The Informal City: Informal Housing during Post-war Recovery

The Informal City: Informal Housing during Post-war Recovery

Under the Hiroshima Reconstruction City Plan, some urban areas were reserved as infrastructural development, green belt construction, roads and parks. Immediately after the explosion, wooden structures were either completely annihilated or engulfed by fire. This included residential structures in the moto-machi. Thus the surviving residents turned to construction of illegal housing for temporary residence. These illegal housings had to be removed under the new Reconstruction Plan.


In Nakajima district, it was planned to become the Peace Memorial Park. In pre-war times, the Nakajima District consisted of the headquarter of the Fifth Divison, and a dense cluster of houses, shops and recreational facilities. As it was half kilometer close to the hypocenter, most of the building structures were destroyed. These residents lost their shelters at one instance, but they re-constructed temporary housing after the explosion. As it was later planned as a park, the residents were forced to leave their home. Theses residents, unlike landowner, were not benefited by land readjustment, thus had to be relocated and construct illegal temporary housing elsewhere. They even might have to further relocate and appropriate other spaces because of later reconstruction projects.


The moto-machi (基町) district was very important to a military city as it contained various military facilities. As early as 1871, the First Outpost of Kyushu Garrison was established around the Hiroshima Castle. It was then becoming the Hiroshima Garrison of Fifth Military District (1873) and the  Fifth Division (第5師団) (1888). The 11th Infantry Regiment (第11歩兵連隊) and the Transport Corps (陸軍輸送部) were also formed later in Hiroshima. The moto-machi in Hiroshima was eventually filled with military facilities. As the Meiji Emperor commanded the troops in the Fifth Division Headquarter, which became the temporary Imperial Headquarters from 1894 to 1895, it affirmed Hiroshima status as a military capital or even a temporary national capital.


Plan of distribution of pre-war military facilities in Hiroshima


In Moto-machi district, despite some part of the land were designated as park and green belts, in response of post-war housing shortage, the Hiroshima city was granted the permission and constructed emergency residence for victims. By 1946, 743 residential buildings were constructed. Among them, 267 houses were prefabricated of 23 sqm with metal profile roofing without ceilings. 480 houses were very crude with chipped wooden boards roofs. Other houses were made of bamboo plywood for walls. By 1949, a total 1815 houses were built according to official records.


The housing shortage could not be simply solved by institutionalized effort and construction of just 1815 houses. The shortage problem was in fact even worsened as people gathered in Moto-machi district and immigrated Hiroshima citizens returned from overseas. Illegal housing concentrated in 1.5 km, between the Aioi Bridge and Misasa Bridge.  This area was the Aioi Avenue, later known as the “A-bomb Slum”. It was one of the largest slum in Japan in the 1960s. Fire was frequent and sanitary conditions were poor. The lives of squatter settlement residents were at risk.


Before 1947, there were around 20 housing units around Aioi Avenue. During the 1950s, there were around 64 families. By the end of 1950s, there were over 100 families. In the 1960s, there were around 900 housing units. From the trend of housing units, we can begin to understand the development of the squatter area.


The area was first developed because food shortage was emergent after the bombing. Near the Aioi Avenue, some citizens cultivated farmland and began to settle in this district. During hard times of severe food shortage, people gathered around Aioi Avenue asking for valuable crops. A “mobile shophouse compound” (移動商店住宅組合) was proposed. By utilizing the rear trunk of cars or trucks, it could display crops and goods. Rows of trunks would form a mobile street that is highly flexible and mobile.


The naming of “A-bomb slum” is perhaps a propaganda to criminalize and stagminize the informal settlement of Aioi Avenue in Moto-machi District. I would argue that the Moto-machi urbanism shared similarities with the Metabolist ideal of a flexible and mobile city. The informal urbanism played an important role in securing the basic needs of the victims and also post-war recovery of Hiroshima. Its development was spontaneous in nature without much governmental intervention, while being effective in overcoming food shortage and housing shortage. The informal, non-institutionalized urban solution had undoubtedly contributed much in the post-war recovery and was even better than the formal, planned framework by the Council in certain sense.



仙波希望. (2016). 「平和都市」 の 「原爆スラム」. 日本都市社会学会年報2016(34), 124-142.

石丸紀興. (2014). 広島は平和都市・平和記念都市として復興・展開してきたか. 日本都市社会学会年報, 2014(32), 25-44.

広島都市生活研究会. (1985). 都市の復興 : 広島被爆 40年史 [Reconstruction of Hiroshima : Pictorial history of forty years since atomic bombing]. 広島市: 広島市.


2 Comments on “The Informal City: Informal Housing during Post-war Recovery

  1. The parallel development of the formal and informal is a typical example that demonstrate the different reactions and stand points for different stakeholders of a country.
    The grid planning that laid down by the authority needless to say had to facilitate a flexible yet controllable use of land as well as to support the transportation development which is essential to the industries. From this perspective, housing issue might not seem to be the only and most pressing issue that the authority had to resolved.
    I cannot agree more on the fact that the informal, non-industrialised urban solution might had sped up the post-war recovery despite their spontaneous nature and several undesirable consequences that resulted in. However, I believe that the effort of the top-down planning from the Council could not be diminished for the more complexed economic, social, infrastructural and political situations it had to dealt with at that time.
    That also brings up a question of whether the government structure was sufficient enough to address housing problems in the time of a nation reconstruction when the government paid so much attention to the redevelopment of industrialisation of the country.

  2. For sure the governmental effort shall not be undermined. The discussion above is to address the informal solution to reconstruction of Hiroshima, which is usually undermined and ignored due to lack of official records.

    One of the very original idea of post-modernism, to the best of my knowledge, was not replacing modernism, but to challenge and critique on modernism, such that the two have a dynamic relationship. Under such a conceptual framework, governmental structure is insufficient to address housing problems. By insufficient, it means that it is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for recovery.

    In Hiroshima context, by a more careful examination of the Motomachi, we can actually the same pattern, that the government structure is insufficient in solving housing problems. It would be interesting to refer the cases to other cities too.

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