The aim of this paper is to study an urban phenomenon that has not been associated with Japan until very recently: the evolution of residential neighbourhoods that are both physically and socially clearly set apart from the surrounding areas. At the higher end of the housing market, enclosed detached housing developments, which can be regarded as a soft version of gated communities, have sprung up in the suburbs. In central locations of Tokyo or Osaka, luxury high-rise condominium complexes equipped with doormen, hotel-like facilities and all sorts of security devices are now dominating the cityscape. At the lower end, public housing estates – once praised as the nurturing grounds of postwar social equality – are increasingly regarded as last resort areas for the poor, the aged, and disabled. By concentrating on the latter type, the paper tries to answer the following questions: Why have these neighbourhoods evolved? Where are they located? What are their structural features? How are they viewed by the general public? Is the increasing segregation seen as a problem? And how do public actors in charge of these estates react? The study, which is a work in progress, focuses on Tokyo and involves the analysis of census-district data as well as official reports, other written material and expert interviews. First findings show that the deteriorating state of public housing estates is overall seen as a problem, not least because it challenges the long-standing self-image of Japan as being an equal society. However, recent reliance on “entrepreneurial” city politics along with an increasingly residualist approach in housing policy since the 1990s hampers effective attempts at reverting the trend.
Dr. Ralph Lützeler is Deputy Director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo. He has studied Geography and Japanese Studies at Bonn University (Germany). His research interests include aspects of social and demographic change, population geography and urban geography of Japan. Further information