Document Type




Publication Title

Journal of Urban History



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From the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese elites experimented with foreign planning concepts and transformed their cities to respond to the demands of modernization. Even though they faced similar situations, knew about established European techniques, and had large open spaces available, they established planning practices that were different from those of their foreign counterparts, building on the country’s own urban history and form, particularities in landownership, development needs, urban planning techniques, and design preferences. This article highlights, first, key issues of landownership, urban form, and urban development in the Edo period (1603—1867) and provides an overview of the urban transformation of Tokyo concentrating on the era from the early Meiji period (1860s) to the reconstruction after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It then examines the elements set up in the overview more closely through the study of three areas of Tokyo between the 1860s and the 1920s. The article highlights the elite’s pragmatic approach to urban transformation and underlines the importance of land readjustment, a planning technique characterized by a reduction in lot sizes to create public land and to widen and straighten out streets, plots, and blocks. Examined are the transformation of the Ginza townsmen district (with a close look at the Yamashita-chô area), the government-led construction to the east of the palace (notably the Marunouchi area) starting in the 1880s, and the Kanda Misaki-chô area, a smaller daimyo district that had been cleared of all construction. In conclusion, this article argues that Japanese planners developed a practice that departed from European and American design principles but one that was and continues to be appropriate for Japanese needs and one that might even offer lessons to foreign cities and planners.