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New agglomeration and "Tokyo problems"

As the economy again grows rapidly, the question has arisen whether or not Tokyo will be able to support the transitional process, providing the necessary infrastructure and up-graded facilities not only for business and industry, but also for citizens to improve their standard of living. What are the acute problems that Tokyo has to cope with? What are the potential obstacles to further growth in the twenty-first century? These are the questions to be examined in this section. First, the general conditions of metropolitan development and transition will be reviewed, and then some urban issues, which are new to Tokyo, will be studied.

As the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area expands, the demand for water, both domestic and industrial, has increased considerably, but at the moment and for the foreseeable future the water supply in the metropolis is secure in principle.

As for the energy supply, both electricity and gas (LNG and LPG) are sufficient. After two oil crises, the diversification of power-generating sources has taken place, and the dependence upon oil has been considerably reduced. The nationwide electricity supply network has also been developed so as to cope with and adjust to excess demand at the marginal level through interregional supply arrangements.

As general awareness of environmental issues became well established in society, environmental concerns came to constitute an indispensable part of urban and regional planning in the 1980s. In the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area, notorious air pollution such as photochemical smog in the 1960s and 1970s has been greatly reduced by strict regulations and the mandatory introduction of flue gas desulphurization processes in various factories and plants. The overall level of air pollution in the area has been improved, but there still remains contamination by automobile exhaust fumes. Exhaust emission control has been effective, but the ever-increasing auto-traffic in general weakens its effect. As for water pollution, the quality of water, in both the river and the Bay, is also considerably improved by efficient sewage-processing plants. In some large-scale redevelopment projects, recycled water has begun to be used. Environmental issues have now become more related to the preservation of the ecological system in the exceedingly crowded metropolitan environment.

One of the biggest issues for the local authorities in the metropolis is waste, both industrial waste and household waste, and in particular non-combustible waste, not because the technology is not available to process such waste, but rather because of problems in the geographical location of processing facilities. The local administration has to cope with its citizens' "NIMBY" (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) attitudes. The average weight of daily waste per person has almost doubled in the past two decades, and in the metropolitan areas is twice as great as that in the micropolitan areas. In Tokyo, 1.1-1.3 kg of waste per person has to be collected daily. In the city of Tokyo alone, two-thirds of the total waste (2.6 million tons per year) is processed (burnt), while the other one-third is used for landfill in the Bay. In the next decade, more effective collecting and processing systems will be needed, and the administrative principle will be that the waste should be processed where it is produced, i.e. in our own backyards.

Transportation problems constitute a multifaceted planning issue in Tokyo. As regards the mass-transit system, the train and subway systems are run at the limits of their safety capacities, and the well-known commuters' "hell" is a part of daily life for Tokyo and its adjacent prefectures. The road system is narrow and congested, and fails to offer effective alternatives for commuting by bus. The fundamental reason for this is still the fact that workplaces are highly concentrated in the central parts of the city while the residential areas are dispersed and developed further and further away from the workplace. Suburban development in Tokyo is strikingly different from that in the United States, and the filtering process in residential areas does not work here. In general, the more recent your arrival in Tokyo, the further away you must find your housing, thus creating an enormous outward expansion along the major commuter routes.

As for private transit, the automobile seems to be becoming an economically non-viable means of transportation during the working day in the middle of Tokyo. The notorious traffic congestion in and around Tokyo is essentially caused by the structure of the road system, which radiates from the city centre, without having an effective bypass system for through traffic. The construction of beltways, belt highways in particular, connecting all the interregional highway systems outside of the densely inhabited areas is the top priority in planning for transportation. The biggest threat and obstacle to the implementation of this policy lies in the difficulty of acquiring the necessary land owing to the formidably high price of land. Thus transportation issues are directly related to land issues in the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

From the viewpoint of micro-economics, land issues in Tokyo are simply the result of the fact that the demand for land exceeds supply, which is due to competition for space among various urban functions of the global city Tokyo. The cause may be simple, but the consequences and implications are tremendously complex and serious.

Of the various types of competition for urban space, the demand for office space has been explosive, especially in the CBD area close to the government and corporate headquarters. In addition to the growth in tertiary industry and its advanced service sector, the implementation of information technology has accelerated the construction of office buildings adequately equipped with state-of-the-art technology and telecommunications. The demand for "intelligent office buildings" remains strong, and new construction of these kinds of building has spread into the surrounding areas, especially into the redevelopment areas of the waterfront. The situation is best illuminated in the office vacancy rate in Tokyo (fig. 4.8). Regardless of the phases of the business cycle, office space in Tokyo is virtually fully occupied. This situation has remained unchanged even during the current economic setback.

Fig. 4.8 The trend in the office vacancy rate in Tokyo, 1975-1987 (Source Economic Planning Agency, White Paper, 1990)

In response to the increasing demand for office space, two related planning efforts are being undertaken. One is to redevelop the present office districts as high-rise office centres, and the other is to develop new decentralized business centres around the present CBD area. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been active in restraining high-rise building in the central business districts, while encouraging development of sub-centres such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Osaki, and Kinshicho. In addition, it is trying to keep the last frontier, the landfilled vast open space on the Bay, as the final resort. The purpose of this decentralization policy is to reduce the pressure of high land prices and congestion. The overall supply of office space in the next decade is now predicted to meet increased demand, and a serious shortage of office space will not occur in Tokyo.

Whereas office space is provided in accordance with the demands of the economy and innovations in engineering and construction, the housing situation is disturbing. There is a public consensus that drastic measures are needed to remedy the situation. The housing issue is perhaps the most serious of all Tokyo's problems.

In 1967 the number of total housing units in Japan exceeded the number of total households, meaning that the most basic housing condition, in terms of providing shelter, was resolved. This does not mean that there was no housing problem. Quite the contrary, the housing issue constitutes the most acute problem in Tokyo, since most people feel their housing conditions are inadequate - too distant, too small, and too expensive. Although 1.5 million housing units are constructed in Japan each year, the majority of these are in the metropolitan areas. Tax advantages for home-ownership have been introduced and special loans for housing at lower rates and longer terms have been provided, but the demand for adequate housing is much higher than the supply. In the nation, more than 60 per cent of households are home-owners, but in Tokyo that rate drops sharply to just above 40 per cent (table 4.4). A similar percentage of Tokyo residents find their housing in privately rented houses and apartments. The cost of housing creates constant pressure on the standard of living, and the average age of the first-time home-buyer is considerably higher than in other advanced economies (table 4.5). The price of a private single-family detached house has become astronomically expensive, and it requires nearly 10 years' income (table 4.6) for a small plot of land and the house on it! Despite high annual incomes by international standards, their housing conditions make most residents of Tokyo feel deprived and draw the conclusion that it is the land system that creates these unjust conditions.

Table 4.4 Home-ownership and rental housing in Tokyo

  Tokyo Japan (%)
No. ('000) Per cent
Owned houses 1,762 44 63
Rented houses 2,238 56 37
Public 393 10 8
Private 1,612 40 24
Company housing 233 6 5
Total 4,000 100 100

Source: National Land Agency, 1990.

Table 4.5 Home-ownership by age in Tokyo Metropolitan Area

Age Home-ownership (%)
Average 54
-24 4
25-29 16
30-34 37
35-39 54
40-44 64
45-49 68
50-54 72
55-59 76
60-65 75
65+ 73

Source: Ministry of Construction, White Paper, 1990.

Against this backdrop, local governments are trying to take some policy initiatives, including changes in and reinforcements of land-use regulations, in particular zoning policy, but fragmentation and land-use changes are unstoppable. It is important to point out that the land issue and the related housing issue are not a single problem, but rather a complex and compound issue; they can be solved only by the implementation of a broader and more powerful comprehensive planning scheme.

Table 4.6 The relationship between annual income and the cost of a standard apartment in Tokyo

Distance from the city centre (km) Ratio of yearly income (1989)
0-10 17.28
10-20 17.28
20-30 8.43
30-40 7.68
40-50 7.00
50-60 7.04
60+ 5.17
Average for the Tokyo area 8.90

Source: Ministry of Construction, White Paper, 1990.

Another serious consequence of spatial competition among various urban functions is depopulation in terms of inhabitants in some areas of Tokyo, leading to the disintegration of some communities and neighbourhoods. The latest census results show that the most depopulated areas in Japan are small towns and villages in remote places in micropolitan areas and the centre of Tokyo, where office buildings have been enthusiastically constructed. The older housing stock, with the older residents gone and a gentrification process under way, fails to exude a sense of place, thus the old traditional urban communities tend to vanish. New development tries to create more space, not place. There seems to be no place for the disadvantaged and the handicapped in this process, and so far very little low-income housing has been provided in the new developments. The local governments work hard to cope efficiently with those in need through their welfare and social service programmes, Once the community system has disintegrated, the cost of maintaining certain standards of living will become prohibitive, and the burden should be linked to the fast-growing sector of the metropolitan economy.

In response to the gentrification movement, many citizens began to realize the importance of the cultural heritage of the city, and historical preservation programmes (covering historic buildings and parks, and historic districts and landscapes) have been organized. The National Trust system is under consideration as possibly being applicable to the programme.

Finally, natural hazards, namely earthquakes, have always been a top priority planning issue in Tokyo. The breaking up of the ground, the collapse of smaller buildings and elevated highways, and multiple fire hazards are well simulated in civil engineering. Fire drills are compulsory in schools, but the effects are yet to be seen. Surprisingly, Tokyo remains an open, defenceless city in the face of a nuclear threat. Making the national urban system more impregnable is crucially important in this regard.

The new growth and hyper-concentration since the 1980s have created new types of urban problems in Tokyo. Here again, the rapid internationalization of the economy and the irreversible impacts of information technology have played crucial roles in the changes.

First, Japanese society is rapidly becoming an ageing society, owing to the fact that life expectancy is constantly rising, now being over 80 years. At present, the proportion of elderly people is much higher in micropolitan areas, but the absolute number of people over 65 years old is increasing in metropolitan areas. The post-war baby-boomers will be reaching the age of retirement in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The problems associated with ageing are twofold. One is the burden of supporting these old people. The distribution of elderly people is far from even, and local taxes will not be able to fill the gap between the demand for social welfare programmes for elderly people and fiscal affordability. The other problem is that, since the rapid economic growth in the 1960s, the various urban designs and allocations of social amenities have been aimed at people who work. The potential problems are now definitely just around the corner.

Second, rapid internationalization brought unexpected numbers of foreign workers into Tokyo. This multiple ethnicity is quite new to the metropolis. The number of foreigners grew by more than 200,000 in the five years from 1986 to 1990, reaching a level of 1,075,317, which is 0.9 per cent of the total population. Even if the number of Koreans residing in Japan is excluded, the figure more than doubled from 190,000 to 390,000. The more serious aspect is the explosive increase in illegal immigrants. The number of illegal immigrants in custody alone increased fivefold from 1986, from 8,100 to 36,000. They come mainly from such countries as Bangladesh, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Pakistan. South American countries, such as Brazil and Peru, are supplying new sources of illegal immigrants. These illegal immigrants are mostly employed, if at all, as unskilled manual labourers and in the service sector, and are often outside the social security net, lacking even the minimum medical care. Within the metropolitan area, they tend to gather to live, establishing ethnic ghettoes in the midst of poverty and serious crime.

Third, as has been pointed out above, the urban land issue has complex and serious consequences for urban planning and urban life itself. The biggest problem might lie in the fact that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening and relative urban poverty is possible in the midst of an affluent society. In a society of winner-takes-all, the issue of social justice will soon be put on the political agenda. In addition to economic inequality, and perhaps more realistic from the planning viewpoint, "techno-poverty" will constitute a major urban problem. Technological innovations are implemented in the urban human-made environment so rapidly that some people are excluded from the benefits of new technology. Older people, in particular, fail to adjust themselves to the new environment, while sharing the burden with the rest. Some cannot use even the cash dispenser machines at banks. Friendlier machines and systems are yet to be developed.

Future prospects and policy implications

This section will conclude the analytical review of the transitional process of the Japanese urban and regional system since the 1980s, with special emphasis on the hyper-concentration in the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

The mega-city of Tokyo is still growing rapidly, and its development is even accelerated in order to attract more key urban functions to the area. Where is the future for Tokyo, then?

First, in terms of physical space, there are two potentially available locations for further development. One comprises the eastern and northern parts of the metropolis, namely such prefectures as Chiba and Ibaragi. The other lies in the middle of the city centre, where obsolete infrastructure and old housing stock need to be redeveloped (figs. 4.9 and 4.10). Waterfront developments, however, will be more experimental, rather than substantial, providing models for the future. If these two different types of development are appropriately linked and coordinated, then Tokyo will still be able to offer vigorous urban dynamism.

Second, in terms of policy implications, the future lies in successful decentralization, which must be tackled on three different geographical scales.

Fig. 4.9 The potential area for further development en Tokyo Metropolitan Area (Source: National Land Agency, White Paper on National Land Use, 1990)

First, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been advocating effective decentralization within the central business districts, providing multiple business centres around the present highly congested business areas. The Metropolitan Government demonstrated its determination by moving its governmental office from the crowded Marunouchi area to the new business centre in Shinjuku, while leaving the waterfront development on the Bay for the future.

Second, the Governors of the Capital Tokyo Metropolitan Area and the National Land Agency work together to promote intra-metropolitan decentralization. Policy initiatives have been launched, and the means to achieve the goal are twofold. One is to establish an effective transportation system, linking all radiating, uni-centred highway systems through a layered belt highway system, so that key urban functions can be widely distributed over the metropolitan area (fig. 4.11). The other is to redistribute the business centres themselves over the area, linking them to each other with high-tech-based telecommunications networks and rapid transit systems, thus creating reverse commuting flows. The functions of government and business headquarters/administration are expected to disperse (fig. 4.12).

Fig. 4.10 The area requiring redevelopment in Tokyo Metropolitan Area (Source: National Land Agency, White Paper on National Land Use, 1990)

Fig. 4.11 A schematic highway network plan of Tokyo Metropolitan Area

Fig. 4.12 A schematic multi-centred structural plan of Tokyo Metropolitan Area

Third, at the national level, the National Land Agency and the various ministries have been coordinating to redesign the inter-metropolitan network, by promoting the accumulation of central urban functions in other metropolitan areas and regional metropolises. Osaka, Nagoya, and Sendai are viable candidates to become alternatives to Tokyo with respect to key functions, including governmental functions. Since the middle of the 1980s, serious debates on the possibility of transferring the nation's capital have been under way.

All in all, to what extent these planning efforts to decentralize the urban system are successful will be highly dependent upon how effectively decentralization at the three different levels is coordinated.

Finally, after stating all these needs for decentralization, one special comment should be added on the paradox of decentralization.

Centralization and decentralization both occur in a system, and, by definition, change in one subsystem will inevitably generate repercussions in the rest of the system. Decentralization at one level of the system often triggers centralization at different levels and/or in other parts of system. The decentralization of international financial transactions into a bipolar system triggered hyper-concentration in Tokyo. If Tokyo overcomes its centralization problems and successfully decentralizes its functions over the intra- and inter-metropolitan system, then this will create similar hyper-concentrations in, say, the Osaka or Sendai metropolitan areas. Furthermore, if Tokyo becomes decentralized, then its potential to attract business and other urban functions will inevitably rise, thus a new concentration will undoubtedly come into play again. Any policy effort towards decentralization should take into account its "self-defeating" nature. Perhaps the present planning practice of "choking and easing" might be one politically as well as economically viable means to accomplish longer-term reorganization and adjustment.


Castells, M. (1989), The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and Urban-Regional Process. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Glickman, N. J. (1979), The Growth and Management of the Japanese Urban System. New York: Academic Press.

Nakamura, H. and J. W. White (1988), "Tokyo." In: Mattei Dogan and John D. Kasarda (eds.), The Metropolis Era: Mega-Cities, vol. 2. Newbury Park: Sage, pp. 123-156.

Kodama, F. (1991), Analyzing Japanese High Technologies: The Techno-Paradigm Shift. London: Pinter Publishers.

Sassen, S. (1991), The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Fig. 4A.1 Reference map of Japanese regional system (Source: Glickman, 1979: Appendix)

Fig. 4A.2 The three major metropolitan areas and the regional core cities


Seoul: A global city in a nation of rapid growth

The determinants of a world city
The spatial pattern of industrialization
The primacy of Seoul and the capital region
A new perspective in spatial policy: Globalization

Sung Woong Hong


Over the past three decades South Korea has achieved economic development by relying heavily on export growth. South Korea's trade volume accounted for more than two-thirds of its GNP and 2 per cent of world trade in 1990. The South Korean share in world trade has increased 10 times since the 1960s. Overseas travel has been increasing at a rate of 19.8 per cent annually since the adoption of a liberal economic policy in the mid-1980s. In 1989, 46 out of 1,000 persons travelled abroad. Incoming foreign travellers have also increased at a rate of 13.6 per cent annually since 1985. Currently South Korea is a member of 872 international organizations.

Commodity trade, the cross-border movement of labour, and foreign direct investment will be expanded further. As the Uruguay Round (UR) reached a successful conclusion in 1994, the liberalization of trade in services and commodities on a global basis will be expanded further. At the same time, following the formation of regional economic blocs such as the European Union (KU) and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), Asian Pacific countries have been actively engaged in an effort to form regional economic blocs. This trend towards regional cooperation will enhance cooperation among countries in the region.

Recently, many cities in North-East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region have been initiating regional cooperation on a city-to-city basis. Some of the medium-sized cities actively engaged in such efforts include Kobe, Kitakyushu, and Niigata in Japan, Khabarovsk, Sakhalin, and Irkutsk in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Jilin, Dalian, and Hunchun in China. As intraregional cooperation progresses, many South Korean cities, including Pusan, Pohang, Ulsan, and Incheon, will resume international functions. There are six cities in South Korea with a population over 1 million. Some of these cities, currently active on a regional basis, will grow into taking global roles in future as the globalization trend advances.

However, with a great concentration of information and professional manpower, Seoul will remain the centre of international affairs in the nation. This chapter traces South Korea's compressed economic growth and the related pattern of spatial development. It also focuses on the development of Seoul's global functions in the process of industrialization. A global city is defined as a city whose "environment" provides global competitiveness for its residents and firms.

In the next section of this chapter, the determinants of globalization are explained and the characteristics of a global city are investigated in terms of the competitiveness of the residents. In the third section, regional development and the migratory pattern in South Korea are reviewed in the light of its economic and industrial development. The fourth section analyses the centrality of Seoul in domestic and global functions. In the fifth section, the consequences of the policy of growth control of past decades are evaluated in the light of recent development patterns in Seoul and the Capital region. Signs of change in the spatial policy are investigated along with globalization processes. The final section summarizes the possible impacts of trade liberalization and industrial restructuring processes on the future roles of Seoul and the Capital region.

The determinants of a world city

What are the factors making a city global? What are the characteristics of residents that make the city global? What makes the spatial domain of people and industry global? If the orientations of the residents of the city are global, is the city global? What are the city "environments" that make people and industry located in the city competitive in the international arena? These are some of the main questions we have to raise at the outset.

A number of published works attempt to define the characteristics and hierarchy of world cities (Cohen, 1981; Friedmann, 1986; Soja, 1986). World cities, according to Friedmann, are characterized by the location of major financial centres, headquarters of transnational corporations (TNCs), and international institutions, the rapid growth of business services, important manufacturing centres, major transportation nodes, population size, etc. (Friedmann, 1986). It is also suggested that the most fundamental feature of a world city is its global service functions (King, 1990). Indeed, "the world city lies at the junction between the world economy and the territorial national state" (Friedmann and Wolff, 1982).

Globalization is not a static concept. The concept of world city varies over time and differs by nation. In this era of globalization, information, commodity trade, and factors of production are shared among all nations. The contrasting ideology of the East and the West has lost its pointedness. In spite of the differences in ethnic and historical backgrounds, nations are converging in their economic objectives and values. In the process, globalization has also been accelerated with the Uruguay Round. The differences in institutions and business practices are also narrowing. All nations are tied to one another through global institutions and individuals in their cities. Therefore, all nations have global cities for their own survival and most cities function well because their residents have personal networks with other world cities.

Traditionally, global industries possess firm-specific comparative advantages over domestic and overseas markets. Firm-specific comparative advantages are linked to the individual firm's capabilities new products requiring advanced production technology and outstanding capabilities in financing, marketing, planning, etc. Another important comparative advantage stems from the socio-economic context of the firm's location. The factors determining these locational advantages range from the work ethics of workers, to the amenities of the city, to the wage and industrial structure of the city where the industry is located or originated. The comparative advantage originating from the location factors can thus be defined on a national, regional, or city basis. Consequently, a world city should be analysed in the light of its specificity in a national context - its urban system, the stage of economic development, and the nature of globalization of the nation.

In classical locational theory, the transportation costs of raw materials and the accessibility of the firm to the market have been treated as the main locational factors. However, in recent years, with the rapid developments in transportation and information technology, the importance of low labour costs or cheap raw materials, as low-order advantages, has decreased. Instead, the locational factors gaining more importance are those created by the industries and the region. They include training programmes for specialists and skilled labour, professionals, R&D centres, access to specific information, and an environment conducive to the coordination of various activities of supporting and related industries. The comparative advantage of industry is a dynamic concept. As industrial development progresses, comparative advantages should be improved in order to be sustained. In the process of industrial restructuring, the accumulation of knowledge- and information-oriented industries in Seoul seems to create such a dynamic environment, suitable for the development of sophisticated and diversified production activities.

A study of the world city can also be based on major determinants that work collectively and cumulatively. Porter (1991) listed four major categories of locational factor in a nation that create locational advantages for industry: factor conditions, demand conditions, related and supporting industries in the nation, and the firm's strategy, structure, and rivalry in relation to other firms. In figure 5.1, Porter's diamond is extended by two additional determinants, namely, government policy and access to the outside world. In the following sections, we will explore the role of government policy and foreign exposure, along with the four determinants, in the process of globalization of Seoul.

Fig. 5.1 The determinants of a global city

During the past 30 years of compressed economic growth, government policy has had a large influence on industrial and spatial development in South Korea. The central government selected strategic industries and developed industrial estates for them, and also employed administrative and financial assistance extensively to support those industries. With the great influence of the central government, domestic and international business transactions are conducted by the central government on a face-to-face basis.

However, with scarce natural resources and a small domestic market, the South Korean economy has inevitably been tied closely with overseas markets. Because of this overseas orientation, the city's contacts with the outside world have proved to be an important attribute in attracting central decision-making functions of various industries. Starting with the large corporations that led South Korea's overseas trade over the decades, other related industries and supporting services are clustered in Seoul and enjoy close contacts with central government agencies and other key decision-making bodies. In addition, manufacturing subsidiaries and vendors not only benefit from close contacts with trading corporations, but also are exposed to various opportunities in a cluster of related businesses. Small vendors establish direct contacts with large overseas clients as a spin-off and these often turn into key suppliers of specific items.

In the South Korean economy, where economic growth oriented to the overseas market was led by strong support from the central government, the central government and international exposure play critical roles in determining the competitiveness of industry. Access to the central government and international exposure are thus important determinants of the global competitiveness of an industry and a region. The determinants of regional growth are, therefore, also the determinants of a city's globalization. All of the determinants of industrial competitiveness are intertwined and reinforce each other in a circular and cumulative fashion ready for the competitiveness of industry and the globalization of a city, at least in the case of Seoul. The global nature of a city should be regarded as the product of the synergistic interplay of the collectivity of determinants.

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