Tokyo’s 20th Century Experience of Planned Poly-centrism: Sub-centers

This is a report about establishing “sub-centres” as a method to tackle the congestion issue in Tokyo.  Subcentres and satellites played an important role in the fundamental restructuring of the future urban structure proposed in the Fourth Comprehensive National Development Plan (CNDP) of 1986 and retained in the current Fifth CNDP of 1999. The basic concept proposed is that Tokyo should be ringed by three major new ‘Business Core Cities’ at Urawa in Saitama prefecture, Makuhari in Chiba prefecture, Kawasaki in Kanagawa prefecture, plus Tsukuba New Town in Ibaraki prefecture as a high-tech research centre. These would be developed as major employment and services subcentres in order to draw development pressure away from central Tokyo and create a multinucleated metropolitan structure.

Although the Tokyo Metropolitan government has continued to strongly promote development in the Yamanote loop subcentres, many commentators suggest that this may exacerbate the problem of over-concentration rather than alleviate it. For example, in recent research on the capacity of central Tokyo to handle further growth of business functions, it was concluded that as its infrastructure is already far overstressed, and the marginal cost of expanding capacity in central Tokyo keeps increasing, further development of the Yamanote loop subcentres will merely add to problems of congestion in the centre. It was suggested that the best policy will be to promote dispersal of business functions to the other business cores in the Kanto region, as proposed by the 4th CNDP.  Because of their rapid growth, Tokyo’s main subcentres along the Yamanote line have in effect coalesced into one giant CBD thus losing any positive role in relieving the congestion of the central area.


Andre Sorensen, “Subcentres and Satellite Cities: Tokyo’s 20th Century Experience of Planned Polycentrism”, International Planning Studies, (The University of Tokyo,2001), 9-32.

1 Comment on “Tokyo’s 20th Century Experience of Planned Poly-centrism: Sub-centers

  1. This is a very intriguing report as it appears to me that Tokyo has been generating solutions to urban congestion within the CBD across different scales. Ideas of ‘sprawling’, ‘expansion’ and ‘growth along a core (the Yamamoto line in this case)’ demonstrated in the sub-centre development proposal reminded me of the Nakagin Tower by Kisho Kurokawa. The Nakagin Tower, I believe, was proposed to shorten the commuting time for Tokyo salarymen who lived further away from the CBD. Modules can be plugged into the vertical core and are therefore adaptive to the population and needs of the occupants. The language of ‘plugging in’ – be it modules, or sub-centres – is therefore congruous throughout the architectural and urban scale in proposals attempting to mitigating Tokyo’s congestion problem.

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