1970 50.6 20.4 6.7 22.3
1975 48.2 20.9 7.1 23.9
1980 45.0 20.1 7.2 27.7
1985 44.0 19.7 7.2 29.2
1989 42.7 19.3 7.4 30.6
Manufacturing production MITI 1970 20.4 20.4 12.6 36.6
1975 27.0 18.0 12.7 42.2
1980 26.6 16.5 13.2 43.7
1985 25.6 15.8 14.3 44.2
1988 24.8 15.5 14.9 44.7
Employees of cultural services Census 1970 50.9 17.5 5.7 25.9
1975 50.9 16.6 5.9 26.5
1980 50.7 15.8 6.1 27.4
1985 51.3 15.7 6.1 26.9


Sources: Census, 1985,1990; Bank of Japan, Annual Report 1989; Economic Planning Agency, White Paper, 1989; MITI, Census of Manufacturing, 1988; Ministry of Education, White Paper, 1990.
a. Tokyo area consists of Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo, and Kanagawa prefectures.
b. Osaka area consists of Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Nara prefectures.
c. Nagoya area consists of PNGu, Aichi, and Mie prefectures.

First, the major functions such as financing, information technology, and internationalization of business have been highly concentrated in the three major metropolitan areas.

Second, among the three major areas, the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area has come to dominate in crucial functions such as financial transactions, international business, and corporate headquarters, while the second-largest metropolitan area, the Osaka Metropolitan Area, has been losing ground in the new trend.

Third, as a corollary of the first two trends, the dependence of the micropolitan areas upon the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area has increased.

The dominance of the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area created two significant movements. The first was the dismantling of the previous urban hierarchical system, and even small and medium-sized micropolitan cities and towns began to establish direct transactional links with the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area, bypassing their regional metropolises, especially in terms of transportation and communications. Kushiro and Obihiro, for instance, try to bypass Sapporo, while Kochi and Miyazaki treat Hiroshima and Fukuoka, respectively, the same way.

The second movement was the acceleration of the outward expansion movement within the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In the latter half of 1980s, it became an undeniable fact that the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area further expanded and annexed several adjacent prefectures, and it came to cover 11 prefectures besides Tokyo itself (Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaragi, Tochigi, Gumma, Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka).

In this way, by the late 1980s Tokyo had become a world mega-city that could no longer be compared with any other major city in Japan in terms of its scale and complexity. Furthermore, it is crucially important that Tokyo be analysed, and therefore properly understood, at different levels of the spatial system, namely, (1) the anchor city of an expanded Capital Metropolitan Area, (2) the summit city of a nationwide metropolitan network, and (3) the key city of a global/international, techno-economic, transactional network. Therefore, it is easy to understand that the overwhelming concentration in the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area is, in essence, the direct result of the collapse of multidimensional functional spaces upon a single geographical plane, and the intense spatial competition among various urban functions at different levels.

The emergence of Tokyo as a mega-city does not simply reflect the rapid growth of one big city, but rather it implies a change in the total urban and regional system of Japan. The impact of innovations on industry and business and the globalization of the economy affected the entire system, with three significant consequences: (1) competition among various metropolitan areas, (2) high regional and local functional concentrations, and (3) the reorientation of micropolitan areas.

First, as the system of three distinguishable major metropolitan areas disintegrated and the new uni-centred urban system began to emerge, each metropolitan area, including four regional core metropolises, came to compete with the others for further growth and even survival. Osaka and Nagoya could no longer maintain their national influence, and they tried to link up with the new system dominated by Tokyo by exploring ways to differentiate themselves in terms of urban functions and to establish complementary functions to the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Two big national projects, for instance, were launched in the 1980s in the Osaka Metropolitan Area: one was the construction of the new international airport in Osaka Bay, and the other was the Kansai (Osaka Region) Techno-Research Complex on the hills adjacent to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara prefectures. All these efforts were directed at re-establishing the region in the new urban system in the age of international business and information technology. Nagoya, the homeland of the Toyota automobile industry, is trying to redefine its metropolitan function as high-tech-based design and innovation.

As traffic congestion worsened, Fukuoka and Osaka keenly competed to establish their status as the second international gateway, particularly to North-East and South-East Asian countries. Kitakyushu threatened the distributional functions of Kobe with respect to international cargo. In short, the key players try hard to stay in the game, but the rules of the game have clearly changed.

Second, the intense concentration within the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area has often constituted a national political issue in urban and regional planning, but even higher concentration has been developing at each regional and local level.

Figure 4.2 shows the rate of population increase by city size during the period 1985-1990. In the major metropolitan areas, as city size decreases, the rate of population increase goes up. This implies that in these areas suburban expansion has been under way. In the provincial or micropolitan areas, in contrast, the tendency is clearly the opposite. As city size decreases, the rate of population increase drops sharply. This suggests that the larger a city is, the faster it grows. In particular, the regional core metropolises such as Sapporo, Sendai, and Fukuoka recorded much faster growth than the three major metropolitan areas.

Fig. 4.2 The population growth rate by city size, 1985-1990 (Source: 1990 Census)

Furthermore, the increasing importance of administrative and R&D functions, along with high-tech-based production systems, attracts more employment and business opportunities to urban centres at the regional and local levels. Figure 4.3 depicts the population concentration in the three major metropolitan areas. Throughout the 1980s, the micropolitan areas experienced absolute population declines. It is, however, important to note that, within all these micropolitan areas, the new concentration occurred at the level of cities and towns. In the period 1980-1990, the prefectural seats grew impressively and concentrations at the prefectural level became even higher than those within metropolitan areas (table 4.2). Opinion on the interpretation of the high and rapid concentration at the prefectural level is divided. One interpretation is that these prefectural seats, in fact, put a brake on further depopulation in their areas; thus they function as a "dam." The other view, however, maintains that the concentrated population in prefectural seats often further increases migration to the regional metropolises and eventually to the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area; thus they function as a "siphon." Recent statistics indicate that the former interpretation describes the goal of regional policy intervention but the second interpretation coincides with reality, more or less. Even Sapporo - one of the fastest-growing regional cities - is predicted to begin losing its population when the potential for intra-prefectural migration is exhausted by the middle of 1990s.

Third, against this backdrop, each micropolitan city and town is trying urgently to reorient its planning efforts to survive. The small cities and towns in micropolitan areas used to be a part of the larger regional unit, but now this hierarchical system itself has lost ground. Industrial reorganization has taken away their income-generating industries, and only aged people, poorly equipped with high technology, are left behind. In this context, the Fourth National Comprehensive Development Plan was announced by the National Land Agency in 1987. This made a radical departure from the previous key policy by stating that income transfer would replace the growth pole policy in order to cope with the reality of the situation in the micropolitan areas. In other words, the industrial relocation policy was unable to solve the ongoing problems, and each micropolitan area should take initiatives to establish direct economic links in terms of transportation and communications to the metropolitan areas, so that the income flows that are generated in the metropolitan areas can be adequately circulated in the region. In addition to this policy framework, regional revitalization programmes were, in principle, aimed at reorganizing the micropolitan areas on the basis of their own resources. The key was, and still is, how to build a low-density society with full access to modern technology and amenities, in which the principal policy for development must differ from the policies for a high-density society such as Tokyo. Tourism and leisure-related industries seem to be one of the few hopes for these low-density areas, and each micropolitan city and town is groping for a way out. Despite the vigorous development efforts in micropolitan areas, the leisure-related revitalizing "dream" projects suffered a severe setback when the national economy was struck by recession in the early 1990s.

Fig. 4.3 Natural increase and net migration by prefecture, 1980-1985 and 1985

Table 4.2 The concentration of population in the prefectural seats, 1980-1990 (population of prefectural seat/population of prefecture x 100)

Prefecture 1980 1985 1990
Hokkaido 25.13 27.16 29.62
Aomori 18.87 19.28 19.40
Iwate 16.11 16.42 16.61
Miyagi 38.03 39.39 40.84
Akita 22.66 23.63 24.63
Yamagata 18.93 19.43 19.82
Fukushima 12.19 13.01 13.18
Ibaraki 8.42 8.40 8.25
Tochigi 21.07 21.72 22.05
Gumma 14.34 14.43 14.55
Tokyo area:
Saitama 6.60 6.43 6.52
Chiba 15.76 15.32 14.93
Tokyo 71.88 70.62 68.82
Kanagawa 40.05 40.27 40.35
Niigata 18.67 19.19 19.64
Toyama 27.67 28.08 28.67
Ishikawa 37.31 37.35 38.02
Fukui 30.33 30.60 30.68
Yamanashi 24.77 24.30 23.52
Nagano 15.56 15.76 16.09
Shizuoka 13.29 13.10 12.86
Nagoya area:
PNGu 20.93 20.29 19.85
Aichi 33.55 32.78 32.20
Mie 8.59 8.62 8.76
Shiga 19.93 20.29 21.26
Osaka area:
Kyoto 58.28 57.18 56.14
Osaka 31.25 30.41 30.03
Hyogo 26.57 26.73 27.33
Nara 24.63 25.11 25.39
Wakayama 36.87 36.92 36.91
Tottori 21.69 22.24 23.13
Shimane 17.27 17.61 18.30
Okayama 29.16 29.86 30.82
Hiroshima 36.02 37.03 38.09
Yamaguchi 7.22 7.76 8.23
Tokushima 30.21 30.88 31.66
Kagawa 31.67 31.97 32.21
Ehime 26.68 27.88 29.26
Kochi 36.18 37.18 38.43
Fukuoka 23.90 24.58 25.71
Saga 18.91 19.11 19.36
Nagasaki 28.10 28.19 28.44
Kumamoto 29.36 30.23 31.47
Oita 29.33 31.20 33.02
Miyazaki 22.99 23.74 24.58
Kagoshima 28.31 29.16 29.85
Okinawa 26.72 25.75 24.94
Average of major metropolitan areas 30.74 30.34 30.03
Average of micro politan areas 24.02 24.52 25.11


Source: Census, various years.


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