The Trace of Building/City Policy of Kyoto in the past 40 years and the Impacts

Digital Site Model of Contemporary Kyoto, from Virtual Kyoto 3D Map
Digital Site Model of Contemporary Kyoto, from Virtual Kyoto 3D Map

In 1973, the government announced the FAR (floor-area ratio) to be the major measurement for urban development. The FAR became the main factor to define the mass of the buildings, allowing developers to have more freedom in both horizontal and vertical expansion. In addition, absolute height limits was being set at 31 metres (10 – 11 floors) for the narrow back alleys and 45 metres (14 -15 floors) for main avenues in the Tanoji district, which was zoned as commercial district. According to Brumann, therefore, meaning the regulation of slant-line and neghbour’s “right to sunshine were being ignored. In fact, almost the whole area was remained residential and the back streets also unchanged. The machiya did not exceed 8 metres in height, rarely with a 160 per cent of FAR or more. So, this regulation became the blueprint for redevelopment even though it was stricter than those of other large cities.

In 1988, the ordinance introducing the national-level ‘comprehensive planning system was passed as a municipal planning tool. Additional height was allowed in development when part of the plot is made accessible to public. So, many high-rise residential buildings including the Kyoto Hotel (60 metres’ height) were built in the following years.

In 1994, a national law was announced, which allowed for discounting jointly used space such as walkways, garages and halls. It resulted in 20 per cent of extra FAR. Furthermore, restriction for street access for fire engines could be ignored as soon as fire hose could reach the building. According to Brumann, this was making the large plots of land surrounded by narrow, crooked alleys or lying in the centre have became potential mansion space.

In 2001, the high-rise market had returned into the zones along the main roads from the back street and more tolerant construction limitations were established. This resulted in the increase of at least 40 high-rise buildings with more than 11 storeys until 2007, contribute to the jagged skyline of central Kyoto.

In 2007, “Townscape ordinance” was announced and made by amending the six existing municipal ordinances. This includes the expansion of protected areas of famous historic sites, traditional neighborhoods and along the rivers, making almost the whole historic core of Kyoto to an “Aesthetic Area. To achieve these, the new building regulations has a lot more restrictions but become better, clearer and specific to the city. For example, the new buildings should be built with traditional features or even modeled the traditional architecture. Further, buildings in the back street of the core area must have gabled roofs covered with clay roof tiles or copper sheets, independent roof over the ground floor, a set back façade from the fourth floor, etc.

This policy of 2007 is still being used nowadays.


Brumann, C. (2012). Re-uniting a divided city: High-rises, conflict and urban space in central Kyoto. In C. B. Schulz, Urban Spaces in Japan: Cultural and Social Perspectives (pp. 53-74). Routledge.

2 Comments on “The Trace of Building/City Policy of Kyoto in the past 40 years and the Impacts

  1. It is always nice to justify and document a city’s development through the analytical lens of the planning ordinances. There is quite an interesting trajectory of regulations spotted which allowed more and more extra FAR over years in response to increased demand for housing, which, towards nowadays, shifted to one which considers more about local heritages and vernacular designs. I would say ordinances not only serves as a framework for urban planning, but also threshold in which one starts to trace a city’s footprint and critique about a city’s transformation. As such, throughout the several versions of regulations made over years, how have these implied the social/demographic aspects of the city. For example, how has the height limit helped shape the distinctive identity of Kyoto? How has the activation of back alleys into mansion spaces imposed effects on the livelihood of people? That connection between projected ideals and real-life implications might be one interesting aspect to look into.

  2. Kyoto as a city that has long kept its historical text is a unique sample to investigate on in terms of how an ancient city approaches modernization.The evolving ordinances on city planning provide us a valuable lens to see the break-throughs and comprimises made in this modernization process in cope with the contesting issues of the relationship between the old and the new, the population growth,the guarantee of public rights and the need for economic growth, etc.From the post I learnt that the regulations kept loosening to allow for the construction of taller, larger-scale buildings, that constantly change original urban fabric. It would be helpful to investigate on the social, economic and demographic background of the time period when each ordinance was issued as a way to gain a bigger picture of what these regulational amendments are responding to. It is also interesting to see how the emergence of the new types of buildings gradually change the life pattern of the city.

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