Tokyo (1889-1923) I Land Readjustment after the Great Kanto Earthquake

Tokyo (1889-1923) I Land Readjustment after the Great Kanto Earthquake

The whole city was divided into sixty-six Land Readjustment Districts, in which fifteen of them were monitored by the Home Ministry and the remaining fifty-one were owned by the government. Land Readjustment committees gained influence over the readjustment of individual parcels of land into plots and the amount of compensation to be given to the landholders.

Fig1.1 Reconstruction Plan  of Tokyo.

 Fig1.2 Map of the Street Reappointment Area.

For the 1889 First Plan for Urban Area Improvement of Tokyo, land readjustment was widely adopted as a way to modernize and restructure the traditional Japanese urban planning practices. At the earlier stage, land readjustment was only adopted by Japanese landowner associations for the urbanization of the rural areas. Through the division of large areas into small building sites, the profits of the landowners were maximized.

Fig 1.3 Land readjustment for the creation of intersecting Showa dori and Yasukuni dori Streets in 1927 left the enclosing areas untouched. Many irregular and tiny sites were formed.

Source: Yorifusa Ishida, Nihon kindai toshikeikaku no hyakunen [The last 100 years of Japanese urban planning] (Tokyo: Jchital Kenkyusha, 1987), 165.

In 1919, the idea of land readjustment was furthered systematized by the urban planning laws. Policies related to land readjustment in rural areas and layout of future developments were stipulated. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 in particular, the Japanese planners utilized land readjustment as the major means of urban planning. Large scale plans of reconstructing and replotting the city were previously raised but turned down, as longer periods of intervention were required, while the population were in need of faster rebuilding of homes and businesses.

Fig1.4 1889 First Plan for Urban Area Improvement changed the streetscape on Nihonbashi odori Boulevard in 1909 by creating smaller lots and pushing the buildings higher.

Source: Mitsuo Okawa, Massato Kawamukai, Toru Hatsuda, and Koichi Yoshida, Kindai kenchiku no keifu [A genealogy of modern architecture] (Tokyo: Shookusha, 1997), 63.

Land readjustment allowed people to stay on their formerly-occupied sites and only minor changes were proposed to the site layout for the reconstruction of streets. The government deployed land readjustment for building infrastructure rather than building space. In such a way, new interventions did not hinder the old land division. The size of the building sites was largely reduced, small irregular lots were formed and the buildings were instead pushed further up in height.

Occasionally the imposed land readjustment failed to redesign the lot structures in the city and to suggest guidelines in the architectural field. Zone expropriation was supported and implemented, Yaesu dori Street (to the east side of the Marunouhi area) was an example but it was not quite successful. The construction of Yaesu dori Street pinpointed the challenges of street creation in built-up areas. In 1919, large-scale zone expropriation had already been proposed when creating the Makichosen Street at Tokyo’s Central Station. However, the metropolitan government was not convinced. Yaesu dori Street was only built after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 through land readjustment.

The 1923 Imperial Reconstruction Plan by the City of Tokyo proposed street widening and improvements in connections to surrounding areas. It was proposed that a new avenue east of Tokyo Station and the Marunouchi area, would run along the moat and cut through the densely built Nihonbashi area in diagonal, with the general layout of the Marunochi area unchanged.

Fig1.5 The Imperial Capital Reconstruction Plan by the City of Tokyo street widening for several streets in the Marunouchi and Ginza area.

Source: Hiromichi Ishizuka and Yorifusa Ishida, Tokyo: Urban Growth and Planning (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan University, Centre for Urban Studies, 1988).

With the limited reconstruction budget, land readjustment was adopted to cope with the devastated parts of the city. Boundaries of residential property lots were altered. The government could claim ten percent of the citizens’ property.


Is land readjustment an ideal policy to be adopted after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923?


Andre Sorensen. “Urban Planning and Civil Society in Japan: Japanese Urban Planning Development During the Taishō Democracy Period (1905-1931).” Planning Perspectives 16 (2001): 383-406.

Hein, C. (2010) Shaping Tokyo: Land Development and Planning Practice in the Early Modern Japanese Metropolis, SAGE Publications.

Schencking, J.C. (2010). The Great Kantō Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Chapter 5. Optimism: Dreams for a New Metropolis Amid a Landscape of Ruin; and, Chapter 6. Contestation: The Fractious Politics of Reconstruction Planning.

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