URBAN DESIGN International

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 186–198 | Cite as

Designing the Japanese city – An individual aesthetic and a collective neglect

  • Matthew Carmona
  • Aya Sakai
Original Article


On visiting Japanese cities, the overwhelming impression is of the stark contrasts between the modern and historic cultures of Japan, both of which are written into the landscape of its cities. This both distinguishes Japan’s cities and creates tensions. Japan’s contemporary development processes give rise to a form of development that strongly emphasises the individual, and this is overwhelmingly reflected in the aesthetics and townscapes of Japanese cities. While this has given rise to some of the most distinctive and vibrant cityscapes in the world, these processes and the robust but inevitably blunt regulatory tools that they give rise to are threatening the traditional forms and typologies that represent the other side of the Japanese city character. Recent innovations in Japanese design governance, although (so far) tentative, point to both a growing concern about this and to some limited attempts to tackle the situation. The research reported here suggests that these efforts need to be re-doubled if the dual character of Japanese cities – hyper-modern and yet also traditional – is to be retained.


Japan townscape landscape design governance development 



Particular thanks are due to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for funding the research on which this article is based.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Carmona
    • 1
  • Aya Sakai
    • 2
  1. 1.The Bartlett School of Planning, University College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Architecture and Urban PlanningSchool of Engineering, Hokkaido UniversityHokkaidoJapan

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