Tokyo (1923-1930) I The Great Kanto Earthquake and Railway Development

Tokyo (1923-1930) I The Great Kanto Earthquake and Railway Development

After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, not only did land readjustment take place, but also boosted zone expropriation in the Japanese planning history. Open public spaces were created in front of train stations, for instance, the Shinbashi Station brought by opportunities for planning intervention. On the other hand, the Imperial Capital Reconstruction Project took place during the period of 1923 to 1930. Urban areas in Tokyo were reconstructed and infrastructure development also took place.

Fig2.1 Shinabashi Station.

Later in the 1930s, subway planning was considered but most of the constructions were done by private companies due to the bankruptcy in Tokyo City. The Shinjuku Station plaza was created on the Tokyo Yamanote Line. The sale of building sites financially supported the street construction and creation of public spaces. Even though such an open plaza looked irregular and unplanned, it was considered a well-articulated and carefully designed project.

Fig2,2 Shinjuku Train Station.

The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in fact promoted the development of Shinjuku. In order to cater the expanding suburbs and the rising traffic demand, new roads, railways and plazas were built in front of the major stations by private forces. At that time, the urban planners came up with detailed Durban plans for a few station plazas, such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Otsua. Only the urban form of the plaza in front of the Shinjuku Station was developed before the war. The planners proposed restrictions on the sale and division of land, a construction deadline of three years’ time and several architectural conditions, when there were only four existing examples of height control in Japan. When the costs of construction were covered up by the sale of the redesigned name, to make it possible, the land either had to be owned publicly or to be owned by railway companies, who were interested in the creation of a plaza. Through these acts, it was still difficult to architecturally unify the streetscape.

Fig2.3 Transformation of Shinjuku Station Plaza.

Source: Eiki Suzuki, Case study on applilcation of the article about land readjustment system for sites adjacent to public facilities in the City Planning Act of 1919, Toshikeikaku 151 (1988): p.64-73. (Image: p.69)


Is the Great Kanto Earthquake one of the major factors leading to the railway development?

Fig2.4 Shinjuku Train Station.

The Great Kanto Earthquake, with a Richter magnitude higher than 8.0 attacked the Atami coast line and ignited the massive fires and devastation from Numazu to Tokyo. There were twelve severe railway accidents, which undoubtedly illustrated the destructive effects of the earthquake to the railway system. However, whether it hindered the development in railway development is arguable. It is true that many reconstruction works were required, yet it simultaneously stimulated the urban planner to improve the railway system along with the reconstruction. Besides, as aforementioned, public spaces in front of train station were developed under the Imperial Capital Reconstruction Project. This is also seen as an evidence in the Great Kanto Earthquake being a stimulus to the railway development.



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

Oosawa, M. & Kishii, T. (2007), On the Kanto Great Earthquake Rehabilitation Land Readjustmnet Projects for Railway Site, Journal of the City Planning Institute of Japan No.42-3, October, 2017.

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