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Christopher Gandy

JSIS A 423

Professor Pyle

The Aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake: The


Beginning of Modern Japanese Urban Planning in Tokyo

Introduction
Urban planning: what is it and why does it matter? Through extensive personal dialogue
with citizens from various countries, much of the general population seems to be unaware of
what this profession truly entails. When questioned, most believe it to be similar to architecture,
or engineering of some sort. Furthermore, some are not even aware of the professions existence.
Let me pose this question: if one has no understanding of a system, how can they have
an opinion on the matter; let alone, know how it will develop in the future? Democracy comes
with education, understanding, and active participation from citizens. If the citizens are
uneducated/unaware of a profession that is so important to our everyday lives, and are unable to
actively participate in its process, it is no surprise that the practice itself will have struggles with
being truly democratic. If one is familiar with Japanese history and society, it is also no surprise
then that in Japan during the 1920s the movement of planning was just grabbing hold in its
bureaucratic system; not in democracy itself. Believing planning could have been democratic in
this context is beyond idealistic.
Japan had just come out of autocratic feudal rule around 50 years before the first countrywide, modern planning system was being implemented.1 This system, known as the 1919 City
Planning Law, set the precedent for Japanese urban planning until the 1960s. Furthermore, only
with the substantial revisions to the City Planning Law passed in June of 2000 did local

Making of Urban Japan p.90

Christopher Gandy

JSIS A 423

Professor Pyle

governments finally gain the legal authority to create their own legally enforceable local
ordinances to regulate the use and development of land with standards different than those
specified in national law.2 Prior to the 1919 law, Japan had only experimented briefly with city
planning concepts adopted from the west, and for the most part had no system at all. At the time
of the Laws implementation, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck. Even more
devastating were the fires that took down Yokohama and much of central Tokyo immediately
following the quake. The destruction gave this law a chance to be implemented in full by the
government.
However, it is hard to say how the 1919 City Planning Law could have influenced
Tokyos evolution had the earthquake and fires not happened. The most important part of this
law, and change in Japanese city planning at the time, was Land Readjustment (LR); which, due
to the pressing need to rebuild, was implemented in a very un-democratic manner. However,
some could say that, had the disaster not occurred, Tokyo could have re-developed more slowly,
incorporating democratic elements to build on the growing ideology. However, this could have
not been the case, as the Japanese government did not allow for grassroots movements, essential
to democratic city planning, to develop. Japan had a very centralized government, and the
decisions were always top-down. The government had well-defined roles for citizens to play in
the city; not in the democratization of an unimportant concept, as well. This is shown in the
neighborhood associations at the time. Ultimately, centralized control was inherent to Japanese
planning.
This paper aims to address the above along with several other topics that collectively
describe Japanese planning during this time period. The first will be an overview of the build-up
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Sorensen: Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.399

Christopher Gandy

JSIS A 423

Professor Pyle

to the 1919 City Planning Law. This requires addressing past social/planning context and the
Great Kanto Earthquake. From here, the 1919 City Planning Law and what it entailed shall be
discussed. Afterwards, the 1919 laws implementation in Tokyo and subsequent rebuilding
efforts will be covered, as well as planning/social movements that were taking place. Ultimately,
the most important part of the rebuilding effort was the implementation of Land Readjustment
found in the 1919 law. Understanding Japanese government at the time is essential to
understanding why it was implemented in the manner that it was.

Background
The Taisho Democracy period was one of enormous change for Japan. By the end of the
Meiji period (18681912) Japan had established itself as the dominant regional power in
Northeast Asia, having defeated China and Russia in war, and having gained a colony in Taiwan,
extensive economic interests in Manchuria from Russia, and undisputed control over the Korean
peninsula which was annexed in 1910.3 To a great extent, therefore, the main goals of the Meiji
period had been achieved: Japan was an internationally recognized great power, it had achieved
revision of the unequal treaties forced on it by the colonial powers in the 1850s, and had
developed modern industries and a strong military.4 On the other hand, Japan was still a
primarily agricultural nation at the beginning of the Taisho period, and the traditional lifestyles
of the majority of the population had been little affected by modernization and the growth of the
industrial economy during the previous 30 years. During the period from the end of the Russo-

3
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Sorensen: Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.386


Sorensen: Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.386

Christopher Gandy

JSIS A 423

Professor Pyle

Japanese war in 1905 up to the outbreak of war in the 1930s the pace of industrialization and
urbanization quickened and a much more urban society emerged.5
From 1898 to 1920 the share of Japanese population in settlements of more than 10,000
increased from 18% to 32%, and the total population of the six largest cities (Tokyo, Osaka,
Kyoto, Nagoya, Kobe and Yokohama) more than doubled from 3.04 million to 7.63 million
between 1897 and 1920.6 While in 1900 the population of the then City of Tokyo was 1.12
million, the number had increased to 2.17 million by 1920.7
However, more dramatic was the increase in population of the surrounding 82 towns and
villages which were incorporated into Greater Tokyo in 1932 to form what is today the 23ward
area. At the turn of the century those areas were basically rural and had a population of 380,000,
but by 1920 their population had increased by 369% to 1.18 million.8
Japans experience of rapid urbanization due to industrialization shows the beginning
needs for planning to manage this high growth. Prior to the 1919 law, local governments could
prepare and implement their own plans if they wished.9 While this could have led to a more
democratic movement in Japan, the idea was very new still, as was advocacy for city planning.
Furthermore, this authority most likely would not have lasted much longer if it had been allowed
to continue, for reasons which will be described later. Moving on, if Japan did not manage this
highly urbanized growth, sprawl, epidemics, and disasters related to a lack of control on the
urban form would ensue.

Sorensen:
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Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.386


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Christopher Gandy

JSIS A 423

Professor Pyle

These problems were already beginning in Japan, as there was no large system of urban
planning in Japan up until the 1919 City Planning Law. Rapid urbanization caused a range of
social problems, including: worsening housing conditions, increasing population density in poor
areas and worsening epidemics of cholera and tuberculosis.10 These were exacerbated in the
Japanese case by the rapidity of the process of economic change and the very weak infrastructure
base of the cities, which was inadequate even before the rapid doubling of urban populations.11
The need for a system of urban planning was evident; Tokyo was too large of a city to be
managed without significant reform, and it couldnt have struck at a better time.
Thankfully, many powerful figures in Japanese society were beginning to research urban
planning at the time. These included figures like Miyake Iwao, who published a book on urban
policy studies in 1908.12 Furthermore, in May of 1918 Shimpei Goto established the City
Planning Bureau (Toshi Keikaku Ka) within the Home Ministry, with Ikeda Hiroshi as chief. In
the same month the City Planning Research Committee (Toshi Keikaku Chosakai) was
established to begin drafting the new city planning law.13 That committee was composed almost
entirely of central government officers, including several professors from the University of
Tokyo Departments of Law, Medicine, Civil Engineering and Architecture. In twelve months
from July 1918, Ikeda drafted the City Planning Law (Toshi Keikaku Ho). At the same time the
Urban Buildings Law (Shigaichi Kenchikubutsu Ho) was drafted by Sano Toshikata (a professor
of Architecture at the University of Tokyo), Uchida Shozo (another professor of Architecture at
the University of Tokyo who later became a famous president of the university), and Kasahara

10

Sorensen:
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Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.387
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Professor Pyle

Toshiro (a Home Ministry officer and former student of Sano and Uchida). The law was crafted
by a strong team of individuals who had a thorough understanding of city planning at the time.
However, the possibility of a planning system that could have harnessed civil society was
eliminated with this law;14 though, due to the inevitable top-down nature of the government at
this time, it is hard to say whether or not civil society would have been sustained in general. As
discussed above, Japans society throughout the Meiji, and now Taisho, was very centralized.
During the Tokugawa, decentralized power was achieved only by pulling Han together in the
system of alternative attendance. Decentralization led to fear that grassroots movements would
most likely ensue, and could displace the central government. This is shown by the deep seeded
distrust of local government by national, and why the central government deliberately kept local
power in check.15 The Bakumatsu happened just 50 years earlier, so why set the parameters for
another rebellion to occur during the Taisho period? Local governments could be captured by
local actors for private ends.16 Ultimately, the Meiji government showed little tolerance for
dissent, and wide-ranging suppression of opposition movements, including the banning of mass
meetings, the exclusion of leaders from Tokyo, and the censorship of books and newspapers had
been authorized under the Peace Regulations of 1887.17 It was not just in the case of city
planning; all democratic movements were heavily regulated. Thus, limited by these measures,
city planning could not be shaped by new ideas responding to the needs of individual cities.
Before moving on with the City Planning Law of 1919, it is first essential to discuss the
disaster of 1923.

14

Sorensen: Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.400


Sorensen: Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan p.401
16
Making of Urban Japan p.90
17
Making of Urban Japan p.94-95
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Christopher Gandy

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Professor Pyle

The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake


Before delving into the details of the quake, I would like to give some perspective to
Japans earthquake scene. Three of the Earths tectonic plates meet 300 km east of Tokyo, and a
chain of active volcanoes lies just 100 km to the west. It is proposed that a 90x120km wide
dislodged fragment of the Pacific plate is wedged beneath Tokyo between the Pacific, Philippine
Sea, and Eurasian Plates. The fragment was probably dislodged when two seamount chains
collided at the Japan Trench about 2 million years ago. It is suggested that the fragment controls
much of Tokyos seismic behavior.18 Tokyo has been victim for a long time to earthquakes.
Because of limited technology, the exact frequency of quakes in the same league as the one that
occurred in 1923 is unknown. Though, it is predicted that an earthquake the size of the Kanto
Earthquake of 1923 has an 8-10% chance every 30 years.19 Therefore, the quake was not as
much of a surprise. The devastation was mainly from the fires that ensued.
On the First of September, 1923 Tokyo experienced a magnitude 7.9 earthquake later to
known as the Kanto Daishinsai, or Great Kanto Earthquake. Following the disaster, fires broke
out in as many as 134 different locations in the downtown districts (see appendix 1 and 2 for
burnt areas and fire prevention zone).20 The fires continued for three days and two nights and
consumed almost one half of the city area of 30.5 square miles. Approximately 370,000 houses
were burnt down21 and those homeless and injured by the disaster numbered 1,631,589 in Tokyo;
72% of the population of the city.22

18

Stein, Toda, Parson, Grunewald p.1966


Stein, Toda, Parson, Grunewalk p.1976
20
Reconstruction Work 1930 p.31
21
Reconstruction Work 1930 p.31
22
Reconstruction Work 1930 p.35
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This event transformed Tokyo from a bustling metropolis and imperial capital to a
seemingly extinct city. All that remains is twisted steel, stones, and bricks, remarked Tawara
Magoichi, the future Minister of Commerce and Industry. Concluding with, what I saw with
my eyes was more devastating than what I had heard in rumors.23
Between the magnitude 7.9 earthquake, fires, and aftershocks, over 45 percent of the
structures in Tokyo and over 90 percent in Yokohama were destroyed. Economic costs of the
calamity surpassed 6.5 billion, a figure four times larger than Japans national budget for
1923.24
Food supply was a huge initial problem, but when news of the catastrophe was received
in foreign countries, extensive aid was bestowed. Relief goods and messages were sent through
respective embassies and legations to help with the recovery.25
Almost immediately after the disaster, a grand new vision emerged. Abe Iso, for
example, saw the post-earthquake period as a unique opportunity to go far beyond what he
classified as makeshift improvements in Tokyos built environment. Abe argued that what
Tokyo needed in 1923 was a fundamental project for the construction of a new city, one
influenced not solely by a materialistic point of view but also from the viewpoint of social
policy.26 Essentially, he wanted urban renewal not only of the physical, but also in the mentality.
More importantly, as early as the Fourth of September, 1923, a plan to reconstruct the
city of Tokyo was drafted by Home Minister, Shimpei Goto, and submitted to the council on the
Sixth of September. In his statement, he stressed fukko (revival, regeneration), a drastic

23

Schencking p.302
Schencking p.296
25
Reconstruction Work 1930 p.37
26
Schencking p.316
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transformation of Tokyo into a cosmopolitan city, as opposed to fukkyu (retrieval, recovery). 27


However, this dream would meet the reality of the times, as quarreling between the Home
Ministry and the Ministry of Finance, combined with a lack of advocacy of planning, ultimately
limited Tokyos future vision. City planning was not the top priority of the government, which
was preoccupied primarily with establishing its own legitimacy, finances, and powers of control,
and with national economic growth.28
With the stage set, the 1919 City Planning Law had a chance to be implemented.

The 1919 City Planning Law


Planning in Japan had its origins in the Meiji period, where a lot of the strengths and
weaknesses inherent to the 1919 law are found. Dominance of central government, the reliance
on direct government involvement for building projects rather than the development of a system
for regulating private development and building activity, the consistent lack of financial
resources for urban infrastructure, a rapid development of technical sophistication in plan
making and a high degree of familiarity with current practices in the West were all
characteristics of the Japanese planning method. 29
Prior to the 1919 City Planning Law, the Tokyo City Improvement Ordinance (TCIO) of
1888 was regarded as Japans first city planning law, and helped form the basis for the 1919
law.30 However, the TCIO lacked a long-term strategy for development planning, and only
focused on smaller projects in selective areas of Tokyo. The Planning for Tokyos urban
expansion was not an issue because the system of alternative attendance had ended, and the
27

Orihara and Clancey p. 110


Making of Urban Japan p.60
29
Making of Urban Japan p.81
30
Making of Urban Japan p.63
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Professor Pyle

departure of the daimyo had lost a great deal of population and economic base. The population
in 1850 was not reached again until around 1890, yet it did not expand beyond its Edo era
boundaries for another 15 years. This lack of interest in expansion was shown in the Ordinance,
but later addressed in the 1919 law.31
The TCIO had been primarily concerned with the improvement of existing areas and
operated mainly through specific development or redevelopment projects. Little effort had been
expended to structure the growth of the city as a whole, nor were powers sufficient to regulate
private landowners or builders. By introducing land zoning, building controls, and a system to
plan whole city areas, the 1919 law was a major turning point, and remained in effect for close to
50 years.32
Under the 1919 law all plans had to be approved by the Home Minister, and each year
city planning budgets had to be authorized by the Home Ministry. Although city planning
authority was formally vested in local City
Planning Commissions, these were composed
roughly half of local prefectural and municipal
assembly members and local mayors, and half
of high-ranking prefectural and central
government bureaucrats and technical
specialists, and were chaired by prefectural
governors who were Home Ministry

31
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Making of Urban Japan p.63


Making of Urban Japan p.108-109

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appointees.33 Ultimately, the central government maintained control; while cities had the illusion
of actually having a say.
The main drafter was Ikeda Hiroshi,
who was one of Japans leading experts on
Western zoning. The City Planning Law of
1919 came into effect in January of 1920, and
the City Planning Area (CPA for Tokyo, which
was set at approximately the current 23-ward
area, was approved in 1921 and announced in
April of 1922. It would not be put in full effect until the Kanto Earthquake, however. The 1919
law had five main parts to it: land use zoning; the Urban Buildings Law; a building-line system;
a system for designating public facilities; and Land Readjustment.
In regards to land zoning, Ikeda had said that the purpose of them was not primarily to
enforce a strict regulatory control over land uses in different zones, but to indicate the future
structure of the city in a concrete way by designing the zone uses well in advance of
urbanization.34 In commercial areas large roads were encouraged, in residential areas narrow
roads, and industrial areas were defined by dividing a few major arterial roads. The 1919 City
Planning Law was not very restrictive in these terms. (see image 1, above left, and 2, above right
Making of Urban Japan p.116 and p.117)
Since there was only one standard for residential areas, one for commercial and one for
industrial, there was no way of designing specialized regulations for already built up areas,

33
34

Making of Urban Japan p.111


Making of Urban Japan p.115

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partially built up areas, or areas of future development.35 Almost all commercial and office uses
and a wide range of smaller factories could still be built in residential areas. Only large factories
and entertainment uses such as theaters were prohibited. In industrial zones the construction of
housing was still permitted, so areas of intermixed heavy industry and housing continued to
spread.36 It was a catch-all system for the entire nation. This shows an essential flaw to
centralized planning. This would lead to many problems due to the fact that cities are very
different; having such broad, weak zones was a flaw of the 1919 law.
The next part addressed is the building-line system. This system was based on three
articles of the Urban Building Law. One defined roads as any public right of way, 2.7 meters
wide or greater; the second designated the edges of all such roads as building lines; while the
third article declared building could only take place on lots with frontage on a building line.37
Despite causing some difficult implementation problems, as much of rural Japan had roads that
automatically qualified for building lines, these building-line plans helped prevent building on
the urban fringe by giving order to where structures were allowed to be built (aka not off the
beaten path).38 Preventing sprawl was definitely a benefit of this.
Facilities Designation inherited its legacy from the TCIO, and relevant articles were
almost directly copied from it.39 It was primarily a declaration of intent to indicate where things
such as roads or parks would be built if funds should be secured in the future. Designating
public facilities was essentially a matter of drawing lines on a scale map and getting it approved

35

Making of Urban Japan p.118


Making of Urban Japan p.124
37
Making of Urban Japan p.119
38
Making of Urban Japan p.120
39
Making of Urban Japan p.121
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by the central office of the Home Ministry.40 This had a long lasting effect on the centralization
of city planning in Japan. Prior to the 1919 law, local governments had considerable freedom in
city planning matters because, as discussed earlier, there was no city planning law at the national
level. After this, if any local government wanted to receive central government subsidies, or
wanted to buy land for public facilities, they had to submit all public facilities plans to be
approved by the Home Ministrys local planning committees.41 However, given Japans need to
organize, and the plague of problems ensuing before the 1919 plan, this almost seems inevitable.
While it did transfer rights from local government over to the central, it directly countered sprawl
development at this time and in this context; a problem that given Japans weak local governance
system, was doubtful to be monitored if left alone to weak local governments. They could
essentially build anywhere, without gaining permission. This was due to the powerful
bureaucracy and the centralized trends it had already established. However, there is no doubt
that this contributed to centralization.
Last, and most important, is Land Readjustment (LR). This stated two things; first, that
land owners must all contribute a portion of their land (usually around 30 percent) for public uses
such as roads and parks, and some to be sold as urban plots at the end of the project to help pay
for project design, management and construction.42 This would heavily be used during the
rebuilding efforts as later shown. This policy was advocated by people like Abe Iso, who
believed that even in normal conditions, everyone needed to endure a certain degree of sacrifice
for the general public. Abe concluded that after the unprecedented destruction delivered by the
earthquake, sacrifice was an essential prerequisite to accomplish the great project of

40

Making of Urban Japan p.122


Making of Urban Japan p.122
42
Making of Urban Japan p.123
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reconstruction for Tokyo and the nation. Landowners in particular, Abe declared, must be
willing to make the greatest sacrifice for the good of the nation. Harking back to the Meiji
Restoration to remind his readers of the noble sacrifice associated with the policy of hansekihokan (when daimyo gave back their domains and personal landholdings to the new Meiji
emperor), Abe suggested that the nations suffering was much greater in 1923 than it had been in
1868. If people would forsake their personal interest and display a spirit of public-mindedness,
Abe concluded, Japan could turn misfortune into a blessing.43
The second aspect that LR contained was that in the case of association projects, which
are the most common type, if at least two-thirds of the land owners on at least two-thirds of the
land in the designated project agree, all landowners could be forced to participate in the project
and contribute their share of land. This prevented projects from being blocked by a single
uncooperative landowner, or by free-riders who wanted to gain project benefits without
contributing to project costs.44 LR projects today account for about 30 percent of the Japanese
urban areas, showcasing its lasting heritage on Japanese society.45
LR would be altered to be more powerful during the rebuilding of Tokyo after the 1923
disaster. The changes being that the new act (proposed by Shimpei Goto: the Ad Hoc Town
Planning Act in December of 1923) empowered the Reconstruction Board to design and carry
out its own projects with no requirement to gain the consent of the landowners concerned. The
use of LR in this way allowed the board to sidestep the legal requirement that all land

43

Schencking p.317
Making of Urban Japan p.123
45
Making of Urban Japan p.123
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expropriated for building roads and public facilities had to be compensated at fair market value,
and only authorized compensation for decreases in lot sizes over 10 percent.46

The Reconstruction of Tokyo


This will be a rather large section, as the work done was quite extensive. Much of the
information comes directly from the 1930 English document put out by the Tokyo Municipal
Office. To begin, taken from the first page of the document, Id like to share the quote that the
Mayor of Tokyo (Zenjiro Horikiri) said following the conclusion of reconstruction:
Gentlemen:
After the seven years untiring efforts and painstaking works on the part of the citizens
and all the people concerned, encouraged and supported by the people home and abroad, the
reconstruction of Tokyo, the capital of Japan, has now come to its final completion. I am most happy to
state that the entire work of reconstruction, unprecedented in its scope and extent in the world history of
city planning has been so far accomplished with the most satisfactory records.
I take this opportunity to tender our heartfelt thanks to the world nations for the
overwhelming generosity and ready assistance extended to us at the time of the catastrophe, six and a half
years ag.
I be to submit herewith, therefore, this brief account of the reconstruction work of Tokyo
accompanied by maps, charts, and diagrams, comprising what may be termed Tokyo Reconstruction
Work, as an official report.
With my best regards and compliments,
I am
Very sincerely yours

46

Making of Urban Japan p.126

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Shimpei Goto (who was Minister of Home Affairs, and ex-mayor of Tokyo) was in
charge of bringing up several priorities for reconstruction. These were as follows:
1.

Establishment of three organs


a. Special Imperial Capital Reconstruction Council to decide the highest policies
b. Governmental organ to take charge of actual affairs
c. Committee consisting of the government, prefectural, and city officials to
consider those plans to be proposed

2.

Insurance of long term domestic and foreign loans to meet the expenditure for the
Tokyo Reconstruction

3.

Governmental purchase of the devastated area in Tokyo

All proposals except number 3 were adopted in greater extent. The Capital
Reconstruction as the highest advisory organ and the Capital Reconstruction board as the special
executive organ to deal with the actual reconstruction were created, the latter being replaced by
the Reconstruction Bureau of the Department of Home Affairs.47
Broadly speaking, the reconstruction plan consisted in the laying out or extension of
roads, bridges, canals, parks, and other works incidental to city planning. LR was combined with
other public undertakings such as educational, sanitary, and social welfare arrangements, and
also the encouragement of the construction of fire-proof buildings by conferring subsidiary aid.48
The essence of the reconstruction project was thus a very large-scale use of the LR method. Of
the 3,636 hectares of destroyed area in Tokyo, 3,041 hectares were divided into 65 project areas
and redesigned and rebuilt in stages.49

47

Reconstruction Work p.42


Reconstruction Work p.42
49
Making of Urban Japan p.127
48

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Contested as unconstitutional, the 10 percent land reduction portion of LR in the


reconstruction project met heavy opposition. In February of 1925, the Tokyo City Assembly
passed a motion opposing the forced use of LR. However, the Reconstruction Bureau offered
only minor changes to the compensation, and proceeded as planned. The opposition was faced
with the inability to stop the projects, and died out. This shows the failure of local bodies to
influence governmental policys influence in Japan.50 Also, reverting back to the mentality that
Abe Ito stressed, Japanese should sacrifice their private goods for the sake of the city overall.
Ultimately, despite being undemocratic, this method of LR was able to achieve reconstruction
within a very short amount of time. The very high visibly and prestige of the project, and its
evident success in the transforming and rebuilding a vast area of central Tokyo were a
tremendous boost both to the public image of city planning in Japan and to the self-image of its
practitioners.51 Ultimately, undemocratic movement helped to advocate the power of city
planning, which may have not received the attention that it did, had the Reconstruction Board not
been allowed to execute such authority. However, this was myopic overall. Most of this would
be short-term, as a lot of the mentality from the reconstructed vision of Tokyo would become
forgotten.52 It was not a movement carried out by the people, and therefore was not a growing
process in society that would constantly be reinforced. It stood as a stand-alone project, and after
Tokyo was lit up in flames again by the American firebombing, would have to start over with the
practices lost to a new context.
However, this plan accomplished many good things for Tokyo. Continuing on with the
efforts of reconstruction, prior to the Great Kanto Earthquake, most of Tokyos urban streets

50

Making of Urban Japan p.128


Making of Urban Japan p.131
52
The Wheel Extended p.9
51

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were unpaved; they were muddy when wet and dusty when dry. After the earthquake, in
conjunction with land readjustment in all areas damaged by the fire, modern major urban roads
were built in a grid system (see appendices 3 and 4). These roads were paved and sidewalks
separated from vehicle lanes, and trees planted on the roadside. This layout of the Plan
emphasized that urban roads were a citys communal space, valuing their functions as opens
spaces and disaster prevention facilities. Thus, sidewalks were wide, with plenty of space set
aside for roadside greenery with open areas and flower gardens provided at main intersections
and spaces near bridges. However this changed after the 1960s, where transport functions took
priority.53 The inevitable change, and lack of learning from city planning as an evolving
democratic process, ultimately is characteristic to top-down planning, as stressed above. In the
long run, people are not a part of the process; they merely reap the benefits of government
decisions.
Listed below is a direct list of the distribution of projects undertaken by the
Reconstruction Work outlined in the plan:54
Item: Readjustment of land-lots
Scope and Extent: Replotting and readjusting of the burnt area. ~300,000 square meters. For this
the area is divided into 65 districts.
Authorities to Execute: Government 15 districts 60,000 square meters
240,000 square meters

City 50 Disctricts-

Item: Construction of Streets


Scope and Extent: a. Construction of 52 trunk lines, width 22m-73m b. Construction of 122
auxilary lines, width 8m-22m length 139,146m
Authorities to Execute: a. Government b. City

53
54

The Wheel Extended p.9


Reconstruction work p.46-47

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Item: Construction of bridges


Scope and Extent: a. construction of 112 bridges on trunk lines b. construction of 135 bridges
on auxiliary lines c. pavement of roads other than trunk and auxiliary lines. ~1,116,000 meters
d. repair and construction of 207 bridge other than a and b.
Authorities to Execute: a. Government b. City. c. City. d. City

Items: Excavation of canals


Scope and Extent: Improvement of old canals- 12 New excavation 1 Reclamation 1 Total 14
Total length 14,701 meters
Authorities: Government

(Shortened due to redundancy)

Item: Laying out of Park


Scope: Laying out of 3 large parks and 51 small parks
Authorities: Government and City

Items: Encouragement of the Construction of Fireproof Buildings


Scope: Encouragement of the construction of fire-proof buildings by granting an aid of about 50
yen per tsubo of floor space and 25 yen are added in case of jointly owned building.
Authorities: Government
(46)

Items: Establishment of Central Wholesale Market


Scope: Erection of central Whole sale Market at Tsukiji
Authorities: City

Items: Water works


Scope: Restoration of damages and completion of Murayama reservoir
Authorities: City

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Items: Sewage works


Scope: Construction of main sewers in the third district
Authorities: City

Items: Educational Provisions


Scope: Construction of 117 primary schools
Authorities: City

Items: Sanitary Provisions


Scope: Construction of 5 free hospital. Reorganization of garbage disposal. Collection station
27 Incinerators 4
Authorities: City

Items: Social Work Provisions


Scope: Labor exchange offices 12 Public and child nurseries 10 Womens workhouses 5
Public Resturants 10 Lodging houses 10 Public pawnshops 7 Public baths 10
Authorities: City

It is interesting to note how many say the authorities are city; but what the reconstruction
plan fails to mention is that the cities were ultimately under the authority of the central
government. They were not single entities deciding respectively what needed to be done.
In regards to the budget of the reconstruction work, despite being successful overall, as it
was Japans first attempt at modern urban planning (and the city reconstruction covered an area
of ~3,100 ha, which was accomplished in just six years)55; the original plan was much grander,
but met heavy opposition from the Ministry of Finance and members of the Diet. The Plan was
scaled from an original 1.3 billion yen, to 720, then 570 million, then to 470 million by

55

The Wheel Extended p.2

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December of 1923.56 Many politicians had vested interests in the provinces and farming
communities, and were opposed to large public expenditure on Tokyo and other major cities.
Many politicians also lacked a long-term vision and had no knowledge or understanding of the
need to improve the urban infrastructure, and since the majority also owned land in Tokyo, they
argued as landowners against the violation of individual property rights.57
Going back to its success of the actual plan though, there were many features that are
worth pointing out which carried over onto society in addition to the rebuilding efforts. The
parks mentioned as small parks were created in conjunction to schools. These were also to be
known as Japans famous pocket parks. Furthermore, the feature of large metropolitan parks
and the concept of the hiroba (large open area) came into being. Not until the 1919 law did
planners began to think seriously about integrating them into the urban landscape, and not until
the era of reconstruction following the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 were those thoughts
realized. The stand-alone hiroba remained, at least until the mid-1920s, a figment of planners
imaginations.58 Also, as noted above, sidewalks and streets were seen as public space, and built
with an emphasis on beauty via natural vegetation. Furthermore, dump facilities were improved
upon; which was a pressing need for Tokyo.
Lastly, the disaster and reconstruction plan advocated the need for suburbanization, as
many people relocated away from the fire prone zones; and thus Ebenezer Howards Garden City
movement was able to take route in Japanese society. These were upper middle class family
communities, with Denen Chofu still existing as a high-class residential area (despite not being

56

The Wheel Extended p.4-5


The Wheel Extended p.5
58
Hoyt Long p.760
57

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the true self-sufficient community that Howard envisioned).59 Denen Chofu was completed
August of 1923, being delayed due to Great Kanto Earthquake. The Meguro-Kamata railways
completion later that year marked the citys actual debut, as it linked Denen chofu to Tokyo and
accelerated the influx of new residents. In 1927 Denen chofu became part of the TokyoYokohama railway line, thereby making connections with both Tokyos Shibuya station and
Yokohama station.60

Conclusion
It is hard to say how the law could have evolved Tokyo had the earthquake and fires not
happened. The most important part of this law, and change in Japanese city planning at the time,
was Land Readjustment (LR); which, due to the pressing need to rebuild, was implemented in a
very un-democratic manner. However, Tokyo could have re-developed more slowly, and in a
more democratic fashion, if planners had time and patience.
But, this could have also not been the case, as the period of Taisho Democracy was a
very fragile stage in their society. Japan had a very centralized government, and the decisions
were top-down. Furthermore, the Genro (elder statesman who ruled the nation in an oligarchical
fashion) were dying, and militarists were gaining power. It is unlikely that city planning would
have stopped these individuals from guiding the country in the direction it continued on via
changes in city planning. If anything, the planning objectives with Tokyo might have not been
achieved over a longer period of time, as the focus of these individuals was not on city planning.
Urban planning was for an educated few academics and the Home Ministry. Given the
context and the budget restrictions created by the Ministry of Finance, one could say that Tokyo,
59
60

Making of Urban Japan p.137


Oshima p.146

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despite not achieving as grand of a scheme as individuals had hoped for, accomplished a lot for
its time. It was able to implement many upgrades on the city that were of necessity. Also,
despite the top-down nature of Japanese society, and lack of local governmental decisions, this is
how Japan operated at this time. It always has been a hierarchical society, and it is no surprise
that during this time, it continued to be so.

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Appendix
Image 1

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Image 2

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Image 3

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Image 4

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References
Koshizawa, Akira. "The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake Tokyo Reconstruction Plan: Its
Significance and Heritage." The Wheel Extended. (1996): 2-9.

Long, Hoyt. "Performing the Village Square in Interwar Japan: Toward a Hidden History of
Public Space." The Journal of Asian Studies. no. 3 (2011): 754-777.

Orihara, Minami, and Gregory Clancey. "The Nature of Emergency: The Great Kanto
Earthquake and the Crisis of Reason in Late Imperial Japan." Science in Context. no. 01 (2012):
103-126.

Oshima, Ken. "Denenchofu Building the Garden City in Japan." Journal of the Society of
Architectural Historians. no. 2 (1996): 140-151.

Schencking, Charles. "1.The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Culture of Catastrophe and
Reconstruction in 1920s Japan." The Journal of Japanese Studies. no. 2 (2008): 295-331.

Sorensen , Andre. The Making of Urban Japan. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Sorensen, Andre. "Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan: Japanese urban planning
development during the 'Taisho Democrac'y Period (1905-31)."Planning Perspectives. (2001):
383-406.

Stein, Ross S., Shinji Toda, Tom Parson, and Elliot Grunewald. "Kanto Plate Tectonic
Configuration."Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (2006): 1965-1988.

Tokyo Capital of Japan Reconstruction Work 1930. Tokyo: The Toppan Printing Compnay Ltd.,
1930.

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